Alphonse Island, the 1 sq km island where I was fortunate enough to visit while the rest of Britain shivered in the December drizzle, is part of the Blue Safari group of four atolls in the Outer Islands of the Seychelles. A turboprop hopper had ferried me the 250 miles from the capital of Mahé where I stepped out onto the tarmac into the sultry humidity of the tropics with the heat of the sun leavened by a gentle willow-the-wisp of a cooling sea breeze.
The island itself, first noted on charts in 1562, lies like an arrowhead in the azure seas where your approach is, depending on the wind direction, straight down the shaft. The weather was set fair for the forthcoming days with the promise of relaxation or activities, as the desire took me.
For such a remote destination there was a surprising amount that tickled the fancy. The Azure Spa, a small but excellent bolthole where treatment options range from the esoteric through the exotic to the extraordinary was one option that was tempting, knotted as I was from the small seats on the three planes that had brought me to this refuge from the 21st century. However, the immediate task was checking in and finding somewhere to doff my sweater and don my shorts.
Legs bared it was time to explore the tranquility of my home for the next three days. It has been some time since I last rode a bicycle but that was to be my primary means of transportation on the pathways throughout the lodge. Thankfully Alphonse barely rises more than ten metres above sea level so there was no undue huffing and puffing on my 1950’s-era steed. Even the furthest corner of the island – the Sundowner Bar – was easily reached. Needless to say, the ride back was slightly more difficult but not because of the topography.
Alphonse Island really is a refuge from the mania of the modern world. There are, to be sure, signs that we are no longer primitive creatures but the lack of wifi beyond the reception and bar areas and the dearth of televisions and radio took a while to accommodate into your psyche. Once I had realigned my mentality though it was truly wonderful to realise that life could actually run at a slower pace than we normally permit and I settled down to soak it in. The ubiquitous invasion of technology into our lives has created a world where switching off is nigh-on impossible – Alphonse’s primary raison d’être is relaxation and recharge.
Families are welcome in this corner of paradise but mostly the clientele while I was there was couples who were chasing the self-styled ‘world’s best fly fishing’. At crack of dawn folks would pack their gear into the boats and head to another atoll an hour away where extensive flats allow for the patient fisherman to hunt Bonefish, Barracuda, Bluefin Trevally, Wahoo and, the daddy of them all, the Giant Trevally, affectionately known as GT.
After a long day catching-and-releasing their prey the fishermen would congregate with their partners at the bar telling tall tales of the ones that got away and celebrating the ones that were landed. The communal atmosphere is extended with tokens awarded to the fishermen for each species landed and the ringing of the bell. It’s a matter of friendly rivalry but few are the visitors who have a complete set.
My tastes were more afloat than standing so my two boat outings were to go deep sea fishing with my party where we landed Yellowfin tuna that went into the evening’s dinner menu.
We also took the opportunity to search for Manta Rays, culminating in the astonishing experience of snorkeling alongside these magnificent creatures while they obligingly tolerated our gawking. It was on this latter plunge that I had my encounter with Mr Grouper and his ugly phiz.
Our swim with the Mantas was part of a larger conservation project that Alphonse Island is undertaking with its partners to monitor and collect data on this wonderful marine species. With satellite tracking, tissue samples and continual photographing around the islands and at numerous cleaning stations, the teams are collecting important data for science.
Back on land, the Blue Safari team has other conservation efforts running. From reintroducing the native flora to the landscape (and thinning out the non-native coconut palm that was introduced in the early trading days) to the nurture of the Giant Aldabra tortoise and the protection of the nesting grounds for turtles, bio-diversity and protection is at the forefront of everything that happens on the island. As if to underline the point, when I asked on the first night, why the lights outside the bungalows were green, I was told that, in hatching season, the turtles can become disorientated by normal lights and thus not head seaward. Green light doesn’t impinge on their sense of direction, which means a larger proportion of the Green and Hawksbill turtles have a chance of making it to adulthood.
It may seem counterintuitive to have a philosophy of promoting a biome in harmony with low-impact human development and eco-tourism when the carbon cost of simply reaching said biome in the Outer Islands is so high. However, by judicious restrictions on behaviours by humankind while in situ the overall net impact of reaching the luxury Seychelles resort of Alphonse Island is negated. Ally this to the kitchen gardens that provide the preponderance of the produce for the guests’ tables and reduce the need for supplies to be flown in and it is obvious that the human footprint is already rather small and is getting smaller.
Until the development of electric-powered aircraft there will, of course, always be the necessity for avgas. However, in just the last few years, Alphonse Island has been striving to make best use of its most abundant resource in the interests of the atolls and the wider community. In a sheltered clearing, a pebble’s throw from the runway, lies a 6,000 sqm renewable energy plant with 2,200 photovoltaic modules that now produces 87% of the island’s energy needs. There are still generators on site in case of emergencies but the future is clearly green.
In the course of my personal and professional life I have been fortunate to have travelled the globe. From first world to third and holiday havens to hovels each of my varying destinations has kept a little part of my soul on my departure. But, deep in the heart of nowhere, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a tiny collection of atolls and islands has forever stolen my heart. The downside to these press trips is that these destinations are generally experienced solo. I do hope that Alphonse Island needs more editorial write-ups in the future. I’ll bring my wife.
A seven-night full-board holiday (including inter-island small plane transfers but excluding beverages) staying on Alphonse Island in a beach bungalow costs from $850 pppn while a beach suite costs from $1,275 pppn. The 900 sqm beach villa, for up to eight adults, costs $1,175 pppn.
It is possible, with plenty of notice, to rent the entire island. Likewise, with prior arrangement it is possible to fly directly to Alphonse Island in a private aircraft thus bypassing an overnight stay in Mahe, the capital of the Seychelles.Tel: +248 422 9700