From swimming with whale sharks to hanging out with an ancient tortoise, there's a David Attenborough moment around every corner in the glorious Seychelles
Getting up close and personal with the biggest fish in the world is a magical experience.
Up to 13-metres long and weighing in at 10 tonnes, the majestic, plankton-eating whale shark is something to behold. All it takes is patience, a bit of luck, a good skipper, flippers and a snorkel.
For this once-in-a-lifetime experience I headed for the warm waters of the Seychelles. After scouring the water around the main island of Mahe in a tiny fishing boat, our skipper spotted a young female coming to the surface to feed. Pointing to a large dark patch in the shimmering turqoise expanse spread before us, he put his fingers to his lips to call for quiet - then gave the signal.
Holding our breath with excitement, one by one we jumped from the boat into a tranquil underwater world. And there, barely a couple of metres away we watched as the beautiful spotted creature glided past with a swarm of scavenger fish that looked as though they were connected to her massive body by an invisible force field. It was a spectacle I'll never forget.
I went in October, a good time of year to spot them. But as conservation expert Dave Rowat told us: “it's not like going to the zoo. You can't just expect them to be there because you are.”
The same goes for anything in the natural world, but that's all part of the fun. After a week of scuba diving in the ocean around Silhouette, North Island and Mahe, we saw turtles, reef sharks, octopus and rays. The plethora of wildlife here is breathtaking. But it wasn't until the very last day of our trip that a pilot flying passengers to the island from the airport rang to say he's spotted some whale sharks from the air.
For our whale shark adventure we joined staff at Mahe's Angelfish Dive Centre. They assured us it was better to snorkel than to dive as the whale sharks come to the surface to feed on plankton. Some divers are convinced the docile creatures tend to shy away from the air bubbles produced by a scuba tank. They were right. By the end of a fabulous and unforgettable afternoon we'd seen six whale sharks. For some in our group it was a dream come true.
For the ultimate luxury retreat go for the the Labriz Resort on Silhouette Island. I stayed in a gorgeous villa complete with plunge pool, a pristine strip of white sand and shimmering sea for a back garden.
The island has acres of untamed forest and secluded beaches peppered with massive granite boulders which you can explore alone or with a local guide, who will point out cinnamon, the erotically shaped coco de mer, exotic insects, fruits and natural plant remedies.
Another rare treat is a close encounter with the Seychelles giant tortoise, looked after by the fascinating Ron Gerlach and a team of volunteers at a conservation project and breeding farm on the island. Long thought extinct after being used as a portable fresh food source by buccaneers, these ancient creatures made a surprise reappearance in 1995 and have been flourishing under Ron's care ever since.
On Silhouette nature is all around you. A cooling walk as darkness descends brings a David Attenborough moment around every corner with colonies of fruit bats flitting from tree to tree and huge orange-shelled crabs standing on sentry duty on a wooden bridge over a lagoon.
Silhouette is popular with honeymooners, luxury travellers and scuba divers. It boasts its own decompression chamber as part of the Ecocenter dive centre. It's also big on pampering with the luxurious Aquum spa and a series of intimate five-star restaurants nestled among the trees, serving first class cuisine and a wine list to die for. My favourite is the Creole restaurant, Grann Kaz, a plantation house built in 1860 which has been lovingly restored and has a band and live Creole dancers once a week.
If you fancy a break from your luxury getaway though, head across the water to the island of Mahe and sample the battered parrot fish at the quirky and historic Restaurant Marie Antoinette in St Louis.
And don't leave without having a peep out the back where you'll find a family of giant tortoise that astounded locals by crawling from beneath a tonne of rubble after a wall collapsed in heavy rain in 2001. One still bears the scars on his massive shell.