Get there fast, then take it slow

Date:

Jetting off to Mauritius for a tropical island break can be just what the doctor ordered, especially when there’s a cruise combo attached. 

By: Clifford Roberts

Ah, Mauritius. Sitting in my office, I could almost taste the piña coladas. Just the last few days of hell run to get through before boarding that plane and going blissfully off radar.  

The island was my main destination, but the trip had a little more to it. A few days of lounging and exploring would be followed with a return home via stops in Réunion and several along the South African coastline.  

By the time I spotted the emerald dot in the big blue, my heart rate was down, and the rush of preceding weeks had seeped from me. I felt the power-down of the jet’s engines into my very soul. 

Mauritius lies just east of Madagascar, occupying a space of ocean with the French territory of Réunion. It’s easy to see why it also features on the itinerary. A lush green island surrounded by warm waters and beautiful beaches – what’s not to love? Except, the island is home to extraordinary experiences. 

I breeze through Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport (MRU) Airport – named after a former Prime Minister of Mauritius – faster than it will take me to get to my hotel. The airport is small, but while the transfer to the capital of Port Louis on the far side of the island is just 50km, it can typically be a one-hour trip on the narrow roads through multiple hamlets and villages. Plenty of time to open the window and breathe in the thick and delicious tropical air of the island. 

After wallowing in the pool for the umpteenth day, I switched waters to go snorkelling with the fishes. “Turtle!” shouted our speedboat pilot, and I spun myself around towards the direction he pointed. Indeed, there she was, serene and suspended in the clearest waters.  

Beach sunset. Photo: Clifford Roberts

Beyond the beaches

I was keen to get to beyond the beaches, which is how I met Adil Takooree, taxi driver for over 20 years. All the taxi drivers offered tours to the main sites, and I paid just over R1 000 for the day. I first baulked when we stopped at Le Port Ship scale model factory and showroom in Floreal. I had seen too many tourist traps like this before. “You must go inside,” urged Adil, determined that it wasn’t what it looked like. Indeed, I was hooked.  

My eyes adjusting to the softer indoor light, I see a worn and cluttered space, but not untidy. A handful of desks are occupied with someone engaged in fine detail. Before them, magnificent scale models of galleons, East Indiamen, and gunships of the line. The smell of teak and mahogany is in the air. “They generally take a week each to build,” says our guide.  

It’s my reminder of the history of the island: its colonisation, first by the Dutch in the 17th century, and then several ensuing powers, but also the shaping of the society and economy today. Like many other islands of the region, it was seized upon for its trade opportunities and sugar cane became a dominant crop. Slavery was part of the mix, too – a dark side of its past. 

Knowing the history adds vibrancy to my walk around the capital a few days later. The heat and humidity are at a peak today; thank goodness I swopped the cotton t-shirt for a linen shirt. 

I start at the fresh produce market, a crowded and lively place. I’m beckoned by a spice seller with a face gleaming from perspiration. “Come, come,” he calls, waving his hand for me to follow. Back outside, I briefly pop into the fish section, before escaping into fresh air again. 

On Independence Street, I pause to listen to a busker beneath a line of stately palms. It’s a weekday and the streets around this centre are bustling. It’s a contemporary setting of modern architecture, but with a rich collection of ancient buildings.  

Adil later lets me take in the views at the 19th century Fort Adelaide citadel. It’s a fantastic point from which to survey the city and port, hence its construction during the British period. There’s an intensity underlying the surface of this place, despite its warm and friendly citizens and what cocktail-filled days at the beach might feel like.  

The feeling returns at the Lord Shiva Hindu temple at Grand Bassin. Preparations for an annual pilgrimage are underway with several large tents erected for sleeping space. Along the shore of the lake, families quietly carry out their rituals, ignoring the painting and other upgrades underway. 

Our drive makes stops at various waterfalls and natural phenomenon, such as silent volcanic craters, before Adil drops me at Les Jardin des Pamplemousses, otherwise Mauritius’ national botanical garden. It’s easily a two-hour visit that I’m happy to do without a guide. This was the first tropical botanical garden in the world when established in the late 18th century. Mid-way, I’m caught by a sudden cloudburst and make a run for the gates. Typical of the tropics, and I wonder about the hikers enjoying the island’s many trails.  

Comes with the territory, I think.  

Road across the volcano on Réunion. Photo: Clifford Roberts.

A second holiday

Fortunately, the sun returns before I board the Norwegian Dawn cruise ship. It feels like a second holiday and I’m just unpacking once. Norwegian only recently began plying these waters, with cruises planned from December 2024 and again next year.  

It takes a day before we reach the neighbouring island of Réunion. As a French territory, it uses the Euro currency and differs from Mauritius with its broad highways and soaring peaks – the highest of which is just over 3 000m. 

It’s a windy drive up to Piton de la Fournaise (Peak of the Furnace), the shield volcano on the eastern side of the island. Volcanoes are, of course, the reason most of the Indian islands exist, which is why I take the excursion. For a few minutes, I stand and let the silence of the moon-like surface wash over me. I’m aware that even my normal life resembles this: a seething mass of activity with spaces of silence and peace, if you know where to find them.  

The volcano last erupted in 2022 and remains the island’s most closely monitored natural feature. 

Days later, I’m back in South African waters, first at Richard’s Bay where excursions head off to, among others, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. The ship excursions all along the coast feature some of South Africa’s best, including Addo Elephant Park and Botlierskop, and even ostrich farms of Oudtshoorn. 

Still, I’m content to enjoy my few remaining days. Where else? Lolling on a lounger, piña colada in hand. 

Getting around  

Mauritius and Réunion are served by various transport networks, including taxis and buses. Car hire and shuttle facilities are also available, as well as diverse accommodation options. My taxi driver, Adil Takooree, came recommended by the hotel I stayed at, Le Méridien Ile Maurice. He welcomes bookings and his contact number is +230 5255 3293.  

More information 

  • More information on Norwegian cruises in South African waters and elsewhere may be found at www.ncl.com
spot_img

Share post:

spot_imgspot_img

Popular

More like this
Related

Capturing the plight of the Great White

From capturing the flight of South Africa's Great White...

Australia by train 

One of the world’s most beautiful and luxurious rail...

Beat the Schengen visa blues

The rejection rate for African applicants seeking Schengen visas...

Contiki adds nine new adventures to its line up

Contiki has added nine brand new trips to its...