Sometimes you just have to go to the beach and get away from it all. Of course we aren’t very sit in the sun all day type of people, so our beach holiday destination still had mountains to hike, fish to snorkel with, local markets to explore and very limited time on the beach!
With massive changes on the horizon for us, we decided to abscond from the ever shorter, colder days in Maseru and head to the island nation of Mauritius. Situated in the Indian Ocean, about 1000 kilometres east of Madagascar, the island is almost completely ringed by coral reefs. Its history is long and complex, giving rise to English as the official language in Parliament, French as the de facto language and Hinduism as its most common religion. It is a colourful country, small enough to visit just about everywhere in two weeks, but enchanting enough to make you want to stay a lifetime!
It is hard to describe the variety of such a small place. Driving out along the southern coast, the road slices through sugar cane fields that tower over the top of your car. Here the sea and coastline are a little fiercer than elsewhere, due to the limited reef system and influence of the Southern Ocean. If you head south from Mauritius there is nothing until Antarctica. Elsewhere on the island’s coast, calm bays and coves sparkle with turquoise waters, perfect for snorkelling. And then there is the mountainous interior, with deep gorges and waterfalls tumbling into the forest below.
It isn’t just the natural beauty either. From the bustling central market in Port Louis to the simple food and vegetable markets in the small towns and villages, there is life and colour everywhere. Hindu shrines and small churches are nestled down alleyways hemmed in by rock walls. There is a peaceful reverie about the island, but also an undercurrent of energy long cultivated through the trade routes of the Indian Ocean.
Mauritius is home to quite a few artisanal merchants including the Mauritius Glass Gallery. There we watched them make little glass penguins (a favourite of Cora’s), bowls, glasses and all sorts of other objects. The teams worked amazingly quickly, yet each worker had a certain artistic flair and unique style. It was mesmerising to watch the molten liquid be formed and shaped with relative ease by these skilled artisans, and the end products were stunning.
Meanwhile, set on the coffee and sugar cane covered slopes in between the stunning Le Morne Peninsula and the Black River Gorge, the Rhumerie de Chamarel offers wonderfully produced rums in a tranquil setting. Feeling more like a hacienda with a gorgeous mountainous backdrop, it was a relaxing place to try a few rums and learn more about their process from growing the sugar cane to bottling – all done within a few hundred metres of the main tasting room. Much like the glass company, a few samples may very well have wound up in our luggage home!
Mauritus is truly an island that can give a traveller the most luxurious, cloistered stay if they desire. Yet there are little gems to be found everywhere if one is willing to explore a little, like magical late afternoon light filtering through a quiet grove of trees situated atop thirty metre high cliffs on the south coast. Or the tunnel-esque trail in Black Gorges National Park that occasionally opened up to views over much of the western side of the island. Being who we are, we explored what we could.
We snorkelled in Blue Bay Marine Reserve in the southeast coast and swam amongst wonderful schools of fish and calm, peaceful waters. We took a catamaran trip that treated us to wonderfully unique coral outcroppings, a plenty of dolphin sightings and a lovely Mauritian lunch aboard. We also were able to snorkel right next to the coral wall, which offered another fine array of fish. Unfortunately our underwater camera died so regrettably we don’t have any photos of these lovely local underwater wonders.
Though we used our rental car to get around the island quite a bit, we also took advantage of the bikes available at our resort and went on a guided bike ride with one of the staff up through the sugar cane fields and into the nearest little village for their Tuesday morning market. It was the perfect opportunity to learn more about the different kinds of sugar cane and to sample wonderful local street food and Mauritian spices.
Not far from Chamarel is the rather unique little tourist site of the Seven Coloured Earths. Here a patch of exposed earth is coloured like a rainbow, or tie-dyed shirt. Due to the chemicals present in this one random spot, the colours occur completely naturally and do not seem to fade through rain or sun. The colours are a completely natural phenomenon, created as basaltic lava was converted to clay minerals. Nothing grows here in this small patch of coloured earth so what remains is a unique corner of coloured earth that often features in popular nature and photography magazines.
On a cloudy, rainy day we drove through the heart of the island, up past the enormous Hindu shrine and holy lake of Ganga Talao and on towards the more populated northwestern part of the island. We made it to the capital of Port Louis, and wandered around the central market, sampling more street food. Though certainly not as busy as many world capitals, it was still wholly refreshing to depart and head back down along the coast and towards our home away from home.
The resort we stayed at was a special treat, a kind of splurge before our little one comes into our lives. Spoilt with amazing meals, luxurious pools, a secluded beach front and water and land sports, we could have easily stayed on the grounds all week. We had a room as far away from the main reception and restaurant buildings as possible and the walks along the winding pathways were unhurried and perfect for spotting lizards, birds or new flowers. Swimming under the towering palm trees to the edge of the main pool you could throw your arms up onto the ledge and look out at the waves crashing on the reef wall. An herb and vegetable garden was used to provide daily speicalties in the restaurant and a small ‘rum shack’ sat off on its own, perfect for a pre-dinner drink.
The flora and fauna on the grounds, and the island in general, were particularly were stunning. Flowers grew in all shapes and sizes. The moisture rich environment let trees grow tall and leaves broad. And then there were small surprises, like the tiny fern leaves that would crumple up when touched. Birds and lizards were always prevalent and even a monkey or two could be glimpsed in the trees.
At the end of each day we were treated to a different and often dramatic sunset, with the light across the bay and over the distant mountains changing dramatically and filtered through the ocean’s spray. It was always the perfect way to relax in the late afternoon.
We didn’t really know exactly what to expect from this holiday, but it was truly magical and the perfect way to re-charge, re-connect and prepare for the massive changes ahead with our little moeti on the way. Thanks Mauritius for the perfect little island adventure and escape!