Africa is home to some of the most diverse flora and fauna in the world. Mark Hedges jets off on a holiday of a lifetime, to the contrasting landscapes and resident animals in the Seychelles and Tanzania.
]The twin-engine Otter plane skimmed across the shimmering turquoise sea, banked to the left and dropped down over the foaming reef to the grass runway. In moments, we had landed on Denis Island, one of the outermost outcrops in the Seychelles, a speck in the Indian Ocean.
You can walk around the island in a morning, barefoot and totally unplugged from the rest of the world, admire the resident giant tortoises, including Toby – who, at 122 years old, is exactly the same age as Country Life – or sit and watch waves from the front of your cottage. But I am a fisherman, so first up was a boat trip into the deep sea beyond the atoll’s reaches in search of tuna and sailfish.
Before long, I had caught a 35lb yellowfin tuna, and was battling with another when the water exploded and a silvertip shark grabbed the tuna and hooked itself. After a muscle-sapping tussle, we met briefly, before the 8ft shark was released. That evening, the tuna was served as sushi and sashimi by the chef, who had trained in the Hyatt Regency in Tokyo. It was sensational; the other guests were almost as pleased as me.
Denis Island boasts a remarkable farm, set in the shadow of a disused lighthouse, which is full of vegetables, chickens, cows, pigs and quail. The island is almost entirely self-sufficient and is even able to export some of its produce back to the mainland. Produce to plate involves no air miles, merely a few hundred yards down the sandy track to the kitchen.
Rachel fell in love with turtles that grazed the sea grass in the lagoons and allowed us to snorkel alongside them – often, we could see a dozen or more poking their prehistoric heads above the water. It was a privilege, the like of which I may never see again.
Our cottage was only a few yards from the sea. As we walked along the soft sand, hermit crabs scuttled for cover in front of us and snow-white fairy terns flew past. There was a total silence, bar the lapping waves. We soaked up nothing but beauty, before absorbing the starlight at night. A tiny island, poking out of an azure sea, and us.
Félicité, the home of Six Senses Zil Pasyon, has more dramatic topography, rising some 700ft out of the ocean. Still heavily forested, it is fringed by vast blocks of granite, around which the resort has been ingeniously built. Our room sat on one of the peaks and, from it, we could look out from our balcony and watch the extraordinary frigate birds glide past us during the day. As the sun sank, huge fruit bats flew across from another island, adding to the James Bond feel of the place.
There is much to do in this boutique sanctuary: world-class diving, canoeing to uninhabited islands or simply nothing. Few places that I have visited have been better thought out – wherever we wandered, we discovered someone had left towels and cold drinks, just in case we needed them.
A short boat trip will take you to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Vallée de Mai, one of only two places in the world where the extraordinary Coco de Mer grows naturally. The birdlife here is wonderful and includes the very rare black parrot, as well as the delightful blue pigeons and Seychelles bulbul.
The Seychelles has a culture of Creole food that, combined with the local seafood, was exquisite. Add massages, fishing up to my knees in warm water as small blacktip sharks cruised beside me, the exemplary service and the magic of the cyan sea and you really have an island paradise.
I confess that I am no expert on beach holidays and relied heavily on my tour operator – Turquoise – to help point me in the right direction, which it did perfectly. I have, however, been on a number of African safaris and have always revelled in the differences in fauna and flora, from Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The Serengeti is the most impressive of all, a vast plain of grassland spanning 12,000 square miles.
It is also home to the great wildebeest migration, one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. These extraordinary-looking antelope roam the plains, following the rains in a constant clockwise cycle. More than two million of them move in lines as far as the eye can see. Wildebeest have no hierarchy, but are controlled by a fierce herd instinct.
We watched as thousands built up on one side of a river waiting to cross, tantalised by the better grazing on our side. Eventually, one took the plunge and the whole confusion of wildebeest followed. The noise and energy was incredible. Huge crocodiles grabbed several as they swam, others drowned. It was Nature at its most mesmerising and cruel.
With so much game, including zebras, buffalo, hartebeest, huge eland and beautiful topi, the plains are home to astonishing numbers of predators. Cheetah and a leopard hunting were our highlights, but I have a soft spot for the maligned hyenas and no night in the bush would be complete without their whoops and the roars of the lions.
In four days, we spotted exactly 200 different species of birds, from tiny bee-eaters to giant ostriches. Many were exquisite; all of them were remarkable for the niche they had found in this great, fierce land.
We stayed at Lamai Serengeti, which is set quietly and simply in a rare hilly outcrop above the plain. From this spot in the northern-most region of the Serengeti, guests are within tantalising reach of the Mara River and, between July and October, the aforementioned migration. The service, guiding – game drives and walking – and staff were impeccable. We ate delicious plates of food in an open-sided dining room as swifts flew under the eaves. It was as close to heaven as a Nature lover could get.
Turquoise Holidays offers a nine-night safari and beach holiday, from £7,199 per person, including one night at Legendary Lodge, four nights at Lamai Serengeti and four nights at Four Seasons Resort Seychelles, including all international, domestic flights and transfers
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