In mid-July of this year, I received a call from a close aunt, asking if I would like to go to South Africa with her. The local tour agency was offering a promotional package with a fully-sponsored two-night stopover in Mauritius thrown in. Although I was a bit hesitant at first, it struck me that I might not ever get another opportunity to visit South Africa…so I said, “Yes!”
We flew Air Mauritius, of course. Why else would the airline want to fully sponsor your accommodation, meals including a day tour of Mauritius if they are not hoping that you will like the place so much that you will return there one day? It was my first time with Air Mauritius and I really didn’t know what to expect. The return flight turned out to be better than expected. It seemed like the twenty-five of us in the group were fed non-stop inside the plane. The only downside was the choice of movies which was very limited. I will always remember Air Mauritius for its landing. They were the best landings I have experienced for any plane. Hats off to the pilots!
Mauritius is a volcanic island of lagoons and palm-fringed beaches with coral reefs surrounding most of the coastline. It sits in the Indian Ocean, off the south-east coast of the African continent. Its 1.2 million mixed population comprises Hindus, Creoles, Muslims, Chinese and Europeans. Most Mauritians are bilingual and while English is the official language, French and Creole are widely spoken.
On arrival at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (what a mouthful), our group was greeted by an Air Mauritius representative, who spoke only Mandarin and not a word of English. Good for her, I guess. She was spared from having to answer the many curious questions I tend to ask when visiting a new country.
After buffet breakfast at 6:30am the next day, we set off for Chamarel that is known for its natural attractions. We drove along the coastal roads, passing fishing villages and the famous salt pans of Tamarin. I was disappointed that the coach did not stop for us to get a closer look at the salt pans. Since salt is found in virtually every household, it would have been interesting (for me, at least) to see how salt is derived from sea water pumped into large, shallow pans and left to evaporate before being harvested and sent for refining.
Our first stop was at Chamarel Waterfall, the highest waterfall in Mauritius at a height of 100 metres. There are two view points to see the waterfall. The first one is just off the carpark area. The second viewpoint is found higher up, requiring a climb up a stairway to view the waterfall from a different angle as it plunges into the pool below.
Seven-Coloured Earth of Chamarel
A short drive from the waterfall is The Seven-Coloured Earth, a natural phenomenon which is unique to Mauritius. It is a relatively small area of sand dunes made up of seven distinct colours – red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow. These colours are not that apparent from afar. In fact, as you approach the sand dunes, your eyes might deceive you into thinking that you are looking at hills with shadows of different shades. However, upon getting closer, you soon realise that the colours are real and the shadows an illusion.
The bizarre dunes were created by volcanic rocks which cooled at different temperatures and became crushed into sand which then settled into different compositions bearing different colours. Interestingly, the colours do not erode during torrential downpours and changes in the climate.
What is even more incredible is if the coloured sand were mixed together, they’ll eventually settle into separate layers!
Black River Gorge
The Black River Gorge National Park offers panoramic views of the island, including mountains, vistas, gorges, waterfalls and rivers. Stretching over 6574 hectares of land, there are lots of hiking trails to view the forests and wildlife. It would have been nice to spend more time here and wander around a bit, but that did not happen because we were on a tight itinerary.
Grand Bassin Sacred Lake (Ganga Talao)
Grand Bassin or Ganga Talao is a sacred lake resting high up in the mountains at 1800 feet above sea level. This natural crater lake is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites outside of India. Every year, more than 400.000 Hindus make the pilgrimage to Ganga Talao to pay homage to their gods. There is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, along with little shrines and colourful statues around its shores. You can’t miss the giant statue of Shiva marking the entrance. At 108-feet, it is the highest statue in Mauritius.
According to a legend this crater lake is connected with India’s holy River Ganges. Lord Shiva (Transformer and Destroyer) took his wife, Parvati, around the world in a flying ship. He wanted to show Parvati the most beautiful places on earth, so they stopped in Mauritius. Throughout the journey, Shiva was carrying the River Ganges on his head to prevent the earth from flooding. However, when they were about to land in Mauritius, Shiva accidentally spilled some water. Drops of it flowed into the crater – making Ganga Talao what it is today!
Le Bois Chéri Restaurant, Saint Aubin
After Ganga Talao, we made a 20-minute coach ride to the famous Bois Chéri tea plantation for lunch. Le Bois Chéri Restaurant is a charming building that sits on a hilltop surrounded by beautifully maintained grounds overlooking a man-made lake.
The Mauritian menu was imaginative, using tea leaves in many dishes, thereby adding a fresh twist to the elegant dining experience. The home-made rolls served with butter and four different types of custom dippings made this a meal that I will remember for a long time. We concluded lunch with a tea tasting session of 8 different types of Bois Chéri tea.
The Company’s tea factory is down the road from the restaurant, and it even has its own tea museum!
Troux aux Cerfs Volcano
After lunch, we made our way towards the famous Trou aux Cerfs Volcano in the town of Curepipe. Some geologists believe that the island of Mauritius was formed by lava spewing out from this volcano, so you can imagine how I was really looking forward to seeing this extinct volcano measuring 300 meters in diameter, 605 meters high and 80 meters deep.
Well, I was disappointed. The site was covered with overgrown bushes and trees such that the crater was hardly visible. What remained resembled more of a little pond, so badly silted and clogged up that it hardly had any water. Suffice to say that it just wasn’t worth the hour-long travel just to see this poorly maintained, vegetation-filled crater.
Fortunately, the surrounding landscape around the volcano offered some consolation. It gives a panoramic view of Curepipe town and the southern part of Mauritius. The scenery stretches for quite a distance, allowing you to see several towns, villages, farms and the majestic craggy mountain peaks jutting out of the landscape.
Aanari Resort and Spa
We put up at the Aanari Resort and Spa for the 2 nights we were in Mauritius. A minutes’ walk from Flic en Flac beach, this island-style resort with wood accents is in a two-wing complex ideally located in the village of Flic en Flac. There is a huge supermarket in the basement of the resort complex, with the police station and beach being right opposite the building. This is quite a happening place with restaurants, bars, clubs, bank, money changer, internet cafe, post office, clinics, pharmacy, laundry services, shops and boutiques within walking distance from the resort.
We were fortunate to get a corner room at the upper most level of the resort which also houses the gym, swimming pool and open spa. The rooms were slightly dated but clean and comfortable. A slight glitch took place almost immediately after we entered our room. The entire wing to which my group was assigned experienced a power blackout. Most of us had not even begun to unpack. Being new and unfamiliar with the place, all we could do was to sit in the darkness and wait for the power supply to come back. Some of us took this chance to get better acquainted with our fellow travellers standing outside the darkened corridor, while others took the opportunity to peep into other people’s rooms to compare whose room was bigger (and better)! Thankfully, this inconvenience lasted for about 25 minutes before power supply was fully restored.
The meals served at Aanari were excellent. I enjoyed savouring the seafood and meat prepared in Mauritian style. The dining tables were set up in a lush, open terrace garden, complete with a sea view and live music entertainment in the evenings at the open lobby bar.