Mauritius - The Indian Ocean's Hidden Gem by Brian Rayner
I'd always wondered about this destination, but never really considered it for a diving holiday mainly for two reasons: Firstly I believed it to be too expensive compared to places like its more popular neighbour, the Maldives, and secondly I didn't think it was up to much as a diving destination especially as nothing ever seems to be written about it. Our friends Suzanne and Jason in Kent, our partners in crime for diving, emailed us to take a look at Mauritius as a possibility, and in particular Trou Aux Biches a resort situated in the north. They had found a tour operator that was offering an all-inclusive deal for 18 nights at the 3 star Casuarina Hotel at a very reasonable price.
After reading up on this part of the world, mainly through the usual guides like the Lonely Planet etc found that it had quite a lot to offer. Plus the diving sounded promising too, mainly on the west side of the north coast. So without much persuasion let our Kent connection get the ball rolling, while I made enquires with various dive centres in the resort. Three weeks later we were booked, our dates being 29th March - 17th April. The flights were scheduled ones with Air Mauritius flying from Heathrow (A340-300 Airbus) So we enjoyed the luxury of extra leg room, free drinks and the remote control style entertainment system showing umpteen films during our 12 hour flight. But the real bonus was a very generous weight allowance of an extra 23kgs on top of our normal 20kgs. A very real consideration when packing dive gear as we were... We all finally met up at check-in three hours prior to departure, as we had a mountain of gear, with two large suit cases each had nearly 200 kgs between us. Check-in turned out to be quite painless, although our weight allowance was queried at one point. Luckily for us Suzanne had kept a copy of the email confirming this. From time to time (as most divers know) there can be hiccups over weight allowance, so having written confirmation handy was a very wise move.
The MK57 flight is one of the few flights that flies direct, as others from UK airports (such as Manchester or Glasgow) usually fly via the Seychelles.
After an uneventful flight started our descent for a 7:15 landing. As it was early morning we had a chance to enjoy some glorious views of the island, which reminded me of Sri Lanka. After looking at gallons of sea water for several hours couldn't help but notice how green this country was, a place where anything grows given half a chance due to fertile soil and a perfect climate. After quickly retrieving our baggage were escorted to our minibus transfer. This took us about 1 hour 20 mins to cover the 80 kms to our resort in the north. We arrived in Trou Aux Biches around 11:00am to find a very laid-back resort. The Casuarina Hotel was in a Moorish style with white-washed walls set in gardens landscaped mainly with lawned areas, palm trees with shrubs bordering the pathways.
After throwing the cases in our rooms, quickly freshened-up and re-grouped by one of the two pools to unwind with a drink after 20 hours of travelling. As we acquainted ourselves with our new surroundings liked the fact that we were in a fairly small complex, which catered for around 190 guests in 90 rooms with 5 or so family apartments. Some time later Jackie suggested a walk along the beach which was only metres away. To get to it you have to cross the busy little arterial road that serves this coastal resort area. So for guests safety the hotel provides assistance in the guise of a well dressed man in a smart white uniform complete with peaked cap to you get across in one piece (during day light hours anyway). The actual Casuarina beach is only small, about 7m wide and around 100m in length. It has about thirty sun beds, the water sports beach hut with all the boats etc, a marked swimming area and a little further out a pontoon for the water skiers?but no beach bar! To the left the beach widens out quite considerably for 2 kms to become part of the Trou Aux Biches Hotel Complex. A rather large four star facility covering 100 acres or so, with beach front apartments set in shaded gardens of palms.
We knew there were about five dive centres in Trou Aux Biches mostly working out of hotels and during our walk located three of them. The Nautilus dive centre at the Trou Aux Biches complex. To the right of our hotel some 200 metres away was Blue Water Diving, and at the Casuarina was ProDive.
The next day we paid two of them a visit starting at the Blue Water DC who had said they could provide nitrox when I enquired by email. But on further investigation at the centre found they needed to organise this by prior arrangement, something they hadn't mentioned previously. Unimpressed, we decided our next and last stop would be ProDive at our hotel. Where we had a good chat with Kevin Cock who owns and runs ProDive. He gave us a fair idea of what sort of diving we'd be doing during our stay. After a while we got the feeling this guy knew these waters well. Apparently Kevin's been on Mauritius for 21 years which makes ProDive the longest established dive centre on the island. (ProDive are affiliated to NAUI and PADI and can run courses up to Divemaster level) As we were hoping to do a fair bit of diving during our stay he told us he would do his best to make our diving as interesting and as varied as possible. Sadly he said that what used to be one of the best dive sites in Mauritius (the Shark Pit) is now totally devoid of sharks! Apparently they just disappeared literally right after the tsunami. Still nothing can be done about that, but hopefully they'll be back one day, who knows? That said there were still plenty of other good sites here and most were only a 20 min boat ride away being situated on the far side of the Trou Aux Biches house reef. Among them are three popular wreck sites, the Stella Maru, Star Hope and the two barges. We asked him about nitrox facilities in the resort and Mauritius generally. He assured us there was no nitrox readily available in Trou Aux Biches or at any of the dive centres for that matter. . I had a fair idea this was going to be the case some time ago when I first emailed Pro Dive enquiring about the availability of O2 thinking I may be able to bring my rebreather (wishful thinking)! As we'd brought our own equipment were offered a ten dive pack for 7000 Rs (approx. £135) which also entailed a 10% discount.
As we wanted a day or two to unwind before diving he kindly offered to take us out on the Sunday for a morning dive if we wanted, which is normally a day off for the dive centre, so we gratefully accepted. He went on to tell us that business had fallen to a trickle generally speaking through-out the island in the last few weeks. This was due to a mosquito scare in the Mahebourg region to the south. Apparently the Aedes Asgypti species had infected and killed two people with the Chikungunya virus. Don't bother trying and pronounce it (I couldn't either). As most tourists are French, and they'd decided to stay away things were pretty quiet. Later waiters told us a similar story and that was why the hotel was only half full (and it noticed)! Apparently 20% of visitors are now from the UK, which is something they were proud of and hoping to improve on. Around the pool and bar area we could see that we were indeed all here all 20% of us, no mossi's are going to keep us Brits away!
ProDive also run the water sport activities for the hotel, and were told when we'd had enough of diving, we had use of the kayaks, the laser sailing dinghies, the glass bottomed boat for snorkelling, and the speed boat for water skiing, can't be bad eh? (These facilities are free for AI guests at the Casuarina)
The first two days were spent by the pool to get our undercoats on for the sunbathing ahead, and by the end of our first week with seven dives under our (weight) belts generally lazed around the pool. After chatting to one of the hotel staff decided to organise a driver to see some of the island. Jason planned a route which took us to most of the beauty spots and places of interest around the central and southern areas that we could hope to cover in a day, with one or two places thrown in as suggestions from our driver. To make the most of our day we started out really early at 9:00am (well early for us)! First stop was the view point at Curepipe, and the volcanic crater at Trou au Cerfs, then a quick stop at an old colonial house with a mini Eiffel tower in the grounds which was about 40ft high. We then made our way to the botanical gardens nearby to stretch our legs. At midday we arrived at the Grand Bassin lake where very large eels can be seen swimming around the shore waiting for hand-outs from visitors! As I'm sure that's the only reason they're as big as they are?! Leading us to this place on the main road is a large statue of Shiva, which was still showered in scaffolding in the last stages of completion, and quite impressive at 60ft high. Grand Bassin is an interesting place with its temple and various statues of Hindu Gods by the lakeside where people come for blessings and to pray.
We then went on to the La Vanille Crocodile Park which was opened in 1984. Apart from its very impressive crocodiles there are giant tortoises, koi carp, macaque monkeys, geckos and turtles, java deer, the list goes on. This park is definitely worth the visit if just for the giant tortoises! At the Casela Nature Park there's the oldest one on the island at 180 years, this park is also home to incredible 1500 species of birds from all over the world.
One thing I do advise if you decide to visit one of these nature parks is take plenty of insect repellent as they can be an especial problem in places like this.We then headed for the coast via Souillac to take a look at the rollers coming in and crashing onto the stunning Gris Gris beach. Our afternoon itinerary included Black River Gorge National Park. We came here to see the Riviere Nor waterfall. But this was very difficult to do unless you leaned right over the wire fence and didn't mind a 400 ft drop right under your feet! As we left the BRGN Park our next port of call was a viewpoint that was on our way to Chamerel where wild monkeys could be seen entertaining visitors hoping for hand-outs.
Our last stop before heading for the coastal road back to our resort was to see the coloured soil at Chamerel. This is a very strange landscape consisting of mounds of seven shades of brown soil, which was formed through volcanic activity, covering an area of about two football pitches. From here there's a path that takes you to a viewpoint to see a much more impressive waterfall than our first one, that of Chamerel which plunges over 100m at one point. After a quick stop at Tamarin we eventually arrived back in resort by 5:45 just in time for cocktails before dinner!
The cost for the day was 2000 Rs / £40.00 (£10 each) It was a good day out and well worth doing.
The next week was spent mainly diving, doing two a day from the 46' cabin cruiser that could quite comfortably take a dozen divers, which can also be hired for two day safaris (see website). The diving day started at 9am meeting at the centre to kit up before making the short walk to the beach for the tender ride out to the dive boat. After a few days diving this bay noticed that ProDive and Blue Water Diving were the only operators here taking their clients out on decent sized boats, the other centres just seemed to be using small 7m hard boats with outboards. Our guide for the first week was Vivienne, but as he'd got stabbed by a scorpion fish on only our second dive needed medical attention and could not dive during the rest of our stay. So we were handed over to another very experienced guide called Norman, who looked after us for the rest of our holiday. In the mean time poor Vivienne had two weeks off to recover after having had the poison drained from his swollen right arm (nasty).
We were usually in the water by 9:45 on the first dive getting back for 11:30 well in time to get lunch at 12:30. For the second dive met back at the centre for 1pm, returning by 15:30 to enjoy the rest of our day by the pool?.or bar!
Night dives were offered twice a week, usually entering the water around 6.30pm just in time to see the sunset before jumping in.
There are about 15 dive sites in the immediate area. During our stay we logged up some twenty dives. One or two we did twice like the Stella Maru, as I tend to favour wreck dives anyway, especially ones that have friendly residents to visit.
Dives we liked in particular: Japanese Gardens / Castro / Anchor Reef / Coral Garden / The Tube / Star Hope / Stella Maru.
Without describing every site in detail (on websites) I'll just say there is a fair variety for all levels of diver. From shallow bimbles at 10/15m at places like The Tube to wall dives at places like Castro, and the Lost City makes a good drift dive.
The topography here is a mixture of sand, sand gulleys, coral gardens, walls and rocky outcrops, plus the wrecks of course.
The diving here is done by boat on the outer reef so entry and exit are done in mid to deep water which means there's not the luxury of multi levelling up the reef to reach your safety stop. All dives involve a minimum safety stop of 3mins at 5m. On the deeper dives it's really advisable to have a computer. Another good practice is to take a DSMB or other signalling device with you, as on some trips the boat will drop divers off at several places at once so it's nice to be spotted not too long after surfacing when the boat can be busy. The water temp' was 27C in April, so generally a 3 / 5mm wet suit should be quite adequate, depending on your comfort level.
With only a few days left we had a day aboard the catamaran Sunset Cruiser out of Black River, which was an hour's drive from our hotel. This was a relaxing day taking it easy sunbathing, dolphin watching, and snorkelling. Dolphin-wise we were not disappointed and some jumped in to snorkel with them while others (me included) looked on sipping ice cold beers or cocktails. These were included in the trip as well as your lunch, and for a small supplement (£6.00) you could have lobster. Trip cost 1500Rs / £ 36.00
Sadly our last day had arrived so we spent it water skiing, parasailing or capsizing lasers! Plus the usual task of writing post cards?
We were pleasantly surprised with this holiday, it was definitely a change from the norm and if you've ever thought about coming here, do it you won't be disappointed. It's not an expensive destination, as Suzanne and Jason found us this bargain holiday without much trouble.with MercuryDirect at £1320.00 pp. But there is also 5 star exuberance here aplenty if you want it. Some travellers make Mauritius part of a two centre break, incorporating it with a few days in Cape Town.
Although Mauritius gained its independence from the British in 1968 after over 150 years of colonial rule it still retains a strong French heritage.
The Mauritians are a mix of Hindus, Muslins and Creoles. Although the predominant language is French, English is widely spoken.
The weather was a bit changeable towards the end of our stay with quite alot of cloud and frequent showers, which was quite uncharacteristic for April.
As for wildlife we didn't see that much at the hotel bar late on! Although the hotel itself was the equivalent of a mini zoo, with resident hedgehogs, frogs, geckos, and all sorts of birds.
Near our apartment block was the amphibian section! Here was a well stocked pond that was also the home of a species of frog that liked a midnight sing song. Fascinating to listen to and quite deafening too. Their chorus could start up any time after dark and could last from two minutes to two hours!
During meal times birds would appear from all quarters for handouts and would take from your hand. When we ate, they ate! Of course we had our favourite (well you do don't you...) One thing that stays with me in particular about this holiday to Mauritius was the colourful bird life here.
The Casuarina Hotel was excellent value, the staff were very pleasant and helpful and it had a cosy atmosphere about it.
The rooms were clean and spacious with all the usual knick-knacks, mini bar, sat TV, hair dryer etc. A nice touch was a modern style walk-in shower, I was very impressed with that, and the rooms were made-up every day with fresh towels and linen.
Dining: the menu was varied and food well prepared. The service was a mix of mini or full buffet at breakfast and dinner, with waiter service at lunch times and at Tree Tops.
For a bit of exuberance (at a small supplement) you could treat yourself to the Tree Tops Restaurant which also had an excellent menu including steaks and a selection of sea food dishes including lobster.
Gents please note there is a dress code here, for evening dining you'll be expected to wear smart trousers, minimum length requirement, well below the knee. (As a matter of interest these minor details are often overlooked by tour operators in their brochures).
On the drink front the all inclusive package only includes local spirits, beers, and cocktails. Although branded spirits are available. The AI inclusive service was between 11am and 11pm. (Mini bars not included in AI).
Entertainment starts at 6pm with a live band, with Sega dancers visiting from time to time. If you're really lucky you could get picked to join them, but bear in mind some of these dances last for over 20 minutes!
But sadly there's no karaoke here (a shame I know, but you do get over it) !
At the beach be prepared for the attention of trip touts and beach sellers, that said they're quite pleasant and not in your face, and this was how we booked our boat trip.
Out & About/ Other Activities
Apart from the two trips already mentioned there are plenty of options. Mauritius is known for its jewellery and clothing industries, so trips to factory shops are quite popular.
We rarely ventured outside hotel which was a shame as there are lots of good places to eat and drink like Grand Baie which is just a short cab ride away.
If time permits Port Louis is worth a visit too. This bustling working town is the hub of the island and like Rome where all roads seem to lead.
Deep sea fishing trips are available from Black River or Tamarin. A popular catch with rod and line is the bonito.
Although the diving here may not be as breathtaking as say the Maldives, there is the chance to see a greater variety of other marine life that you wouldn't get to see so easily elsewhere.
On the Stella Maru wreck there are two resident morays the friendliest I've ever seen, and they're huge! When we arrived on the wreck they came out to greet Norman our guide and then came over to check out the rest of us! On the main deck there is also a resident frog fish which has made its home by some electrical cabling.
On night dives octopus can be seen out on hunting forays, lion fish can be seen any time day or night, and in particular the zebra dwarf lionfish is very colourful and makes an excellent subject especially if you spot one on a night dive and have your camera handy. Quite often rays and barracuda can be encountered, and morays are everywhere.
Black spot snake eels, ribbon eels, also various types of nudibranch and spanish dancers can be seen if you have a keen eye.
If logistically possible arrange to go diving out of Flic En Flac as there are some excellent dive sites in this area.
As it's air diving here you'll be very lucky to find DIN fit cylinders or nitrox, although ProDive do have a few 15L steel's that will take DIN fit regs (having pillar valves with inserts). But generally the norm' is 12L ali's for A clamp (International fit) regs. So bring an adaptor if you have a DIN reg.
The visibility here can vary enormously from 30m right down to 10m. This is due to coastal run-off from rainy spells which can be quite regular occurrences at particular times of the year. Best times to visit are March - May / September ? November. The water temp' here is more or less constant between 24 - 27C.
Apart from stating the obvious like its ?tropical', temperatures here are pretty well constant all year, typically 25 / 33C, so only light clothing is needed.
The sun can be very deceptive, even on cloudy or overcast days it will be pecking at you so take plenty of sunscreen. Also pack copious amounts of insect repellent.
The currency is the Mauritian rupee, although the Euro is accepted here and there.
Exchange rate: 52Rs / £1 Sterling.
Best rates were are at exchanges and banks
Blue Water Diving
Deep Sea Fishing:
Hayes and Jarvis
Weather Forecast(10 Day)
(BSAC DL A676945-0958 TDI SCR & OC/CCR AD' TMX)
If anyone would like to get in touch about any aspects of this report please email me on: firstname.lastname@example.org