"The takamaka is revered among the Seychellois, who use its strong wood in traditional boatbuilding and its tiny green fruits for bush medicine,” explains Elliot Mokhobo, North Island’s resident conservationist and guide, nodding to the mighty shade-giving tree on the trail beside us. Farther along on our hike through this private-island resort, we emerge onto a giant granite outcrop, where we spy several of the other 114 isles in the Seychelles chain – including Praslin, once thought to be the original site of the Garden of Eden – along with the thatched roofs of North Island’s 11 eco-chic villas.
In addition to being a luxury hideaway, North Island – available to guests like me traveling with Virtuoso’s on-site connection, Wilderness Safaris – doubles as a conservation project called Noah’s Ark. The goal: Turn the destination into a sanctuary for some of the rarest species on earth. Due to its geographic isolation, the Seychelles (located in the Indian Ocean a thousand miles off the East African coast) has been inhabited by humans for only 250 years, and most of the wildlife and plants that evolved in the archipelago are found no place else, including the Aldabra giant tortoise and the coco-de-mer palm, which has the largest nut in the plant kingdom.
Thanks to ongoing conservation efforts – with progress clearly visible since my first visit a decade ago – you can find both of these iconic species on North Island, along with the Seychelles flying fox (a large fruit bat) and the Seychelles white-eye, a tiny bird once thought to be extinct. As ecologists continue their work to eradicate alien rodents and invasive flora found on the isle, other native species, such as the Seychelles blue pigeon and critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle, once rare here, have also returned to the island.
On the last day of my weeklong visit, a gentle swell rolls in, so I grab one of the resort’s guest surfboards and head to Petite Anse beach to ride some waves. Along with North Island’s notable eco- logical accomplishments, I ponder how the Seychelles has collectively set aside more than half of its total land area for conservation and passed legislation guaranteeing its citizens the right to a clean environment. It’s a gift that keeps on giving – to locals and travelers alike.