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Seychelles - Diving in the Garden of Eden

The Seychelles archipelago was reckoned by Arab sailors in ancient times to be the fabled Garden of Eden, and AL HORNSBY reckons the reality can more than live up to its hyperbolic reputation.

It’s dawn. The rising sun is starting to illuminate our view to the horizon following our night-flight from Europe. As far as we can see, there is only the deep cobalt of the Indian Ocean merging with a paler sky, with puffy white clouds scattered here and there.

Finally, small islands begin to appear, and they grow to become a collection of lush, green mountains wreathed in cloud, each fringed by pure white sand and surrounded by water of the brightest turquoise.

It’s easy to see why the Seychelles archipelago is regarded as one of the most beautiful places on Earth; Arab sailors once considered it the Garden of Eden. The inner islands are chiefly pink and grey granite, covered in a rich proliferation of tropical vegetation, with scattered waterfalls and streams splashing down to sunlit beaches.

Off to the south-west, the islands’ nature changes, and a string of scarcely inhabited coral atolls meander for 620 nautical miles to Aldabra Lagoon, in the oceanic wilderness toward Africa.

Colonies of birds are found seemingly everywhere – boobies, terns, tropic-birds and frigate birds – by the millions during the migratory seasons. And on a number of the islands giant tortoises can be found, more than 150,000 in all.

Having spent a couple of months of intensive diving and exploring Seychelles over the years, the islands remain one of my favourite destinations. Besides being lovely, the place has a simple “easiness” to it – it is tropical but pleasantly not-too-hot; the French Creole cooking and extravagant varieties of fresh fruit and seafood make every day’s dining remarkable; and accommodation runs from simple charm to exquisite luxury, whether on land or travelling by liveaboard.

The underwater world

The diving here, centred around the inner islands, is equally special. The geology provides a dramatic underwater environment unlike any I’ve seen elsewhere. The same granite spires and columns that form the islands have their roots in the sea, and the diving is predominantly among a complex landscape of granite boulders, walls and spires that rise up toward the surface from deeper water, forming caverns and overhangs.

These are covered with sponges, wire and hard corals, and soft corals emerge from protected crevices, all fed by warm, clear, nutrient-rich waters.

Beyond all else, however, is the concentration and variety of marine-life. The bottom is home to an immense assortment of macro-critters such as shrimps, crabs, nudibranchs and live shells – shell aficionados can find and photograph many of these, including uncommon varieties such as Conus aulicus, ammiralus and episcopus, and the lovely Murex palmarosae.

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