The colours of Mauritius

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From crystal blue waters to volcanic earth, Alisha Haridasani explores the many facets of the oceanic paradise, Mauritius

There’s nothing but vast azure emptiness and the sound of my steady, calculated breaths. I swivel to my right, then to my
left, squinting desperately through my mask. Nothing. I pop back up above the water, puzzled and nervous, wondering if I would get to see them at all. It is, after all, already my second attempt – the first being cancelled due to a cyclone – and I had woken up at the crack of dawn for another go. Part of me is losing hope. 

My friendly guide, however, remains more optimistic. “Keep swimming that way! Keep swimming that way! Hurry!” he shouts from our little speedboat, pointing west. I swim frantically westwards before, suddenly, I see the enigmatic silhouettes of the creatures emerge before my eyes. 

Dolphins. A pod of 50 or so spinner dolphins, to be precise, all residents of the clear waters of Mauritius. Dolphins are most prevalent in this tiny Indian Ocean island nation off the southwest coast, near Black River Bay and Tamarin Beach, and it’s here where their black-and-grey stripes and eternal smiles glide, swirl and dance around and beneath me for as far as my fogged-up mask allows me to see. Their clicks, whistles and giggles replace the unbearable silence.

Dolphins are truly as graceful as any mixture of imagination, mythology and popular culture would have you believe. They are considered one of the most intelligent and sentient animals on the planet, exhibiting sophisticated behaviour similar to human beings. They engage in play, such as chasing their own bubbles, and lengthy foreplay, two characteristics that, when taken together, reflect the creature’s joy and curiosity. 

I had read up on all of this before my trip to Mauritius in preparation for this moment. But now, face-to-beak with one of them, the hypotheses and scientific research slip away. And as I watch a mother dolphin shepherd her child up to the surface for air, what remains is a shattered notion of anthropocentrism and a truly profound, inexplicable connection with them. Beyond pure fascination, there’s simply a feeling of awe and insignificance; the sort of feeling that Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot would instil in you, reminding you simultaneously of the universe’s transcendence and its beauty. 

The rest of the south

Aside from aquatic surprises, though, the south of the isle also consists of several equally fascinating land activities thanks
to Mauritius’ volcanic nature, which gave birth to rich and diverse flora and fauna.

One spot to visit is the rum factory – the Rhumerie de Chamarel (Route Royale, Chamarel, +230 483 4980; rhumeriedechamarel.com) – which lies within the undulating hills on a large, fertile farm oozing with tropical fruits, swaying sugarcane and colourful blossoms year round. It’s an interesting excursion, not just for the fun of rum tasting and watching the production process, but also to learn about the significance of rum and sugarcane in Mauritian history. 

Sugarcane is the backbone of the Mauritian economy; it has been cultivated and traded since the years the island was occupied and its people enslaved to work on the plantations. Back then, as with most colonies, the crop was used to benefit the West. Things are very different today: in 2011, sugarcane production yielded MUR 3.3billion ($845million) and currently accounts for almost 15 percent of total export earnings. Given its importance to the economy, in 2005 the Mauritius government released a road map to expand and strengthen the sector, including all the plant’s various byproducts – hence, rum. Rhumerie de Chamarel is now one of six privately owned local distilleries churning out agricultural and industrial rum for the global market, symbolising just how far Mauritius has come from its repressed plantation years to become an island that uses its strongest assets to benefit the locals.

Colours of the rainbow

A stone’s throw from Rhumerie de Chamarel, quite near the slightly underwhelming Chamarel Falls, lies the rather bizarre phenomenon known as Les Terres de Sept Couleurs, or the Seven-Coloured Earths. Comprised of coloured sand dunes formed from natural decomposing volcanic rock, the Terres viewed from afar looks like the exact spot where a rainbow would end, burning into the earth and leaving behind traces of its colours. 

In a strange way, this rustic earthy occurrence also looks a little like the Mauritian flag, which was designed to symbolise the essence of the island nation – red for the bloodshed of slavery, blue for the surrounding Indian Ocean, yellow for its independence and green for its lush vegetation. 

Indeed, its diversity is my lasting impression of Mauritius. It’s evident in every facet – a fascinating juxtaposition of worlds, all on one small isle. 

Where to stay

Opened in November, The St Regis Mauritius Resort offers subtle and elegant luxury. Located along the southwest coast of the island, the resort consists of 172 rooms – ranging from 120 deluxe oceanview rooms to the indulgent St Regis Villa – all of which come with a private terrace or balcony. The hotel is designed to resemble a Victorian colonial mansion, complete with large French windows and subtle neutral tones. Each guest is assigned a personal butler, which is a signature St Regis offering, thus allowing for attentive and intuitive service. There’s also six fine-dining restaurants, offering a range of cuisines from local French-Mauritian to Japanese, and the 1904 Bar. Other facilities include the outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts and watersports club, while the Iridium Spa offers tailored treatments to allow guests to kick back and relax. Coastal Rd, La Gaulette, Le Morne, Mauritius, +230 403 9000; stregis.com/mauritius. Room rates start from around US$970 ($7,500) per night.

Dolphin swimming

Of the many local agencies that offer the services, the best can be found at JP Henry Charters, founded almost 40 years ago. The agency is located at Black River, which is an area that dolphins have naturally selected as their habitat, thus allowing for easy access. Rates for dolphin swimming start at US$47 ($365). Black River, Mauritius, +230 5729 0901; jph.mu.

How to get there

Air Mauritius (airmauritius.com) flies twice a week direct between Hong Kong and Mauritius, starting from $8,563 (inc taxes and surcharges).

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