St. Mary’s Island

Unique rock formations they said…. worth seeing…. But then the tides are tricky, they can toss you up and down, near fatal….. There have been tragic mishaps…. The trip to the island was beastly while the island itself is beautiful. This is all I knew about the island for a long long time, decades in fact. All that changed on a trip in 2014 and voila, you must see the changes that have since taken place!

Malpe has always been on the map of beaches of Karnataka, much visited by tourists doing the rounds of Udupi or Manipal. In the recent past, significant developments have taken place to make these destinations more tourist-friendly. I imagine that this very same magic wand transformed the trip to the island into a pleasant and safe experience.

Over millions of years, the super-continent broke up to eventually form the seven continents that we know today. This separation was caused by the movement of the tectonic plates of the earth. These movements can cause volcanoes or earthquakes or form mountains or ocean ridges. St. Mary’s Islands are known for columnar volcanic igneous rocks that were formed nearly 88 million years ago when Madagascar drifted away from India. These rock formations that look like hexagonal manmade pillars are a marvel. Reminded me of the structure of Carbon, Cells of Mobile Phone Technology and even bee hives – lots of Science for someone who has long left it behind 🙂 There are four islands set north to south, parallel to the mainland (Malpe beach) and are named Coconut Island, North Island, Daryabahadurgarh Island and South Island. Coconut Island also called Thonesepar is the largest with a length of about 500m and a breadth of 100m is by default known as St. Mary’s Island.

Dont they resemble inter-locking tiles?
Stacked columns

So much has changed since my visit in 2014! A beautiful walkway with some decent landscaping and sculptures on local themes (fisherfolk and traditional folk art) leads from the parking lot (there wasn’t one in 2014! We left the car just by the side of the road) to the ticketing office (it used to be a small little booth).

Row row row your boat….

If you get there before the office opens, treat yourself to a walk down the 500m long Sea Walk (another new addition!). Who knows, you might spot a dolphin or two (I did!). The azure sea has such a calming effect on the senses that by the time you get back to the ticket office you are in a Zen state. Much required, in my opinion, as the first boat must leave at 10.30am but may not leave until they have a ‘decent number’. This magic number happens to be 30.

The Sea Walk
Me – on spotting a dolphin 🙂

Once you hop on the boat, the 15-minute boat ride can be extremely entertaining, what with the loudspeakers suddenly blaring remix versions of Bollywood songs and music of the 70s and 80s that gets EVERYONE on their feet and dancing. If you cannot shake a leg, just sit and watch them, there is certain joy in watching a motley crowd twist, turn, shake… and groan when the music stops (it does, every few minutes).

When you get to the island, walk around, admire the rocks, dip your feet in the cool water, look out for pretty shells, and an hour later, hop on the boat for the ride back to the mainland. Is this all, you ask? St. Mary’s island is a must-see for breathtaking sea views and the rock formations being only one of its kind in India. The varying shades of blue sea can be mistaken for the famed beaches of Maldives! The beach is cordoned off in most parts of the island and rightfully so, as the sea is rough, rocky and dangerously deep around the island. It is not a swim-friendly beach, but a site of natural beauty that in my opinion deserves to be a UNESCO Geopark.

1. Whether you are going from Manipal or Udupi or Mangalore, you have to get yourself to the Malpe Harbour Road and enter Malpe Harbour. It is best if you have your own vehicle as the parking lot and ticketing office is a good 850m from the Harbour Entrance. An autorickshaw stand is also present here. 
You will pay:
Harbour entry fee INR 20/- per vehicle
Car Parking fee INR 30/- per vehicle
Ferry fee INR 300/- per person and INR 150/- for children aged between 3-10 years.
The ferry is operational only September to May.
It is cheaper to take the ferry from here rather than from Malpe Beach where they charge nearly double the price.
2. All payments to be made in CASH only.
3. Ask your boat’s skipper when to expect the return trip. They usually come back after an hour. If you intend to stay longer, I suggest that you inform the ticket office and carry their contact number.
4. Food items and single-use plastic water bottles are not permitted on the island. Bags are checked and if these items are found, they have to be deposited at the storage facility at the island entrance gate. However, you can take water in reusable water bottles. There is a small eatery of sorts that sells a few basic snacks. 
5. Water sports facilities are supposedly available, but I only saw the zorbing contraption.
6. Toilet facility is available on the island. Restrooms and changing rooms can be found on the mainland near the ticketing office.
7. There is a long list of dos and dont’s that includes ‘not to collect shells from the island’. Please adhere to the rules to keep the place pristine and clean.

Travel Tips:
1) One has to wade through knee deep water when getting off the boat, so dress appropriately unless you do not mind the sea water in your clothes. 
2) I suggest taking the first boat out and returning an hour later if you wish to avoid the peak noon sun.
3) If you visit here in the morning, post lunch, you can plan a visit to this place as well. You will not be disappointed.

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