Mauritius, diverse and delightful tiny island

Life is getting in the way of my blog, people. Not good… But fine at the same time in a way, I suppose, because it means I’m finding ways to keep myself busy. After over a year here, it was about time really!

Anyhow, nothing should come in the way of telling you how beautiful Mauritius is!

And for the ones who know me, I have very fond memories of the stunning French department (Martinique) and former overseas territory (New Caledonia) I lived in as a child and as a pre-teen so I’m totally a sucker for paradisiac places but/so also a very demanding client.

Mauritius is located a few hours away from Maputo, so it could be convenient to travel to this country (like on an every-holiday basis!) but obviously the only direct flights are in the middle of the week so we still had to transit via South Africa. Nonetheless it is quite quick to get there.

It is located in the southwest of the Indian Ocean, between Reunion Island to the west and teensy-weensy Rodrigues Island to the east, in the heart of the Mascarene Islands.

map-mauritius-copy

The island is 65 km long by 45 km wide maximum, which could give the impression that it is quick to go from point A to point B but que nenni. The roads have been carefully devised (What do you mean it wasn’t done on purpose?) to be as winding and convoluted as can be so any given short distance takes a couple of hours. Left, right, up, down, up again, right, left – you get it. Mozambique’s main road going all the way to the north being the most straight and boring road ever for hundreds of kilometres, tiny, twisted Mauritius was actually a lovely break from it.

Given the ridiculously tiny overall surface of the island, I am quite proud to say that we managed (Henry really) to drive the grand total of over 500 km over the course of 8 days. The following map is a quick outline of our itinerary but there was a lot of back and forth going on.

mauritius-map

So what’s amazing and so charming and unique about Mauritius is the diversity of its people, thus of their food too, of its landscapes, the beauty of the beaches, the 50 shades of blue of the water and green of the nature around.

The historical past of the island is another story: a story of slavery, Dutch domination, slave trade, French colonisation, British colonisation, economical interests, cheap labour, exploitation… But hey, I’m sure that all these former empires would be very happy to tell you how beneficial this bleak past was as the population of Mauritius can now speak English, French and Mauritian Creole without any problem.

Mauritius Island became independent in 1968 and is now part of the Commonwealth and the Francophonie. Their past is behind them, with some old ruins, a few Martello Towers and numerous colonial houses to remind us of it. And with all the efforts they made towards a prosperous tourism, they’re doing very well.

The most touristic part of the island being in the north west… we decided to go first to the south (obviously!) which is supposed to be remote and more wild, then head to the east and drive back to the capital city and its surroundings for one day in order to see the hustle and bustle of the big metropolis Port Louis.

The south

With its beautiful nature, the south was a great start to our trip, even though the weather was pretty rubbish then. We quickly went to Black River Gorges and Grand Bassin as it was raining and overcast, but were lucky enough to enjoy walking around Chamarel Waterfall and Seven Coloured Earths and Curious Corner of Chamarel, and to go to the beach at Le Morne Brabant.On the way back from La Vanille Reserve de Mascareigne, the nature reserve, we stopped for a rum tasting at St Aubin rum house too as it is almost compulsory to do so 😉

Of all the things we did in the South, Chamarel Seven Coloured Earths for the beauty and peculiarity of the different colours and La Vanille for the meeting with the Aldabra giant tortoises were the best. La Vanille’s “Savane des Tortues” is an amazing place where you get to be very close to these huge tortoises, one of which being one of the 5 largest giant tortoises in the world. He is called Domino and he has the grand old age of 106 years old! The guide there will make sure you learn everything about these huge animals, how they are born and raised at La Vanille, and mostly destined to be transferred to the François Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve in Rodrigues. Before Man set foot on Rodrigues Island, there were around 300,000 tortoises living there. Can you imagine: when the first men got there, there were so many tortoises that the guys could walk on them for 100 metres without putting a foot on the ground! After a century of human exploitation and habitat destruction the tortoise species became extinct (What a great species we are…). So now a big conservation work is done towards the “re-wilding” of Rodrigues by recreating the ecosystem that was in place 300 years ago. On a lighter note, lunch at La Vanille was different variants of crocodile meat as the reserve is also a crocodile farm hosting thousands of them. Apparently experts agree that the survival of many of the world’s crocodile species can only be assured through farming. Which means that we could eat what Henry weirdly describes as “fishy chicken” (I kind of agree).

Along the west coast

We drove up along the west coast in two times. We first headed towards Casela Nature and Leisure Park but stopped on the way to visit the Martello Tower Museum. There are a few Martello Towers all along the coastline around Mauritius Island; the British built them as defensive forts against invasion during the Napoleonic Wars. The one we visited is the best preserved one of the island. It is small but there’s a cannon on the roof that you can turn 360°. And just for that reason, it is worth it 😉

Casela is a humongous park with 1,500 birds, some of which you can see really close as you can enter inside a big birdcage with them. Then, we went to the farm to see ducks and their farm friends, then to the big cats’ enclosure to finish on a safari trying not to be bitten by ostriches. You can easily spend the whole day there as it is so big but it is a lovely place to walk around, with lots of shade, lush vegetation and very well maintained. The only disappointment was lemurs as Marlowe has a little obsession with them and we only saw a sleeping one :/

On another occasion, we went back to the west to visit Eureka, the capital city Port Louis and the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanic Gardens. Eureka is a beautiful colonial mansion in stunning surroundings. Built in 1856 by an Englishman, it was later auctioned and won by a Franco-Mauritian family, one of whom cried ‘Eureka’ when his bid was accepted. Eureka is now a museum. Built entirely in indigenous woods, the main building has over 100 doors and the rooms on the ground floor are filled with furniture from a bygone era.

Port Louis was interesting to visit even though it is always a bit hectic to visit a big city, especially with kids. But we stuck to the city centre, walked from the Jardins de la Compagnie to Jummah Mosque via the Central Market, had lunch at a delicious Chinese restaurant and saw enough of the bustling streets around us to get a feeling of it. I have to say the only times we got stuck in traffic was on the way in and out of Port Louis.

We then spent the afternoon strolling in the Botanic Gardens. It is a big maze there so we took a guide, a very funny guy who had all sorts of stories about why every tree looked the way it looked. Some were true, some were total lies but still very entertaining. There’s also a gorgeous Lotus Pond with yellow and white lotus flowers, and a huge Lily Pond covered in giant Amazon water lilies. And marmalade box, chewing gum and sausage trees. And bats, tons of them coming out at the end of the afternoon. Huge big bats coming out of tall palm trees. Beautiful.

So Mauritius is all about nature, and animals, and vegetation and places to see and things to do but Mauritius wouldn’t be Mauritius without its smashing beaches. Massive throwback to my memories of New Caledonia, especially Amedee Island. The coral reef all around the island enables you to enjoy the water without the splashing waves. The water is insanely blue, all shades of blue, so blue that it doesn’t look natural sometimes!

We were very lucky to spend the couple of beach days we had with a friend who is from Mauritius and whose family welcomed us so warmly. We first stayed in Roches Noires from where we went to Bernache Island. And then we went to Trou d’Eau Douce from where we took a boat to Île aux Cerfs. Life cannot get any better than that. Easy like a boat taking you for a picnic on a deserted island surrounded by crystal clear turquoise waters, really (the water can be crystal clear and turquoise if i want to).

On the way to Bernache Island:

On the way to Île aux Cerfs:

Also, something that I really liked about the population there -and coming from a fervent atheist like me, it means something!- is the multitude of little shrines and temples everywhere. Christian and Hindu mainly. Along the road, in villages, in people’s front yards or fields, in the water, everywhere! It gave a sense of diversity and inclusion that was heartwarming and inspiring.

People, go there if you can!

Thank you so much Géraldine for being our special adviser on this trip! Mauritius was a lot more special thanks to you (and your parents) 🙂 ❤

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