The West

Delicious Mauritius
Mauritius: The boat ride from Grand Baie was thrilling, says Peta Murray.

While Mauritius has gained the reputation for being a honeymoon destination, there's much more to this fascinating island than matching towels and romantic walks along the beach.

Travelling solo, I discover friendly people, astounding scenery, lively markets, ocean adventure and a very nice line in island rum.

Convincing the polite but persistent customs officials at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Airport that I don't have excess whisky and cigarettes is not an easy task but I finally step on to Mauritian soil and am whisked across the island to the Veranda Coin de Mire Hotel, where my airy poolside room lies metres from a lagoon, palm trees and a white beach.

I spend my first night in Grand Baie, the island's social hub, sipping cold Phoenix beer and chatting to the locals as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean.

A population of only 1.2 million spread across 2040sqkm, some Mauritians speak an astounding seven languages, including French, English, Hindi and Creole.

This multilingual mix is partly a result of successive colonial rulers, beginning with the Portuguese and ending with the British. The island finally became a republic in 1992.

Regardless of which lingo you speak, the language of friendliness is the one you'll encounter most in Mauritius. Over the next week I will receive more free drinks than I can consume, a job offer and three marriage proposals.

And, with almost as many cuisines as languages, Mauritius is not short of places to eat. French, Chinese, Indian and Creole flavours battle to win over my taste-buds and all seem a perfect complement to the local seafood.

While most visitors to Mauritius find it difficult to drag themselves away from the swimming pools and beaches, a trip to the island's interior is worth the effort.

My tour of the south begins with Curepipe on the island's central plateau. Second in size only to the capital Port Louis, Curepipe is the place for shopping - whether it is designer fashions such as Chanel or Louis Vuitton, duty-free diamonds or locally-crafted goods such as model sailing ships.

The town's unusual name stems from the days when locals travelled in from outlying areas to fill or "cure" their pipes.

Not far from Curepipe's centre lies the gaping volcanic crater of Trou aux Cerfs. Long extinct and carpeted in forest, the crater's rim has spectacular views out toward the bizarrely named mountains of "Les Trois Mamelons" or "The Three Nipples".

Next stop is Ganga Talao or Grand Bassin, a lake in the middle of another extinct volcano crater in the mountain district of Savanne.

Some 600m above sea level, Ganga Talao is the most sacred Hindu place in Mauritius and a site of pilgrimage during the annual festival of Maha Shivaratri. Its most striking feature is a 36m-high statue of Shiva which beams benevolently down on visitors at the lake's entrance.

While the village of Chamarel in the island's south-west is famous for its seven-coloured earth created in marbled hues from volcanic rock, the real highlight is Chamarel Falls. The tallest waterfall in Mauritius, Chamarel spills over an 82m cliff and sounds at close range like a Boeing 747.

We stop at Plaine Champagne, the highest point in the Black River Gorges National Park, where the lookout's delightful name is matched by stunning views of the forested valley below and the southernmost shoreline of Mauritius.

The largest national park on the island, Black River Gorges covers more than 65sqkm, including 60km of hiking trails, and is home to many native bird species, macaque monkeys and the Mauritian flying fox.

To get a closer look at some of the rare birds that live on the island, we drop into the Casela Bird Sanctuary in the neighbourhood of Flic en Flac.

Spread over 8ha, the Sanctuary houses the famous Mauritian pink pigeon along with more than 120 other bird species, giant tortoise, tigers and monkeys.

The next morning I take a local bus to the rambunctious capital Port Louis, which has a busy harbour in the shadow of the 812m Le Pouce ('The Thumb') mountain.

I push through the narrow lanes of the city market, a labyrinthine sprawl with everything from CDs to cinnamon sticks. I made a clumsy attempt to haggle in schoolgirl French for a woven bag - with me offering the stallholder twice the amount she initially asked for.

My last day in Mauritius arrives too soon. I book myself onto a motor boat with local skipper Richard and a small group of fellow travellers and head for the open sea. The ride is bumpy but exhilarating as we glide up 3m waves and slam down the other side.

Anchoring at a sandy cay off the northern tip of Mauritius, we spend the afternoon swimming, snorkelling, drinking spiced rum and dancing under the warm sun as Richard strums reggae on the guitar.

The wind picks up in the late afternoon and the boat trip back to Grand Baie is even rougher than the morning's ride. We are drenched in spray and laugh until our stomachs hurt.

But it's time to leave paradise.

Back at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Airport, I'm still not smuggling whisky and cigarettes but I do have some amazing memories and a bottle of spiced island rum tucked happily into my suitcase.


• Mauritius is about 2000km off the south-east coast of Africa, approximately eight hours from Perth. See

• The island has a range of accommodation to suit most tastes and budgets. The Verandah Coin de Mire is a relaxed three-star hotel located on the island's north-west coast, 2km from Grand Baie and minutes from the beach. See

• Summer is wet and humid, reaching temperatures of 34C while winter is pleasantly warm and dry.

• For more information, see

Action Activities

• Reef-diving, snorkelling and deep-sea fishing are some of the activities which Mauritius has to offer.

• Away from the coast, discover waterfalls, gorges, rainforest, wildlife and an extensive network of hiking trails. Tours can be arranged with one of the many travel offices located in Grand Baie. Alternatively, hire a car and grab a map.

The West Australian

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