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.

The Infinite Intrigue of the African Skimmer

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Whoever said that long distance relationships don’t work never fell in love with the African skimmers of the Zambezi River.

Perhaps it’s easier with birds, but my love for these rare African vagabonds of the sky has never dwindled, even though I know that just when I have them by my side, on the water at Royal Chundu in Zambia, they will, soon enough, leave me again. It is their nature as migrants. Perhaps a nature that makes them all the more alluring.

The skimmers arrive on the Zambezi around the month of July, in the dry season, when little sandbanks peak out of the great river and call the migrants home. Here they roost and breed, usually between August and October, and leave around November.

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During this time, the promise of glimpsing them in the glow of the river at golden hour calls me from my bed every morning and evening. And while taking a moment to put down the camera and simply be with them, I find my mind completely taken over by the life of the river itself. The intricate and beautiful life, its changes and its constants.

And isn’t that what love does to us? It makes us see the connection in everything, the beauty, the little things along with the big. During his own time on the Zambezi in search of skimmers, photographer Will Goodlet had similar thoughts…

“Drifting slowly down the Zambezi in search of Skimmers I couldn’t help but to reflect on the river itself. It’s at the centre of so much animal and human life in the region, a fabled realm that still holds a mythic place in my own consciousness. I can never quite believe that I am there, swept on by its green current, much as Livingstone might have been. It seems too strange…

It’s more than just a river. Cultures sit astride it and the river brings them all together, like a common thread drawn through the African continent.

It was fascinating to see the local people living with the river. Perhaps more interesting was to see how this area, on the very edge of the conflict between humankind and the world of animals, survives.”


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Below, our love affair with the African skimmer reveals itself through photographs… Discover more about life on the Zambezi at Royal Chundu.

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“African Skimmers are found in small flocks and are monogamous breeders. Their courtship is a sight to behold – boasting aerial chasing and calling as well as low-level synchronised flights close to the water. They nest as solitary pairs, but are usually found in small dipersed colonies. They will return to the same nesting site each year if it is undisturbed and remains free of vegetation.” – Pangolin Voyager


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“Despite the dangers of nesting on sand banks regularly trampled by hippo, predated by monitor lizards, and even disturbed by humans, skimmers and other birds such as lapwings and plovers return to successfully breed on the river each year.” – Encounter

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The African skimmer “is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ by the international conservation community and the population is thought to be declining. … Human disturbance is thought to be largely responsible for the gradual but steady decline in African Skimmer populations throughout its southern African range. Its breeding areas have been much reduced by human management of river systems, in particular dam-building, which causes flooding in upstream areas and smaller flows downstream.” – Encounter


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Skimmers

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Sunset at Royal Chundu


Discover more about the silent art of birdwatching at Royal Chundu in our blog and contact us to find out more about going on your own birding safari during your stay with us.

The Myriad Moments of Wild Magic at Camp Jabulani

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Time spent in the presence of Africa’s wild animals changes you with each sighting. While witnessing the bonds within a herd, pack or pride, a wobbly elephant nuzzling its mother, a rhino offering its horn to scratch the itch of a brother, wild dogs curled up together, nose to rear, like a patchwork quilt… While watching the human condition applied to the animal kingdom; the same urges and needs playing out across the wilderness. Anger, love, hunger, thirst, jealousy, desire…

Every new sniff, sound and sight opens the world up to you a little more. You poke your little pangolin head out of its burrow and the world looks brighter and more alive.


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But I’m not sure we’d be able to make much sense of it all without some kind of guide. The kind of guide known as the Ranger. The star maps to our day and night skies. While time spent with wild animals changes us as people, I have found my time beside the trackers and rangers of the bush just as vital to my growth, as both human and safarigoer.

One such ranger, Ruan Roos, inspires us not only on the ground (or in the game vehicle) at Camp Jabulani, but also through his photography, through his talent for capturing the myriad moments of wild magic in the Kapama Private Game Reserve of South Africa.


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Through the lens of his Canon 7D Mark II lens, he reveals a love not only for the Big 5, but also the smaller, curiouser characters. Below is a glimpse into the world of Ruan Roos, South African, Field Guide, Conservationist, Amateur Photographer (his description… we think you’ll agree amateur isn’t quite the right word.)


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Elephants utilizing the last light of the day.

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When the light touches your face and you feel its warm embrace.

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End of a glorious day in the lowveld.

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Rain rolling in over the lowveld.

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