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 yet know, something worth discovering for yourself.

I get excited over 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 in the Seychelles, 30 kilometres from the main island of Mahé, I found myself enthralled by the changes in the colours of the sea and hiking over the small island’s peaks – scrambling over carpets of fallen palm tree leaves and rugged boulders, under and beside the indigenous plantlife the hotel has re-planted as part of its island rewilding programme.

If ever there were a place to feel like an explorer of yesteryear, it is the Seychelles. Compared to Europe, the Seychelles has quite a recent history. It’s believed that not many explorers have set foot on North Island itself since it was uninhabited for most of its history, before being transformed into a family-owned farm that was abandoned before becoming the island we know today.

For those with explorer leanings, this is one place that really is relatively untouched and undiscovered, as only a few have had the opportunity and privilege to experience it.

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 to 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 set up its Noah’s Ark conservation programme and managed to turn 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 invites 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 Beauty of Solitude at Sunrise

I want to tell you about the sunrise, because you weren’t there. You were 5000 kilometres away and I was alone on Paje beach on the east coast of Zanzibar, still expecting you to take your place next to me. I waited for the sun to peep out of the darkness before I stood up and decided to take the step forward, to explore, by myself. If you weren’t going to join me, I would enjoy it for the both of us. I would explore everything.

I know that it is often that which first appears quiet or dark that holds the greatest mystery. And it did. The stillness of sunrise revealed a whole other world to me. People always say that sunrise and sunset stand like bookends on the tale of a day, but I realised that they hold stories of their own, if you take the time to look closely.

Sunrise is a different story across Africa, but on a beach in the Indian Ocean, I have found it often to be quite the same.

Sometimes you have been beside me, sometimes not, but you’ll remember me telling you about the waters of low tide that initiate the dance of local men and women heading out fishing in the morning – by boat and foot. I’ve sat with my camera to my face, tracing this dance – in Mauritius, in Madagascar, in Pemba Island, and here, in Zanzibar.

The beach is a different animal as the sun begins to rise and break across the clouds. It is still but moody, like a lion starting to wake, like you before your morning coffee. The ocean is darker, not yet the light turquoise that will coax other travellers from their sun loungers at midday.

I stood silently on shore. There were no foreigners yet, only the local Zanzibari that have moved across these waters for generations. I listened to the women talking among themselves as they tended to the seaweed farms scattered across the low water. I listened to the men heading out in dhows. Their Swahili was lost on me, but not all stories require words to be told. Soon the tide would rise and the women and men and dhows would disperse and the story would end, like the fire of sunrise. But I would have understood the moral. The lessons.

Since you weren’t there to give a voice to my thoughts, I’ll try now. I felt then a deep almost dazed peace wash over me like the sea slowly moving over the shore and I was reminded of something I’d forgotten. I was reminded that in me is a stillness that needs not only to be alone from time to time, but to be truly still, watching and listening, not thinking, analysing and anticipating.

I also realised that out here in the early morning, I had only myself to rely on. I was the sole narrator. Back home, I knew I would tell you about what I had seen and you would add your own views, your logic and knowledge. You would make sense of it all and my mind would be broader for it. But until then, I could tell myself whatever I liked. My imagination was free to run wild.

That’s the beauty of being alone on an island at sunrise – lost in translation with the few locals out and about. There is a sweet sense of freedom and dare I say valour of venturing into the unknown. But I did it for us both, remember that.

Keep following our blog for more tales and photos from our recent adventure in Zanzibar, while staying at the beautiful Zanzibar White Sand Luxury Villas & Spa.