Situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 400km northwest of Madagascar and over 1000km from the East African coast, the Seychelles is an ancient archipelago of 115 islands. While most travellers arrive trailing confetti and are content to just fly and flop on some of the world’s finest beaches, the islands possess natural wonders that hold far greater value.
Thousands of years of evolutionary isolation have created this treasure map of miniature worlds in the Seychelles, each with its own unique biological capital and habitats found nowhere else on the planet. When General Gordon of Khartoum visited in 1881 he returned to London claiming he had found the original site of the Garden of Eden – specifically, the Unesco World Heritage-listed Vallée de Mai on the island of Praslin, where a prehistoric palm forest shelters the legendary coco de mer.
Vallée de Mai, Praslin
A walk through the valley is a surreal experience akin to natural time travel. Here everything is supersized and the silence is sepulchral, broken only by bird calls from rare endemic species like the black parrot and the crimson-crested blue pigeon. When a breeze blows, one can hear the rasp of giant fronds high in the canopy as the 20 to 30m-high palms sway like metronomes beneath the weight – up to 40kg – of their voluptuous, double-nutted coco de mers. You half expect a dinosaur to appear out of the Rousseau-like canvas.
That the forest survives at all is a nothing short of a minor miracle. A second smaller indigenous forest on the nearby island of Curieuse nearly succumbed to 18th century botanical poaching, when the nut – worth its weight in gold at the time – was pillaged by British traders who subsequently set fire to the palms to ensure the highest price for their precious cargo. With its red soil largely laid bare the uninhabited island now provides a breeding centre for giant tortoises, which can weigh up to half a ton and appear like boulders beside the walking trails that crisscross the island.
SOURCE: Lonely Planet