Will Har­ri­son re­ports on the div­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able off the shores of Mauritius, an is­land bet­ter known as a hon­ey­moon des­ti­na­tion.

Mauritius is famed for its beaches and lux­ury, but what’s the div­ing like? WILL HAR­RI­SON finds out

Sport Diver - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by WILL HAR­RI­SON

All things must come to an end. That, sadly, is one of life’s great truths. But it’s not al­ways such a bad thing. As I packed my bags for my re­turn flight from Sir See­woosagur Ram­goolam In­ter­na­tional Air­port to Heathrow, palm trees sway­ing in a gen­tle sea breeze just out­side my ho­tel win­dow, I was nat­u­rally dis­ap­pointed that my time on the is­land of Mauritius had reached its con­clu­sion. But as I threw my just-about-dry dive gear into my roller bag and dili­gently stowed by cam­era gear into my carry-on, I did so with a smile - what fun it had all been.

I had been on the is­land for two weeks, the first half spent work­ing (div­ing, writ­ing and wind­ing down with a rum or two) and the sec­ond half on hol­i­day (wind­surf­ing, read­ing and wind­ing down with a rum or two). In my six years at Sport Diver, this was the first time I’d tacked a hol­i­day onto the end of a work trip - Mauritius seemed like a de­cent place to pop the work/play cherry. My girl­friend Jo was nat­u­rally de­lighted with the idea. And it worked out won­der­fully. With gor­geous weather, de­cent div­ing and myr­iad ac­ti­vates to keep us busy when not breath­ing the com­pressed stuff, it’s a fan­tas­tic des­ti­na­tion for divers and non-divers alike.

Our first week was spent with Orca Dive Club, based in the sweep­ing grounds of Merville Beach Ho­tel in Grand Baie. It’s a small dive cen­tre - prob­a­bly the small­est I’ve ever en­coun­tered - but in true, clichéd Ger­man fash­ion, the site runs like clock­work, the steady stream of divers han­dled with care and ef­fi­ciency. Dive cen­tre man­ager Bern­hard Jack­enkroll, who’s an old hand when it comes to dive cen­tre man­age­ment hav­ing owned his own cen­tre in the Philip­pines for many years, en­sures guests’ needs are met and the dive boats go out on time. The rest, ul­ti­mately, is up to Mother Na­ture…

Through­out the course of the week we dived a va­ri­ety of sites in and around Grand Baie, rarely ven­tur­ing fur­ther than a 25-minute boat ride out from the cen­tre. With all the sites so close, and a sched­ule that in­cluded just two dives a day, the gen­eral ex­pe­ri­ence was a re­laxed one. Re­turn­ing to the cen­tre/ho­tel af­ter the morn­ing dive, most guests would re­unite with their non-div­ing part­ners, re­cline on a sun lounger and while away the hours through lunch un­til it was time to suit-up again. Merville Beach al­lows divers to use its beach, fa­cil­i­ties and bar/res­tau­rant through­out the day, and it re­ally is a great spot - Mauritius’s orig­i­nal hol­i­day re­sort, in fact.

The sites of Grand Baie and her outer reefs in­clude healthy corals, a de­cent amount of ma­rine life and, most ex­cit­ingly, a few wrecks. It’s gen­er­ally well shel­tered and not sub­ject to un­man­age­able cur­rents. With a seabed that bot­toms-out within recre­ational depths which­ever site you de­cide to dive at, it’s a per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for be­gin­ners. Dur­ing my week, buoyed by the per­fect set-up, a fel­low diver’s wife de­cided to take the plunge and com­plete her Open Wa­ter Diver. I’m pleased to say she loved it.

But what’s the div­ing like for more-ex­pe­ri­enced folk? It’s tran­quil. For those who like the gen­tler side of div­ing - leisurely bim­bling from bom­mie to bom­mie, search­ing for crit­ters and ad­mir­ing pretty reef­s­capes - then Mauritius will serve you well. For those who like the more-dra­matic side of aquatic life - depth, cur­rents and pelag­ics in the blue - you might be bet­ter served vis­it­ing one of Orca’s many other dive cen­tres around the world. For­tu­nately, I like both and was more than happy spend­ing a week ex­plor­ing Mauritius’ un­der­wa­ter world in su­per-slow-mo. It was pretty Zen.

My per­sonal high­lights were the wrecks of the Sil­ver Star, the Stella Maru and the Star Hope, all of which are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble, both in terms of boat ride and de­scent once you’re in the wa­ter. While none of the wrecks are es­pe­cially im­pos­ing or boast in­trigu­ing his­to­ries, they’ve all been on the seabed long enough to have been colonised by sponges and corals and plenty of fish call them home. They also take a de­cent photo.

The Sil­ver Star was vis­ited first. This 38-me­tre-long Ja­panese fish­ing boat has been on the seabed for more than 25 years, sits at a depth of about 40m and is per­fectly up­right. Po­si­tioned on a sandy seabed and sur­rounded by gen­er­ally pretty clear wa­ter, it’s an ideal wreck for divers look­ing to com­plete their Deep Diver and Wreck Diver cer­ti­fi­ca­tions.

The Stella Maru, an­other old fish­ing boat, has been on the seabed since 1987. At 44-me­tres and sit­ting in just 24m, she’s a crack­ing recre­ational dive. The mast and an­chor winches are still in place and are both cov­ered in life. The wreck gen­er­ally is

“It is a beau­ti­ful place with plenty to see and do - as well as stun­ning beaches, it has a moun­tain­ous in­te­rior - and there­fore makes a great des­ti­na­tion for peo­ple look­ing for va­ri­ety in their hol­i­day”

well rusted and smoth­ered in coral growth. She’s a beau­ti­fully shaped ves­sel, with a jagged and prom­i­nent bow and a smoother, rounded stern. Hang­ing off the side of the bow, about five me­tres from the ship, af­fords a lovely view, as does a swim un­der­neath the stern, which is raised off the seabed.

The Star Hope was per­haps my favourite of the three wrecks vis­ited. Though scut­tled, it has the feel of a gen­uine ship­wreck as a re­sult of a cy­clone split­ting her in two. Ly­ing on her star­board side atop a seabed of sand and rock (as well as a small de­bris field), she makes for an at­mo­spheric dive. Sit­ting at about 30m, the wreck is ideal for newly-minted Ad­vanced Open Wa­ter divers. As a con­se­quence of her rel­a­tively shal­low depth, high sun and the typ­i­cally de­cent vis­i­bil­ity, she can be safely pen­e­trated with­out the use of a torch. While these pen­e­tra­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties are lim­ited and brief, they are nev­er­the­less great fun.

But div­ing here isn’t just about the metal. The range of reefs within range of Orca Dive Club’s dive cen­tre is size­able and of­fers plen­ti­ful ma­rine life en­coun­ters. Sites such as Grand Baie Aquar­ium and Merville Patches, shal­low dives that bot­tom-out at about 12-14m, of­fer stingrays, tur­tles and a mul­ti­tude of reef fishes. We vis­ited both of these sites twice - they are Orca Dive Club’s go-to dives if that day’s boat­load in­cludes a novice or two.

Whether div­ing at the afore­men­tioned sites, or the ex­cel­lent Li­on­fish Reefs 1 and 2, or the suit­ably-named Coral Gar­den (there’s al­ways one), there is one species you’re al­ways guar­an­teed to see on dives in Grand Baie: mo­ray eels. I have never seen so many. In the week I spent div­ing with Bern­hard and his team it’s quite likely I saw more morays than all my other dives com­bined. Whether hid­ing in nooks and cran­nies on shal­low reefs, un­der sand-en­cir­cled bom­mies or be­neath tum­bling soft corals, they were ev­ery­where. Most of us will, at some point dur­ing our dive lives, have seen a pair of morays shar­ing a hole in the reef - in­ter­twined un­til night falls and the hunt be­gins. On two oc­ca­sions dur­ing my week with Orca I saw four morays grouped to­gether in a prime bit of reef-es­tate. I can only put this down to the fact that, on ac­count of the sheer num­ber that in­habit the lo­cal reefs, many are forced to bunk to­gether.

Dur­ing our week with Orca, we stayed with Dodola Lodge, a sim­ple but clean ho­tel just a few min­utes’ drive away (Orca ar­range col­lec­tion and drop-off). The ho­tel is fam­ily-run and of­fers a friendly ser­vice, with the area of Perey­bere in which it is based of­fer­ing a tran­quil and res­tau­rant-filled en­vi­ron­ment. It’s an af­ford­able op­tion for those priced­out by Merville Beach. For those look­ing for a beach-front ex­pe­ri­ence and all the add-ons (in­clud­ing the all-in­clu­sive watersports such as wind­surf­ing and kayak­ing), places such as Merville or Ho­tel Zilwa, where we stayed for our sec­ond week (from which Orca also of­fer trans­fers), are great op­tions.

Mauritius is a fa­mous hon­ey­moon­ing spot, with cou­ples from all over the world flock­ing to the is­land to cel­e­brate their unions. It is a beau­ti­ful place with plenty to see and do - as well as stun­ning beaches, it has a moun­tain­ous in­te­rior - and there­fore makes a great des­ti­na­tion for peo­ple look­ing for va­ri­ety in their hol­i­day. The div­ing is very good, but it’s not of the cal­i­bre of desti­na­tions such as the Red Sea, In­done­sia or the Mal­dives. As such, this is a des­ti­na­tion to visit when you’re happy for div­ing to form part of your trip, rather than be the fo­cus of it.

I’ll cer­tainly re­visit one day, and div­ing, wind­surf­ing and kayak­ing will all once again be on the agenda. Along with a rum or two, nat­u­rally.

“On two oc­ca­sions dur­ing my week with Orca I saw four morays grouped to­gether in a prime bit of reef-es­tate”

Bud­dies finning un­der the Stella Maru

Mo­ray eels are a com­mon sight in Grand Baie

Divers en­ter­ing a wreck

The Orca Dive Club cen­tre

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