Mauritius - where the dodo lives on

Mauritius has fine, soft-sand beaches and a surprisingly lush and verdant landscape

Mauritius has fine, soft-sand beaches and a surprisingly lush and verdant landscape

‘But Mauritius is a honeymoon destination,” complained my fiancé. “You can’t go there without me.” He wasn’t wrong. Located in the Indian Ocean, 1242 miles off the southern tip of Africa, flying to Mauritius felt like a journey to the edge of the world. As a holiday choice, it is often uttered in the same breath as the Maldives or the Seychelles — paradise islands in the southern hemisphere that do a great line in romance, rest and relaxation.

It’s the sort of remote, peaceful place that belongs on a smug postcard home; an idyll that was made for walks along the beach at sunset, or for gazing into the sparkling, clear waters arm in arm with a loved one.
Tourism on the island deals in opulence and comfort; hotels with every amenity laid on, plush restaurants and palm tree-lined walkways, or colourful rum cocktails brought to your
deckchair.

After a 12-hour flight during which I watched an entire continent pass by, I was eagerly awaiting these things; dusting my toes with the golden sand, luxuriating in the spa or simply enjoying the warm weather.
But rather than sun, sea and sand — which I can reassure you are there in spades — my first impression of this former British colony was of a green, verdant place, as beautiful as the English countryside, but far more lush and diverse.

Tree-lined mountain slopes cover much of the volcano-formed island, concealing a wide array of flora and fauna, plenty of it unique to Mauritius.

Driving in from the coast you pass coffee and ginger plants and pineapples growing in neat rows as far as they eye can see, or mango, lychee and banana trees and seemingly endless fields of sugar cane, the cultivation of which remains a key component of the Mauritian economy. Keen adventurers are spoilt for choice, with a range of areas to trek and hike and mountains to rock-climb or abseil down.

Take out a jeep or a quad bike to better explore the wildlife in the Frederica Nature Reserve and keep your eyes peeled for the graceful Rusa deer, while a boat ride across a lagoon takes you to Ile aux Aigrettes.
There, genial giant tortoises wander freely alongside rare endemic species of bird, fruit bat, and gecko.
Home to the famous dodo before its extinction, Mauritius is the only place on the planet to see its still-living cousin, the Pink Pigeon.

The dodo — a flightless bird that was unable to escape the predators that stowed away with the early settlers — remains a source of pride on Mauritius, making the island a fabulous place to teach children about extinction and conservation.

Souvenir shops are brimming with soft-toy versions and my passport now bears a stamp with a charming outline of the bird.

In the south-west of the island is the Black River district, the Chamarel waterfall, and the Seven Coloured Earth sand dunes, an unusual natural formation that has the look of a grown up Art Attack experiment.
Surrounded by a coral reef, waves break out in the distance, so the Mauritian waters are remarkably placid and ideal for swimming safely, even with young children. It’s a perfect snorkeling and diving spot, while every watersport you can think of is on offer, from windsurfing to water-skiing, from fishing to kayaking.

Of course, you can always take out a glass-bottomed boat and see the aquatic sights from a more comfortable vantage point. Unsurprisingly, with its vast open space, Mauritius is also a popular golfing spot with many acclaimed courses. In contrast to its natural attractions, culture enthusiasts won’t find quite as much to occupy them on Mauritius, not least because it was unpopulated until the arrival of Portuguese in the 16th century.

The island passed to the Dutch, then the French and finally the British, before gaining its independence. The result is a place that often feels like somewhere else.

English is the official language of the government but French or Creole are more widely chattered, and the cuisine and architecture have been shaped by the arrival of Indian, African, Chinese and European populations over the years. As its melting pot nature would suggest, food on Mauritius is perhaps the definition of the word “fusion”; a mesh of Asian and African influences.

The proximity to the sea means fish is available in abundance, but kosher travellers will find this tends to take the form of lobster, octopus and prawn, while meat curries, venison and chicken appear at almost every meal.

That said, Mauritian waiters were among the most hospitable and helpful I have ever encountered, amenable to my every request or query. Most menus featured some kind of pumpkin dish — a highlight was a perfectly sweet pumpkin ice cream — and fruit-lovers will be in heaven.

Tourism on the island is mostly high-end; many-starred hotels, self-catering villas supplied with butlers, or resorts with their own spas, golf courses and restaurants. The north is more built-up, with restaurants, bars or shopping in the capital, Port-Louis, while the south-west coast, where I stayed, has more in the way of unspoilt beaches and serene surroundings. So, I told my fiancé (souvenir in hand), that it is much more than just a honeymoon destination.

Newlyweds would be blissfully well-looked after but families and visitors would find plenty to enjoy. It truly is a place to forget about home and urban chaos, to turn off your mobile phone and soak up the atmosphere.
Put simply, you can see why the dodo was loath to fly away.

Getting There:
fly: From London Heathrow Air Mauritius www.airmauritius.com
Stay: Heritage Le Telfair Golf & Spa Resort. Double rooms from £240 per night www.heritageletelfair.mu

Last updated: 2:27pm, July 19 2012