The Art of Exploring Private Islands

“I had always known the sky was full of mysteries – but not until now had I realised how full of them the earth was.” – Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

It doesn’t matter how many times you might hear that everything in the world has already been discovered, that, as such, the art of exploring no longer exists, that it has lost its magic.

It doesn’t matter, because to you, each new journey into Africa and the Indian Ocean is as good as uncovering a new land. There is always something mysterious, something you don’t know, something worth discovering for yourself.

You may come across roads and bridges, villages and schools, or simply, in the case of North Island in the Seychelles, a scattering of thatch villas and handwritten turtle nest signs (and a spa and yoga deck…). But it is all still exciting, unfamiliar terrain.

I get excited over just seeing the sun rise in a new part of the world, or watching the moon grow full over a different ocean. In a place like North Island, 30 kilometres from the main island of Mahé, I found myself tickled watching the colours of the sea change, in spite of how many explorers in history might have sat upon that same beach, watching the same sea.

If anything, the thought that someone once hiked over the island’s three peaks centuries before me made the adventure even more remarkable. Did I still consider myself a serious explorer, while scrambling over the carpets of fallen palm tree leaves and rugged boulders, under and beside the indigenous plantlife the hotel has re-planted on the island as part of its rewilding programme? Yes, yes, I did.

My Family & Other Explorers

explorer – ɛkˈsplɔːrə/

noun: a person who explores a new or unfamiliar area; traveller, discoverer, voyager, rambler, globetrotter, rover, reconnoitrer, adventurer, pioneer.

Emerging from the forested hills, onto a desolate beach as dusk coloured the sky, Tarryn Retief, the island’s conservationist and I came across footprints of other serious explorers and followed them up from the sea.

There in the dark, where the beach sand ended and bush began, a mother Hawksbill Turtle was laying eggs in a hole she had just managed to carve out for her young with those hardworking flippers.

We sat with her in absolute quiet, in absolute dark, the red light of our torch illuminating the soft plop of each egg. We sat beside her while she covered them with sand, like a mother tucking her children into bed for the night. And then she started her slow amble back to sea.

Just the day before we had witnessed another mother covering her nest on the beach. With the Hawksbill classified as critically endangered, these sightings are particularly precious, and yet here in a land that felt very much like an Eden at sea, we could watch, photograph and record every sand-flick, every blink, every wave-surf. There was no one to disturb us and more importantly, no one could disturb the turtles.

As far as we were concerned, Hemingway and Columbus had nothing on us.

A Secluded Island Sanctuary

North Island is committed to ensuring the protection of the natural environment and biodiversity and has conservation at the heart of its philosophy. It has created a sanctuary where natural habitats, long neglected, were rehabilitated so that endangered Seychelles fauna and flora could be reintroduced and given a place to grow and thrive. Once exploited as a coconut plantation, North Island’s Noah’s Ark conservation programme has turned the Island into a natural idyll where endangered species such as the Seychelles White-eye, Giant Aldabra Tortoise and Hawksbill Turtle flourish once more.

North Island’s eleven private villas, built from natural materials recovered on the island during its rehabilitation, are completely hidden from each other and sit beneath palm trees along the beach. It is one of the world’s most exclusive private islands.

Its tropical terrain of mountains and white beaches, filigree reefs and azure Indian Ocean, invite explorers of all kinds: snorkellers, divers, fishing enthusiasts, kayakers, paddle boarders, surfers, cyclists, hikers and walkers.

Discover more about North Island here.

You Had Me At Coconut | 6 Reasons To Visit This Mauritius

energyˈɛnədʒi/ – noun: the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity.

synonyms: vigour, life, spirit, fire, passion, ardour, sparkle, drive, zing, pep, pizzazz, bounce, fizz, oomph, get-up-and-go.

Energy is a peculiar creature. Never fitting one definition. Sometimes it’s up. Sometimes it’s down. Sometimes there’s a reason for its changes; most times, perhaps. But occasionally it really feels as though it requires one serious nudge. We found our nudge on an island far from home.

Landing on Mauritian soil, ocean saluted us even from the runway. It was hot and the sky was blue, perfect blue. Driving to the north of this faraway island in the Indian Ocean, flashes out the window shone with those deep green signs of life. Walking through the wooden doors of 20 Degres Sud, what shone were the faces on the other side and a pool reflecting the sun and trees, bathers and their cocktails, as though a whole world resided in it.

It stays with you for some time after you leave, this life, this island energy, and it has everything to do with 20 Degres Sud and its home on a beach in Grand Baie, with sand as white as coconut milk.

Here are six ways this boutique hotel will have you walking on water by the time the holiday is over.

  1. The whole “fall out of bed and into a pool” thing

It is quite something to step out of bed, onto your verandah and into a pool. There are rooms with private pools (not sure we need to say more on why that’s a good thing). Call it flotation therapy or meer dolce far niente, but bobbing weightless beneath a blue sky, in the hot island sun, does the human body, heart, mind and spirit a world of good.

And now you’re ready for the next step…

2. Being wild and free at sea

From the hotel, set on the water’s edge, the whole Indian Ocean stretches out, with the calm waters of Grand Baie and the remote islets of Coin de Mire, Île Plate and Îlot Gabriel. We spent our days swimming in warm baby blue sea, snorkelling in the silence of the underwater world with trumpet fish and clown fish, kitesurfing and hobbie-catting (with experienced hands assisting), and feeling the freedom of soaring in the most romantic of pirogues.

3. Sunshine, sweet sunshine

Most of us feel a lot more in love with life with a bit of sunshine on our cheeks, enveloped in a warmth that greets you with morning croissants on the terrace and stays with you during the tasting menu under the stars. It means dresses without sleeves, bare feet on the beach, and a whole lot of outdoor living.

4. Fresh fish, fruit and other fine food

There is a lightness, a freshness and a certain mystery to the meals at 20 Degres Sud. Executive Chef, Sanjeev Purahoo, mixes a local Mauritian flavour with international influences and a fine dining elegance.

And perhaps what makes it all even more inspiring is a simple matter of location…. from breakfast with your feet in the sea to lunch at L’Explorateur overlooking the bay; from dining on the terrace beside the pool, amid a coconut grove, to dinners on the oldest motorboat on the island, the M / S Lady Lisbeth. Sailing slowly in the night with cocktails in hand, it feels as though everything has come together, in a perfect dance, nothing is amiss, not a step too far or a heel turn too little.

Don’t leave without having a coconut cut fresh from the garden.

5. Rest and rest well

What happens in the Spa, stays in the Spa. That’s rule one of wellness. But for a glimpse, we’ll offer that you might want a few extra days to do nothing but the Spa, drifting between the hammam and herbal tea infusion bar, and the secluded pool and massage table, with ingredients like hot coconut oil and reflexology and hot stone treatments to renergise.

6. Because people make a place…

It’s instant.  The connection, the shift. That zing and pizzazz; energy in all its pseudonyms. It gets you with the first person you meet as you enter these doors…

You’ll see… You’ll see it, with the managers, the ladies in the Spa, the waiters and waitresses, the gardeners, the boatmen…

You’ll see it when you arrive and when you depart, and every moment in between. And you will feel it. The warmth, the heart, the fire.

Now hold onto it.

Follow us on Instagram for more images and tales of Mauritius and 20 Degres Sud and discover more about 20 Degres Sud here.

The Beginnings of Love at Esiweni

I had been her before, the one in the safari vehicle with no clue as to the difference between an impala and a topi, a lilac breasted roller and a carmine bee eater. I had been the one with big eyes and a heart feeling everything a little too much for comfort, but incredibly alive for it.  And while, sure, sometimes today a lion’s gaze or nighttime roar still gets me, still makes me whisper to the driver, I think we should go, I am mostly at home in the wild.

Being alongside someone to whom it was all completely new, though, I realised many things – like just how otherwordly, even strange, it is to experience an African safari for the first time. To see your first wild animal. To hear your first African Fish Eagle and watch your first lion watch you. To try Amarula for the first time, biltong, warthog, rooibos…

She had come from a dry cold snowy winter in Canada, our safari fledgling, to find heat, beautiful humid heat at Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge in South Africa. She arrived in the night and joined us on a morning game drive. And, there, only metres from the steep winding path from the lodge into the wilderness, she saw it. Her first wild animal.

A giraffe. And then another giraffe. And another. A whole journey up on a hill. The impala followed, diligently as ever. And then the kudu, the zebra, the rhino, the buffalo, the elephant, the lion. The birds, the grasses, the flowers, the sounds and the smells, it all took on a new significance. I found myself attempting to bite my tongue to let ranger, Pemba, answer her questions, and failing, too desperate to share in what she was feeling, to share the hundreds of feelings I had had on every safari past.

In many ways it was new to me too. Used to the Sabi Sand, the Okavango or Maasai Mara, I was now moving through the Nambiti Game Reserve in KwaZulu Natal, a land completely different with a wild mix of bush and savanna, open plains and waterfalls, all in one reserve. It’s an environment with its own people and language and history.

This would be the land that would forever colour her thoughts when she spoke about Africa. She would compare every safari with this one. This was the starting point of nostalgia, the beginning of a new romance, like the first love we never forget, that imprints on us, changes us. That we still recall the outline of, the sound, the scent. And that we return to again and again, if not in body, at least in mind.

It’s the month of love and sentimentality is allowed free reign, so tell us what first sparked your romance with the African safari?

Discover the charm of Esiweni Luxury Safari Lodge through images from our last safari below.