Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Silhouette National Parks Experience

Discover the flora and fauna of untouched Seychelles

On Silhouette Island, 93% of which is designated as a national park, there exists a cooperation between three organisations that are championing the preservation and promotion of this natural paradise. The symbiosis between the Hilton Labriz Resort and Spa, The Island Conservation Society (ICS) and the Island Development Company (IDC) sees these three organisations cooperating in a constructive and effective effort to maintain the natural beauty, biodiversity and eco-tourism appeal of Seychelles’ third largest island.
Through their latest venture, the Silhouette National Parks Experience packages, they are offering residents and tourists an opportunity to visit and explore the island conveniently, and at affordable rates.

Facilitated by the Hilton Labriz Activities Centre, residents and tourists staying away from Silhouette will now have the opportunity to visit the island and enjoy one or more of the exceptional guided hikes across Silhouette’s breathtaking terrain, as well as everything else the island has to offer. The guides have been trained by the team from ICS, ensuring that they are knowledgeable not only in the routes, but also in the local flora, fauna and history that make the experience such a unique adventure.

Nature lovers and photographers will be in their element, and an expert guide from ICS can also be arranged at an additional fee to ensure a more in-depth educational experience. The IDC, who is responsible for the management and maintenance of the island, take extra special care to ensure that the hiking trails are in tiptop shape and obstruction free.

Travel writer Niki Gower and some friends had the opportunity to get a feel for the “Silhouette experience,” spending two nights on the island enjoying some of the hikes and other offerings. This is what they discovered.


Jardin Marron Tour

Our first hike was to Jardin Marron, one of Seychelles’ best kept secrets – a garden of Coco de Mer palms surrounded by dense forest 450m up on the slopes of Mount Pot-a-Eau. The name of this “garden” of Coco de Mers (which only grow on two other islands, Praslin and Curieuse) translates (culturally) to “Garden of the Slaves,” as the location is said to be the point where runaway slaves settled after escaping their harsh livelihoods working on the plantation owned by the Dauban family, the original owners of Silhouette. In fact, the hiking trail itself was first trod by these slaves, and could be as old as 200 years.

The trail starts in La Passe village, and is a meandering ascent to the garden. Despite the distance and incline of the trail, it is not too strenuous a trek, with the cool forest air aiding the climb. Moss covered boulders, trickling streams, lush foliage and an abundance of creepy-crawlies are guaranteed.

However, if you are fortunate enough you may encounter one of Silhouette’s rarer inhabitants such as the dazzling tiger chameleon or perhaps a house or wolf snake (as our group was – but don’t worry, no snakes in Seychelles are venomous). An extra special find would be a specimen of Seychellophryne gardineri – the world’s second smallest frog species – endemic to Seychelles.

The garden itself is a magical experience. Greeted by towering Coco de Mers in a tranquil grove, you are humbled by their size and beauty. The serenity of the garden is the perfect rejuvenating experience before you start the descent back to La Passe. This hike should take around three and a half hours to complete.

Anse Mondon Tour

Our second hike was to Anse Mondon. This hike starts with a short beach walk that leads to the start of the trail. Stepping into the lush forest you are greeted with cool shaded breezes and the sounds and sweet smells of tropical vegetation. It won’t be long before you spot your first critter, with an abundance of birds, insects and reptiles (including giant millipedes, the Seychelles Bulbul and the Seychelles Skink).

Unlike the Jardin Marron trail, this one is not a straight ascent and descent, but offers the hiker a variation of terrain as you dip, climb and weave your way along. Through palm forests, bamboo groves and rocky ravines, the hiker is lead along an interesting, and sometimes challenging, adventure. The highest point of elevation on this hike is 260m, and a highlight of the walk is when you reach “Belle Vue” and are rewarded with a superb view of Anse Mondon below, and the knowledge that your destination is just ahead.

Anse Mondon itself is a small, sheltered and isolated cove, which offers the opportunity
for safe swimming and some fun bodysurfing – a welcome and refreshing reward after your trek. The beach is also a great place to picnic and relax, as well as get some postcard perfect shots of Seychelles in all its glory. At this point, you have the option of being collected by a boat from Hilton, if prearranged, For those who which to walk the trip back, a good idea is to start walking back along the trail to the river where you will be able to wash the salt and sand off before the return hike. It starts off tough with the ascent back up to Belle Vue, but after that it’s easy walking back to the resort. This hike typically takes two hours each way.

Grand Barbe Tour

Mr. Gower and friends unfortunately did not have an opportunity to experience this hike firsthand, as typically this is a full day affair, but from what we hear we can’t wait to get back to Silhouette and try it out for ourselves.  
This challenging hike takes you across the island to the secluded and stunning Grande Barbe Plateau, where you can experience wild giant tortoises, explore one of the biggest mangrove forests in the country and relax on over 1km of white sand beach. During the peak hawksbill turtle nesting season (November to February) it is almost a given that you will encounter tracks along the beach and there is a good chance that you will have the opportunity to witness a nesting female in action, especially around high tide. 

Grand Barbe also offers a chance to visit the old village, where 60 inhabitants once lived; today only three remain, as they lead secluded lives in the isolation of the plateau.  Adventurers can explore some of the dilapidated old buildings and possibly have an opportunity to meet the remaining locals.

As with the Anse Mondon hike, you have the option to prearrange a boat transfer back from Grand Barbe, cutting your journey in half (depending on the condition of the ocean). If not, the hike should typically take you about three hours each way.


Hilton Labriz Resort and Spa

Set along a 2km stretch of unspoilt white beaches and amidst lush tropical flora, the Hilton Labriz is Seychelles at its best. With 111 villas set either along the beach, in the garden or against the mountain, the luxury accommodations are spacious, stylish and comfortable. The resort also features a world class spa experience offering a variety of revitalising treatments, as well as seven restaurants to savour the exotic tastes from around the culinary world. 

With a dedicated activity centre, gym and sports facilities, as well as comprehensive excursion packages, there is plenty to keep you busy. However, there is nothing wrong with simply wiling your day away on the beach or beside the pool, sipping cocktails and soaking in the Seychelles sunshine.

IDC Guesthouse

The IDC operate a fantastic and affordable guesthouse on Silhouette, offering clean, comfortable and spacious accommodations for up to 12 people in four rooms.

The IDC GH's affordable rates includes full board dining. Chef Cyril Esther’s meals alone warrant the price for your stay, being fantastic hearty and tasty Creole favourites, prepared with the freshest ingredients. 

There are also television and laundry facilities available, and the return ferry transfers to Silhouette are an affordable additional cost. 

Day trips

Day trips to Silhouette are also possible, and ferry and hike bookings can be made through Hilton Labriz’s reservations office. Besides having the opportunity to explore Silhouette’s hiking trails, day visitors (and IDC guesthouse guests) can also have the opportunity to benefit from the Hilton Labriz Resort and Spa experience, by taking advantage of the resort’s “Day Visitor Passport” programme. This will allow non-resort guests the opportunity to take advantage of all the great amenities on offer at the Hilton Labriz, however spa, bar and restaurant reservations will need to be made in advance and prior to the day visit.

The Silhouette National Parks Experience packages were officially launched from August 2013. So next time you’re gazing across at Silhouette as the sun goes down on another perfect Seychelles day, why not stop wondering what lies beyond that shadowy outline of an island and plan a trip to discover it for yourself – Silhouette is more accessible than you think!

A Silhouette Sunrise, from he balcony of one of Hilton Labriz's Beachfront Villas

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{ This article, by Niki Gower, was originally published (in part) in the TODAY in Seychelles Newspaper on the 11.07.2013 (www.today.sc), and also appears on the travel blog www.newworldnomad.blogspot.com and www.seychellesliving.com All photos copyright www.nikigowerphoto.com    email: niki@silverspoonmedia.biz }