Lessons from nature

Lessons from nature

While the mere mention of Mauritius brings up images of beautiful beaches and spellbinding sunsets, the destination is also brimming with fascinating little known stories.

It was where the dodo bird became extinct, where the slave trade thrived in the 18th and 19th centuries, and where the Indian-majority population now adds vibrancy to the country's cultural heritage.

Spend 10 days sightseeing on this island by the African continent, and you'll still feel like you are short on time.

Clear waters

Most travellers would choose to live on Mauritius' northern coast, in the busier beach towns of Pereybere and Grand Baie.

My partner and I spent the first day exploring the beaches nearby - the clear waters of Grande Gaube, Cap Malheureux, Trou aux Biches, Mont Choisy offered just a tiny glimpse of the spectacular seascapes that would greet us on this trip.

Following the recommendation of locals, we signed up for an action-packed day tour to the beautiful Ile aux Cerfs, an island just off the east coast.

Beginning with a boat ride to the Grand River Waterfalls, we later arrived at a snorkelling spot with shallow water in a stunning shade of turquoise blue.

The seascape that greeted us at Ile aux Cerfs was even more breathtaking.

I have been to many beach destinations, and the water surrounding this island was the clearest I have seen.

The sandy bottom was visible even miles out from the shore, with large clusters of seaweed forming dark patches that moved with the current as far as the eye could see.

Countless sea urchins and light pink starfish dotted the sea floor, completely visible.

Other beaches worth checking out are situated along the western and southern coasts.

Flic en Flac boasted a seemingly endless stretch of soft, white sand bounded by pristine waters.

The Le Morne peninsula offered a beach setting like no other because towering above the sand was the Le Morne Brabant mountain, a Unesco World Heritage Site that told a sad story of runaway slaves jumping to their deaths from atop the cliff in 1835, just as slavery was being abolished on the island.

For more dramatic landscapes, we drove to Gris Gris and La Roche qui Pleure. Both these sites offered views of the rugged coastline, complete with towering cliffs, rocky outcrops and the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean.

Hidden gems

To learn about the lesser-known stories of Mauritius, we signed up for a tour of the island's south-west coast. Arriving first at the sacred lake of Grand Bassin, we were greeted by a giant statue of the Hindu god Shiva, some 33m tall.

The lake is said to have been discovered by two priests who had a dream that a lake with holy water stood in the middle of the Mauritian forest.

In the lake, the locals later constructed three statues of the Hindu gods Hanuman, Ganesh, and Shiva; devotees could step into the water to offer their incense, as the fish in the water would part ceremoniously to form a path.

Also on this tour were a spectacular viewpoint of the Black River Gorges National Park with its interlocking mountain range and lush greenery and the 100m-tall Chamarel Falls.

We also visited a unique site known as the Seven Coloured Earth, which features naturally formed dunes of sand tinted with shades of red, brown and purple from the iron and aluminium elements in the soil.

Wildlife encounters

No trip to Mauritius is complete without learning about the extensive animal and plant life on the island.

Our journey to the capital of Port Louis - a bustling city with must-visit sites such as the newly developed waterfront, bustling central market and hilltop fortress with a city view - gave us our first lesson on the extinction of the island's most beloved creature, the dodo.

There, the Natural History Museum housed a rare skeleton of the ill-fated bird, a species endemic to Mauritius but hunted down for food by the Dutch who colonised the island in 1598.

Having had no predators before the Europeans' arrival, the dodos had not developed the ability to escape - their wings were too small to fly and they were too clumsy to run fast. Pigs and rats brought by the colonisers also devoured all their eggs.

In less than a century, the bird was entirely wiped out; it was last sighted in 1662.

Today, the island's efforts at conservation can be seen from its famous Botanical Gardens at Pamplemousse, and its programme on the island of Ile aux Aigrettes, a short boat-ride from the town of Mahebourg on the south-eastern coast.

With a guide, we embarked on a nature walk, crossing paths with rare species of giant tortoises, pink pigeons, skink lizards and large hanging fruit bats.

For animal lovers, this is certainly an experience to remember.

GUIDELINES

We flew on Air Mauritius directly from Singapore to Mauritius.

The cuisine in Mauritius has a strong Indian influence - curries are cooked with fish, shrimp, chicken, beef and, commonly, locally farmed deer.

Beachfront hotels and villas in the Grand Baie area on the north shore are popular among tourists.

They typically cost between $90 and $250 for a double room per night.

This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.


This article was first published on December 2, 2014.
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