After our departure from Botswana we headed back through South Africa where we caught an Air Seychelles redeye flight from Johannesburg to Victoria, on the island of Mahe, within the Seychelles. Because I realize that few probably know where exactly the Seychelles are, here’s the quick map:
We choose the Seychelles pairing with Africa because it offered an opportunity to get to a beach that would be quiet and hopefully relaxing – and, with no 5AM wakeup calls either! The only trick was figuring out exactly where to go in the Seychelles. After wasting months narrowing down choices, we ended up deciding at pretty much the last minute (no really, about 3 days prior) – and went with Denis Island. We had wanted a ‘private island’ type experience similar in concept to our visit to the Maldives last year, but we certainly weren’t going to pay $5,000 a night for a room at some of the other options in the area (Frigate Island and North Island). The Girl initially found Denis Island as great alternative – being a fair bit cheaper. After chatting with the folks there they gave us a media rate which saved us some money, though, in retrospect it wasn’t any different than a normal discount rate for the island. But they did help open up some booking at the last minute, so for that I am grateful.
They’re interested in my feedback on the island, which I also hope will be of service to those considering Denis in the future. Beware though, while pictures may speak louder than words, I’d be sure not to skip over the words. In particular – since I know this post will be found when some folks are looking for information on Denis Island, if nothing else – read what the very end of the post.
And for everyone else…enjoy the photos…I think they’re pretty (well…cause I took them). :)
Arrival on the Island
Because it’s a private island over 100KM away from the main island, the primary method of transport is air. The island has a small grass strip, which accommodates a single daily flight – as well as custom chartered helicopters. We joined a diverse group of folks – albeit many Europeans – on our short 30 minute flight aboard a bright and colorful prop plane.
From there, we departed the main airport and cross over a myriad of smaller islands on the way to Denis. About 25 minutes later, we had the island in sight.
Following an uncharacteristically steep (but fun) approach, we bumped our way down the grass strip and rolled up to the welcome hut.
From there, the bags were loaded and we and the Europeans played our best game of duck duck goose and piled aboard golf carts for the short drive to the main arrival hall.
Upon arriving we were given a little appetizer of sorts, and then to take in the scenery for about 30 minutes.
Our Little Vila
After a bit of prodding we were taken to our room – a cottage set back a bit from the beach, but still with a view. From the outside you can see the small covered gazebo where we could lounge the day away if we didn’t want to be near the beach.
Inside the room was decorated in a contemporary fashion, that also mixed in having the bathroom outdoors in a walled in garden.
With the design of the villas being fairly ‘open’ we shared our cottage with a small flotilla of geckos and lizards. They were harmless enough though – and provided us with endless entertainment.
Because the minibar and wine cooler were empty, we requested they be filled…with Diet Coke. What do you expect from two endurance athletes?
As we looked outwards toward the water, we had what was in essence our own backyard straight to the water. Well, at least when staff members weren’t using it as a shortcut between villas. But otherwise it was all ours!
(No matter how many hundreds of photos I took of these chairs…they never got old!)
Once at the beach, we had a view nearly a mile away down the white sands of Denis Island – really quite amazing:
(The Girl was always out looking for seashells…in the Seychelles…try and say that 10 times fast…)
And looking the other direction was no less incredible:
In fact – the island itself was full of gorgeous views no matter where we turned on the beaches:
During our stay we ran or swam daily. The island is roughly a mile long, and about half a mile wide. With quite a few ‘trails’ and ‘roads’, we had a pretty good assortment of running options.
The challenge though was that the hand drawn island road map they had on hand at the office simply wasn’t useful or accurate. And while you’d think it would be easy to circumnavigate a small island – once you add in dense jungle and poor road/path upkeep, combined with not a single directional sign on the island – the task becomes somewhat frustrating. Even some staff privately agreed with us.
(While taking a moment to get unlost, we found this huge spider hanging out above us)
Nonetheless, after a few days we had figured out a running route or two and probably went places no other guests go. Which is too bad. The native island itself is gorgeous, and $50 arts and crafts project at the woodworking shop would really open it up to all guests (as well as ourselves).
We did some swimming across the bay too, and I used both the Garmin Forerunner 410 and the 310XT in my swim cap to record it.
Google doesn’t cover the region at all, so my little satellite picture is useless. And Bing Maps, while at least showing the outline of the island, doesn’t show enough to make the image worthwhile. Sorry!
And finally, on the athletic front, we did take a two person kayak out one day.
Though, our lack of apparent kayaking teamwork eventually resulted in one of us getting kicked overboard…regrettably…that was me.
But we still had fun on them…even if we might have come close to cancelling our wedding plans (who would have thought paddling in sync was so tough?).
As a happy caretaker of two little turtles, I was excited to see the island was home to a bunch of much larger turtles.
The turtles are the ‘pets’ of the owner of the island, who simply enjoys turtles. The first day we arrived we heard the turtles making a sort of ‘eeee-oooor’ type sound (like saying ‘e’, followed by ‘or’) and couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. But a few days later, we figured it out.
It was the romance dance!
Nonetheless, we enjoyed having the turtles around.
Though, like the islands trails – there was no information about them. Not a single sign around their pen or anyone to explain about them. I’d love to have known anything about them.
The island also has a farm and pretty significant greenhouse system. The goal being to reduce it’s dependence on the main island, and thus also also improve its environment footprint. Though undoubtedly it also reduces its costs.
Based on my browsing, the farm contained ducks, chickens, goose, rabbits, cows, pigs and goats. They mentioned that all the milk comes from the cows daily. And given the massive numbers of chickens, I’d suspect that any chicken or chicken byproduct is the same.
The greenhouses were fairly impressive – three in total that I could find. Additionally, they harvested a small portion of the islands heavy coconut tree population to make an assortment of products, some of which were exported off the island.
I would have loved for there to have been more information about the farm area, or for the area to be more ‘inviting’ to guests. While many of my photos make it appear ‘inviting’, the area was anything but. The general area had derelict items thrown about, with buildings that were half finished or in need of repair.
Denis Island’s owner partner with the Green Island Foundation (a local non-profit) to allow researchers to conduct projects and research on the island. We met briefly with one of the researchers (Jenny) during our stay, where she was working on a project to rid the island of a non-native and invasive bird – the Myna bird (not the bird below).
The bird hails from Mauritius (another island chain in the region) and over time had started to push some of native species in the Seychelles (primarily avian in nature) to the brink of extinction. At one point, only 50 birds of one species had been left, and only on Denis Island. They assisted this species by providing it a ‘safe haven’ in certain areas of the island with known food sources – and since then have greatly improved their numbers.
The project essentially involved removing the local population of Myna birds from nearly 1,000 to zero. Green Island Foundation’s (GIF) project started in May and since then they’ve managed to trap all but 50 of the birds. Although the chase is getting trickier with less birds left to catch, they are still making progress by using the traps. So of course we went with Jenny to check for ourselves.
Though earlier that morning they had managed to catch a few of the ‘bad birds’, this time the traps caught one of the good guys. No worries though, they don’t use poison and she merely took the bird out and let it fly away.
They check the traps twice a day to reduce the stress on any inadvertent captures. The traps work by placing one of the Myna birds in the center of the trap – which then attracts more of his friends. This is because the Mynas are very territorial and actually comes into the trap trying to move the decoy (very much alive) bird out, though the birds are separated to reduce any skirmishes.
You can find out more about GIF via their site here, and a ton more about the Myna project here. I know they’re very appreciative of what Denis Island does and I know the owners are behind conservation, but from a guests point of view (one who also favors many conservation efforts), I felt like they could do quite a bit more highlighting of GIF’s work to guests (such as a weekly ‘here’s what we do’ type of evening pow-wow). By employing many of the same techniques that the Maldives Whale Shark Research Team uses in the Maldives, they could both engage guests in their work (which also includes many of the sea turtles that we saw while on the island), as well as probably get a fair bit of monetary support.
In an effort to get back to the main island and explore a bit, we decided to leave the island a bit early. This ended up complicating things a bit, so we had to charter a helicopter to leave (yes, I paid for that…no discount there). We had actually planned to do a helicopter sightseeing trip anyway, so it wasn’t too much more expensive to simply fly back that way.
Plus…it was The Girl’s first time aboard one – so that was fun!
The takeoff was pretty cool, right over the edge of the island and the coral reefs.
And closer to the main island, we got our sightseeing in!
The Little Things Matter
As one who travels hundreds of thousands of miles per year, and has averaged over 100 night per year in hotels over the last 10 years (in some cases, nearly 250 nights per year) – I like to think I have a pretty good grasp on hotel service and expectations. I’m also down to earth enough to stay at just about anywhere that has a bed. Despite what I often show in stories here, I stay at just as many nights in $54/night rooms in the places like Martinsburg, WV (including the awesome waffle machine in the lobby). Thus, I like to think that I’m pretty tolerant of hotel missteps.
But I’m also cognizant of expectations. And in the case of Denis Island, where my per night room cost exceeds that of a round trip ticket to Europe, you also have look at whether or not you’re getting your money’s worth. After all – the location bills itself as a ‘Luxury Private Island’.
In the case of ‘Did I find a beautiful and relaxing island’ – there’s no question that we did. The landscape and remoteness of it is hard to beat. But after staying there five days, we became increasingly frustrated with the little things (though some would say big things). For a hotel, these can be the hardest to fix. None of my list below can be ‘fixed’ overnight, as can be done with a broken toilet or missing light bulbs (which we had). These require investment and attention to the problem. So let me begin:
1) Food: I understand and love the buffet as much as the next guy (really, I do!), but when I’m paying as much as I am – I can’t see having the only food option be a fairly sparse buffet. The number of days that we chose to eat just pure white rice over the other options would surprise you. In our 15 buffet’s worth of meals, we had only 1 meal where they offered a menu. And it didn’t help that the food wasn’t well prepared.
2) Staff: You know how when you pull up to a hotel and the staff warmly greets you? You know how when you ask for something the hotel staff usually smile and help out? You know how when you watch staff in a hotel they act a certain way – as if they had been trained to work in a hotel? Well…none of that generally occurs on Denis. You might note the photo I took on landing at the very top with two of the lead staff members standing their arms on their hips watching us land. In every other ‘remote hotel’ I’ve been at in the world, staff would be waving hello (just like your own family would). The ‘arms on hips’ was generally the attitude we saw. The staff simply didn’t act like they were trained as hotel staff. To be fair, there certainly were exceptions. Our housekeeping women was great and very caring, and one or two of the staff members seemed to actually be interested in making us happy.
3) Lack of upkeep: Perhaps most disappointing of all, was just the general lack of upkeep around the resort. The villas the themselves were fine. But so many other things around the non-beach portion of the property just seemed like they had been ignored. Paths with fallen trees on them, cottage areas with dead bushes/trees/shrubs, piles of longstanding garbage here and there – even some on the beach in some areas. As with anything – one thing here or there isn’t a big deal – but we constantly saw just a general lack of thought going into keeping the property on par with a Holiday Inn – let alone a ‘Luxury Private Island’.
I won’t continue to beat to death all of the disappointments that we had, as after all, you probably don’t want to hear them. And, it could be that our expectations were too high, though I think they were in line with any normal hotel, let alone a private island.
In summary, while we absolutely enjoyed the relaxation aspects of Denis Island, however neither I nor The Girl can recommend it to others. While I certainly recognize that others have likely had great experience there, in general, we did not. Given how much we paid, we felt like our money would have been spent better elsewhere. I do really hope that the owners of Denis can find ways to improve the hotel aspects of the island, as I think the island itself is of astounding beauty, and it would be a shame for it to not live up to its full potential.