By Janine Avery
Deep in the southern Indian Ocean lies a tiny island. Located 3,644 kilometres from the African continent and measuring just 65km in length by 45km wide, it’s a spot often referred to as paradise on Earth. It’s Instagram-worthy white sandy beaches, towering palm trees and dreamy blue waters have many a tourist flocking for a week of sun tanning and cocktails. However very few of those that make the journey to paradise ever leave their hotel and what a world are they missing…
After venturing past those hallowed gates of hotel living and driving almost 900km on this magical island in just two weeks on a unique adventure with Planet Travel Holidays, I discovered a different side to Mauritius and a completely unique world of adventure…
Touching down in Mauritius meant landing in the country on a winter’s evening. However the balmy temperatures of 28℃ meant we enjoyed a warm welcome nevertheless (winter in Mauritius is like the greatest UK summer!) The GPS provided by Maki Car Rental provided us with a running commentary on the best things to see in Mauritius, meaning we immediately felt like we were on holiday.
And the wind was blowing… great news because the first adventure that awaited us was to be a morning lesson learning how to kitesurf! Dinner of lobster, prawns, smoked marlin and a few glasses of local rum helped to calm the nerves before settling in at Solana Beach Resort.
But there was no time for leisurely champagne breakfasts because if you want to kitesurf in the lagoon all by yourself, then hitting the beach early is the key! Rolling up to Kiteglobing’s centre on the East Coast of Mauritius, the ever ready Aldo was enthusiastic and although the wind was pumping, his encouraging words pushed me to give it a good old go.
Leaving the shore in the motor boat, me decked out in harness and wetsuit with my jolly instructor flying the kite, those jitters kicked back up and I began to wonder why on Earth I couldn’t be content just sitting on my lounger, pina colada in hand, like everyone else.
Hopping into the water in the middle of the lagoon, I was delighted to discover that ‘hey, presto!’ I could stand – even a couple hundred metres from shore. The water was so clear that I could even see some teeny tiny fishes below. However now was not the time for underwater reveling as I had a kite to control, a board to attempt to maneuver onto my feet, elbows to keep in, knees to keep bent, a core to keep taut and of course, there was too much fun to be had!
A couple of lessons in Cape Town earlier in the year had given me the intro I needed to this exhilarating, yet terrifying sport, however I just hadn’t seemed to master the whole thing and I was sure that this was going to be the same. However, the warm water, and chilled Mauritian vibes must have done something for the soul because all of a sudden I was up and riding.
I was picking up speed and the beach was nearing closer, but I had no idea how to change direction so a forced crash was the only solution. As I regained composure, a light drizzle started to literally rain on my parade but it couldn’t wipe the smile off my face – I had done it, I had really done it!
A couple more goes and I knew this was only the beginning of my kiting adventure in Mauritius, however for now there wasn’t time for gloating because it was back to Solana for an introduction to scuba diving.
With an ocean the colour of Chase Crawford’s eyes, the lagoons surrounding Mauritius are just waiting to be dived into and although I have no former training, I just couldn’t resist the chance to do just that! Suited up once more and this time equipped with weight belt and full scuba diving gear, I was a sight for sore eyes around the pool at Solana.
Feeling somewhat like a fish out of water, the instructor’s first rule of scuba diving was to remain calm – yeah right! But after some lessons on what to do in the case of an emergency, how to recover your regulator and clean your mask underwater, I was once again doing it – I was breathing underwater. Attempting my best semblance of calm, I was soon swimming around at the bottom of the pool.
Although I think I might have had a small heart attack should a turtle or ray suddenly have appeared! Putting my newly-learned skills into practice it was then time to head out to the ocean where I got to dive just off the shoreline.
Having caught a small glimpse into this underwater world, it added a whole new dimension to another experience I never even dreamed possible. That is because we were going on a submarine!
Converted from an old decompression tank, Blue Safaris’ submarine offers what has to be one of the most unique adventure experiences on the whole island. Motoring out to their impressive launch vessel, our submarine awaited. Enclosed in the chamber, we began to descend and a world of blue enclosed around us.
It was an experience akin to flying, with our very own captain and lifejackets stowed behind the seat. However unlike those tiresome flights that offer no new experiences, except from the occasional choice between chicken and beef, this would take me to a world like no other. Because all of a sudden, the ocean floor grew visible and the dreamlike music playing inside the submarine made me feel like I was in some wonderful new version of the Starship Enterprise.
And then a soft voice from the captain announced that should we look out our porthole, we would spot not one, but four, turtles as they calmly grazed amongst a plethora of colourful fish while a gigantic reef jotted out in the distance. Mouth agape, I felt blessed to have been given a glimpse into the world beneath the big blue without even getting wet. I vowed right there and then that I simply had to continue that scuba diving course!
Thoroughly thrilled, but not happy to leave the ocean just yet we arrived down in the southern end of the island for what would be a relaxing day out with Mauritius Catamaran Cruises to the uninhabited island of Île aux Cerfs. Although as you may have learnt by now, not ones to be wined and dined and left to just mellow, my skipper husband was soon trimming sails, driving the boat and chatting up a storm with the Mauritian crew.
That left me just to sit back and drink in the view as the drifts from the onboard barbeque promised up something utterly delicious. Waterfalls were seen, some out of this world snorkelling added another level to the journey and some sailing was enjoyed before we touched town on a sandbank in an enormous flat water lagoon.
Kitesurfers played out where the reef breaks and the lagoon meets the open ocean and drifting into a Mauritian dreamland I envisioned myself once again flitting across those waters at one with the wind and the sea.
And luckily for me my dreams seemed to morph into reality as the following day I headed north for a date with smiling Simo! Based out of ION Club’s kitesurf centre in Anse La Raie, Simo is a true Mauritian gem and he was quick to tell me how he was going to make Anse La Raie famous. A few more lessons with his equally as big-haired colleague, Nando, and slowly I was really starting to get the hang of this kitesurfing thing! Mauritius really is one of the most amazing places to learn this incredible sport as you can stand for miles, the wind blows you safely ashore in the best spots and the water is bath-water warm.
I was totally hooked that I even tried it again and again with ION Club in Le Morne and Kiteglobing in Bel Ombre, two of the island’s more famous spots down in the south.
However when I could tear myself away from the thrill of kitesurfing, I discovered another side of Mauritius – a more secret, undiscovered side, but no less beautiful. And I discovered it with mud plastered to my face…
That is because I was bumping and grinding my way along Mauritius’ forested interior in a Polaris with Fun Drive Mauritius. A trail on these buggies has to be one of the best ways to see a different side of this amazing island and we journeyed from forest through sugar-canned farmland before discovering mud fields and hill climbs that had me giggling like a school girl.
Arriving back at the centre, with its fun bar and relaxed outdoor vibe, we enjoyed chatting to the crazy Frenchmen that came up with the idea to bring these equally as crazy vehicles into the country! It was only when I looked in the mirror afterwards did I realize my entire face was black apart from where my goggles had covered my eyes – no wonder everyone was giving me some odd looks.
Not quite ready to give up our four wheels we joined Big Foot Adventures down south for another phenomenal adventure on a quad bike. This time I struggled to even climb on the tandem bike, I was laughing so hard. My husband had forgotten his shades at the hotel and had to don my pink sunglasses, complete with heart on the side.
They provided the perfect compliment to the sexy blue disposable dust mask and hairnet that was provided. Gaining some semblance of self-control we whizzed past one of the only remaining sugar cane factories on the island before careening down a steep hill and discovering a secret waterfall hidden deep within the island’s misty and magically murky Black River Gorges National Park.
More waterfalls followed before we emerged at a coastline so wild and rugged it was hard to belief we were still on what we had come to affectionately call ‘Paradise Island’. White water crashed onto weather-beaten black volcanic rocks and a sea so angry sent chills up my spine. Breathtakingly beautiful, the many faces of the ocean played out before us, reminding us that we are just children in her abode.
However, our little adventure wasn’t over just yet as the best was still to come. Next to the island’s famed seven coloured earth is yet another destination few are yet to discover. It is here where you can find Lavilléon Natural Forest – a sustainable ecosystem founded to protect the natural heritage of the country.
And watching the white-tailled tropic birds as they flew beneath the trees, gave me the courage I needed to take flight on my own. Because courage is what I would need as I launched down the zipline, the forest becoming hazy in my wake. And if that wasn’t adrenaline-inducing enough, the walk out courtesy of the suspension bridge left my legs a little shaky for a good few hours afterwards!
Humbled and at awe at everything this little spec in the sea had thrown at us, we retreated further into Lavilléon to just drink it all in. Overlooking the 360 degree view at the newly built Chalets Chamarel, brightly-coloured kites dotted Le Morne’s lagoon to our left, catamarans could be seen heading out to catch the last of the glorious day and bats emerged from the darkness.
And then finally, as we took pity on those who never thought to leave the four walls of their luxury hotel, the sun set over the end of our epic Mauritian adventure.