Friday, 16 March 2012

Mauritius moments

This was my first trip back to Mauritius, Réunion's neighbouring island, since 2001.

We stayed in Grand Baie, in the island's north-west, about a 5 km drive from our dive club located in-between Mon Choisy and Trou aux Biches.

our dive club

Most days we dived in the morning, finishing about 10:30/11am, then headed off sight-seeing for the rest of the day. Spots we dived at include Forêt NoirCaravelleStella Maru, Stenopus Reef, Poison Reef and Ancre Perdu.

one of the club's boats

Not far from the dive club, at Mon Choisy, is a monument to where the first flight between Reunion and Mauritius landed.

Maurice Samat and Paul-Louis Lemerle
landed on September 10th 1933.

On land there were a certain number of sites in Mauritius we wanted to revisit, but we didn't go back to some of the more popular tourist spots like Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens, Casela Nature Park, or Chamarel Coloured Earths.

Grand Baie

Grand Baie is quite touristy but has a good selection of accommodation in different price ranges, and you're not limited to hotel restaurants for eating options.

Hindu shrine, Grand Baie

Tamil temple, Grand Baie

This church beside the sea is opposite a mosque.

church, Grand Baie

On one of our first days of sight-seeing we headed to the west coast as we were meeting a friend who was staying in Flic-en-Flac. South of Flic-en-Flac is the town of Tamarin, which is known for its salt flats.

Tourelle de Tamarin, 548 metres

Seawater is left to evaporate and form salt crystals.


Coral was used to make lime for construction purposes. Fortunately the practice was stopped as it destroyed both the coral reef and the forests (wood was needed to heat the kiln).

old lime kiln, Tamarin

South of Tamarin at La Preneuse is an old Martello Tower, built by the British in 1830s for defensive purposes. This particular one has been turned into a museum.

Martello Tower, La Preneuse, Tamarin

The following day we headed north from Grand Baie, passing through Pereybere to Cap Malheureux, famous for its red-roofed church. 

Coin de Mire island, seen from Cap Malheureux

It's the northern-most point of Mauritius, and the place name literally means 'Cape Misfortune'.

Cap Malheureux church

Cap Malheureux is also the place where the British landed to start their invasion (and ultimate conquest) of the island in 1810.

Cap Malheureux church, looking out to sea

Continuing on around the coast to the north-east you arrive at Poudre d'Or which is where the ship St Geran sank offshore on August 18th 1744 with the loss of 192 lives (143 sailors, 13 passengers and 30 slaves). 

The French writer Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was inspired by the shipwreck to write the love story "Paul and Virginie" in 1788.

Paul & Virginie monument

Mangrove can be found growing along parts of the east coast.

Rhizophora mucronata

St Mark's Church, Poudre d'Or

The following day we headed to the island's centre, stopping first at Le Fangourin, the restaurant of L'Aventure du Sucre to have lunch (L'Aventure du Sucre is a former sugar factory which has been turned into a museum about the sugar industry, rather like Reunion Island's Stella Matutina).

on the lawn at Le Fangourin

four varieties of unrefined sugar

With such a multicultural population, many religions co-exist on Mauritius: Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.

Catholic shrine, La Nicolière

Tabagies (convenience stores) can be found beside many roads.

Typical tabagie

Mauritius is geologically older than Réunion, and consequently its mountains are not quite so dramatic. Its highest point, the Piton de la Rivière Noire, is only 828m (compared to 3070m for Reunion's Piton des Neiges!). Nevertheless its summits punctuate the landscape, rising up out of the flat plains.

Pieter Both (823m) to the left and Le Pouce (812m) to the right

closer view of Pieter Both, with sugar cane fields in the foreground

Curepipe is Mauritius' second city after the capital Port Louis, and is situated on the island's central plateau.

Curepipe, from Trou aux Cerfs.

Close to the town centre is Trou aux Cerfs, a dormant volcanic crater 85m deep and 200m wide.

Trou aux Cerfs

As it is located at 600 metres altitude there are great views to be had on a clear day.

looking west from Trou aux Cerfs

On our last day of sightseeing we headed to the south-west, starting at Tamarin Falls, a series of seven waterfalls near the town of Henrietta.

Tamarin Falls

Next we passed through the beautiful landscapes of Mauritius' only National Park, Black River Gorges.

Black River Gorges National Park

The views when heading down to the coast from Black River Gorges are stunning.

looking south, Le Morne in the distance to the right

looking south-west towards Ile aux Benitiers

looking north, Tourelle de Tamarin on right

In the far south-west corner of Mauritius, which is shaped like a hammerhead shark, is the imposing Le Morne Brabant.

Le Morne Brabant rises 556 metres high

Legend says that runaway slaves hid on Le Morne but in 1835 when an expedition party came to tell them slavery was abolished fearing capture they threw themselves from the summit. The site was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.

side view of Le Morne

Le Morne is a popular area for windsurfers and kite-surfers as it is one of the windiest places in the island.

kite-surfers at Le Morne

Leaving Le Morne behind and continuing along the south coast you come to the Trevessa monument, near the village of Bel Ombre.

sunset, Trevessa monument

I've always been fascinated by the survival story of those shipwrecked on the Trevessa. Heading to Antwerp from Fremantle, the ship hit a storm 11 days out from Australia and its crew took refuge in two life-boats. One life-boat reached Rodrigues, the other arrived in Mauritius, not without several deaths however.

inscription, Trevessa monument

Unfortunately in the space of one week we didn't have enough time to visit everything we would have liked to - we didn't get to the south-east for example - but it just means we'll have to go back again soon!

Suggested reading: 

Paul and Virginie by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre

If you read French Le Bal Du Dodo by Geneviève Dormann is an interesting novel about life in Mauritius' Franco-Mauritian community. And Irene Frain's
Les Naufrages de L'Ile Tromelin, while not directly about Mauritius, tells the true story of a shipwreck on the Indian Ocean island of Tromelin by a ship heading from Madagascar to Mauritius. All the shipwreck survivors (122 crew members and 60 slaves) helped build a boat to escape the island, but the slaves were left behind; 8 survivors were finally picked up 15 years later.

More about the Trevessa:

BBC Article, July 19th 2011

More about the Tromelin island shipwreck:

Forgotten Slaves Underwater Archaeological Expedition (UNESCO)
Shipwrecked and abandoned: the story of the slave Crusoes - 'The Independent' article, February 5th 2007
Tromelin 2010 - the search continues - diary of archaeological digs on Tromelin

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