Mauritius, Jewel of the ocean

We had a whopping six days in a tiny island that is located in the southwest part of the Indian ocean. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was a really an impulse decision, driven by the slick selling of the Mauritius Airways representatives at the fair.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo off we went on a 9-hour flight that transit via Kuala Lumpur (from Singapore) to Mahe. But because Mauritius is four timezones behind Singapore, we arrived at 2pm. Just in time to check into our beautiful resort at a good time to head out and enjoy the pristine white sand beach right on the doorstep.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our second day was spent very lazily, as we took the glass bottom boat out from the resort to a distance of about 100m from the shore. At this distance, there is already a large coral city, well alive with fish. As the boat only carried the two of us, we spent a lot of time discussing with the ranger about the species of fish and types of corals (mostly table and ginger corals) that ring the sea at Belle mare.

Sea walk & sub scooter

Undersea Walk01A must do! Take the sea walk. We were picked up by the operator (Captain Nemo…wacky huh), who drive us to the Grand Baie. Now we had to take a speedboat out to sea and onto a pontoon. Putting on a pair of rubber shoes, that will protect one from the sharps on the floor of the sea.Undersea Walk12

Essentially you put on a very heavy helmet of about 40kg. It’s a large helmet with glass panels on three sides and an attachment where air is pumped from the pontoon for your breathing comfort.

Looking at the photos now, we look like those explorers of the sea in the old days. It’s a good thing the helmet is heavy as it will help us sink to the bottom and start our “moon-like” walk. The operator had brought us to this part of the lagoon where there is largely sand on the sea floor.

So this helps us not worry about stepping onto something nasty.Undersea Walk28

Now the initial steps were really difficult and we were more like leaping rather than walking. The trick to all this as we wore on, was to glide your feet forward instead of lifting it. Sort of like a slow march where you stick one of your leg forward and step.

Undersea Walk27After some amount of trial and error, the guide left us to ourselves to do the walking and posing for photos. We even walked up to small coral bed for the Kodak moment.

Feeding fishes with bread in our hand helped to draw them in, to the point there was a feeding frenzy! And the red anemone on the coral bed, wonder if that was planted there…This should have cost €30 per person but was part of our package.

That was a wonderful experience. But more was to come.

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At the time of writing, the sub-scooter was a relatively new development. Two French diving enthusiasts figured that for folks who do not dive, why not give them a vehicle to see the underwater world? OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd so a pressured cabin was mounted on a propeller mechanism. Slap on seats and rudimentary steering devices, the scooter was born.

Now the scooter is too heavy to stay afloat on its own and likely sink. It is also not powerful enough to keep its depth steady. So, to improvise a large buoy is attached via ropes to the scooter. Sub-Scooter09This means we are “driving” the scooter at a specific depth limited by the length of rope from the buoy on the surface. But this also means that the speed of the scooter is extremely low, since the surface waves and buoy severely limit how fast we can drive!Sub-Scooter01

Two persons per scooter, it was a fun day to ‘see the sea’. Cost us Rs 4,600 per couple as this was not included in our package. Not sure if Blue Safari is still operating it. Perhaps more folks have jumped in to offer the same. Definitely a recommended activity.

Sky walkers

Having an eye in the sky has always been something we want to experience. Especially after our first experience in New Zealand flying to Mount Tasman.

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Here in Mauritius, it cost us €275 per couple to charter a 15-minute helicopter flight around the northeastern portion of the island. With an additional €23 departure tax per person, we rose into the air above Belle Mare and flew a flight plan that hugged the coast before turning inland and circling back to the helipad at Le Coco beach resort.

Stunning views of the surf lapping (well pounding) the shores as we flew northwards. We came across what seemed like estuaries and river mouths. From the air, we could see where the shallow reefs would end and sea began. We flew over the Beau Rivage and took aerial photos of the suite that we stayed in. We could see the coral spread all across the coast, stretching as far as we can see.

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With a bird’s eye view, we could see long stretches of white sandy beaches for exploring! We did not fly deep into the hinterland, but it was enough to let us see the vast stretches of sugar cane plantations.

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They are all over, but are especially abundant in the interior. Mauritius’s main export before tourism was sugar. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we headed out to the sea, we could see our resort. We can see now why the Beau Rivage commands such a premium price over others in the same location. See how the coral reefs ring the resort!

From the air, it is possible to see the different depth of the water. Obviously the lighter water represents a shallow – as sand builds up. The deeper blue shows where a trough in sea level begins off the coast. Most resorts do not allow swimming beyond the limits of the house reefs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was very noisy in the helicopter and we had earphones and mouthpieces through which we would communicate. The pilot would give a quick narrative description of the area we flew over, frequently pointing out some of the scenic sights. Definitely took more than 15 minutes flight, but it all ended so quickly.

Definitely need to do this again!

Visiting the fishes and corals

Now which journey to an island resort with coral reefs will not end up being in the water? Every afternoon, the resort’s boat will head out to the coral reefs that ring the bay. As the boat anchored safely, we headed into the water to explore the reefs. The area we were at was 3-4m deep. The main species of coral is the Table coral. These coral seems to grow everywhere.

As the conditions were right: temperature, clarity and low sediments, corals flourish. There are many sergeant fishes here. When we feed them bread, they swarmed all over! The reefs are so beautiful that we could have stayed on longer. The sea today was much calmer, unlike the days before which had strong waves. We guessed it might have something to do with the full moon in these few days. It was easier to snorkel and the water was so much clearer than on the day we arrived.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are staying at the Beau Rivage. The resort boasts of a nicely manicured garden replete with Koi ponds and little bridges. The Belle Mare, where the resort is located is known for having the most beautiful stretch of beach on the island.

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We had a junior suite as part of the package and it was pretty large (60m²). Cuisine is somehow strongly influenced by the French – you probably noticed from the names. Indian cuisine influence also strong except their curry is not very spicy.

Ask for additional spice from your waiter… Strange thing though is everything is in English and they use the Euro! Seafood is obviously the specialty given the island is surrounded by the ocean. Local grilled lobster is a must try though it is costly.

With five restaurants, we had chose different places to dine every day! One thing though is that the dress code is quite formal, meaning smart casual at the least. So no bermudas, shorts or slippers.

January 2008

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