Fly but don’t just flop in Mau­ri­tius

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are like smil­ing tor­pe­does, cruis­ing with ef­fort­less power and grace in an end­less realm.

I just wish they didn’t swim so fast. Even with fins on I keep pace for barely half a minute be­fore their tails flip farewell, and they are gone.

We are lucky. We came early when there were only a cou­ple of other boats of dol­phin chasers. By the time we leave, the bay is crowded with dozens of boats and peo­ple thrash­ing about in pur­suit of flash­ing flanks. The best plan is to come early, like the dol­phins.

Colonel CG Gor­don of the Royal En­gi­neers (later Gen­eral Gor­don of Khar­toum) would have been amazed by such ac­tiv­i­ties. In 1881, clearly bored with a Mau­ri­tius post­ing, he wrote to Sir Charles El­phin­stone: “If you want to find a place where things have been let go to sleep, I rec­om­mend you to try Mau­ri­tius.”

As the is­land cel­e­brates the 50th an­niver­sary of in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tish rule this year, its al­lure as an In­dian Ocean haven of rest and re­cu­per­a­tion is undi­min­ished. Ac­cord­ing to the last count, more than 100,000 Bri­tons head for its beach resorts ev­ery year, and spend much of their time con­tem­plat­ing a tran­quil sea and blue skies.

For those pre­pared to for­sake their sun loungers, how­ever, Mau­ri­tius has more to of­fer than Gor­don could have dreamed of. Apart from close en­coun­ters with dol­phins, the is­land’s bid to broaden its an­niver­sary ap­peal un­der a tourism slo­gan “Be­yond the beach” fea­tures hik­ing in in­dige­nous forests that are a refuge of rare bird life, un­der­sea ad­ven­tures à la Jules Verne, and time travel in grand colo­nial piles and quirky mu­se­ums.

My dis­cov­ery trail with a driver pro­vided by the tourist board be­gins on a moun­tain road in the less de­vel­oped south of the is­land, ris­ing to a viewpoint over the Black River Gorges Na­tional Park. This is a wild ex­panse of thick for­est, the last ves­tige of na­tive flora and fauna dec­i­mated over gen­er­a­tions by hu­man set­tlers.

The lit­tle that re­mains, thanks to de­ter­mined con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, is mag­nif­i­cent. It is a vi­sion of the dawn of time, a tu­mult of moun­tains swathed in trop­i­cal wood­land presided over by the is­land’s high­est sum­mit, and scarred by deep river gorges plung­ing to the sea.

White trop­icbirds with long, grace­ful tails drift silently below and a cho­rus of chirrup­ing and twit­ter­ing echoes around sheer rock faces. In the far dis­tance the ser­rated peaks of dark moun­tains brood be­neath a low­er­ing sky over coastal plains and a ghostly grey sea. A dis­tant rum­ble of thunder height­ens the drama of a pri­mal land­scape seem­ingly un­touched by hu­mankind.

As I stand won­der­ing at the prospect, two ex­trav­a­gantly plumed birds alight on a nearby branch and pro­ceed to ser­e­nade each other with sweet war­bling. They fly off when a cou­ple of macaque mon­keys am­ble along the para­pet.

A few days later I am in the for­est with a guide, an ul­tra-dis­tance run­ner who used to be a Cis­ter­cian monk in Haute-Savoie, France. Yan is the kind of man who doesn’t climb moun­tains, he bounds up them while dis­cours­ing elo­quently on nour­ish­ing the soul through na­ture.

As we climb a pil­grims’ trail to­wards a sa­cred Hindu lake, he ex­plains how the park is re­vert­ing to its nat­u­ral state Kuoni (de­tails below) has pack­ages in Mau­ri­tius to suit most tastes and bud­gets, in­clud­ing di­rect flights from Gatwick and is­land trans­fers.

Par­adise Cove is an adults-only bou­tique ho­tel in a ro­man­tic set­ting with first-class fa­cil­i­ties and fine din­ing. Seven nights half-board in a Deluxe Room costs from £1,735pp in­clud­ing re­turn flights from Lon­don, booked through Kuoni (01306 747008; kuoni.co.uk).

For fam­i­lies, the Rave­nala At­ti­tude ho­tel com­bines good-qual­ity ac­com­mo­da­tion and cui­sine with land and wa­ter sports for young­sters. Seven nights all-in­clu­sive in a Cou­ple Suite costs from £1,635pp with re­turn flights from Lon­don, also avail­able through Kuoni.

An eth­nic cock­tail of Africans, In­di­ans and Chi­nese in mainly so­cial and re­li­gious har­mony.

An im­broglio of English, French, Cre­ole and Hindi; English is widely un­der­stood.

Mau­ri­tian ru­pee, worth about 45 to the pound.

Sum­mer (from Novem­ber to April) is hot and hu­mid, with the cy­clone sea­son from Jan­uary to March. Win­ter (May to Oc­to­ber) is cooler/drier.

There are mosquitos but no malaria, and rea­son­able med­i­cal ser­vices. The eas­i­est way to see the sights is on lo­cal tours that ar­range ex­cur­sions and ac­tiv­i­ties with mul­ti­lin­gual guides. through the erad­i­ca­tion of in­va­sive species such as guava and gum trees, and their re­place­ment with na­tive ebony. In the process, the nat­u­ral habi­tat of en­dan­gered bird life e is be­ing re­stored.

The late lamented d dodo, flight­less clown of the he bird world, was shot and d de­voured to ex­tinc­tion by 17th-cen­tury h-cen­tury Dutch sailors. More re­cently the Mau­ri­tius ius kestrel was the world’s ld’s rarest bird when only ly four could be found, d, and the echo para­keet was far­ing lit­tle bet­ter on the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered list, num­ber­ing only 15, but now hun­dreds of them are fly­ing around Black River forests. They prove elu­sive on our hike, but the air is filled with the screech­ing of fruit bats. “I call it the dance of the bats,” ts Yan says. “When they cir­cle in the a air it is beau­ti­ful.” Descendin De­scend­ing from a rock ledge viewp viewpoint, we are in­vited to swim in a suc­ces­sion of rock pools fed by the cle clean­est, fresh­est river on th the is­land. It is, as Yan prom promised, good for the soul soul. He als also leads hikes up a nearby U Unesco World Her­itag Her­itage site called Le Morne, a great, glow­er­ing watchd watch­dog of a moun­tain broodin brood­ing over the sea that is a mon mon­u­ment to de­spair and de­fi­ance. de­fia In the early 19t 19th cen­tury it

Par­adise Cove Re­sort, below, is an adults-only bou­tique ho­tel renowned for its fine din­ing Ex­plore by boat, above, or by mini-sub, right. Below: a long­tailed macaque

The Alexandra Falls in the Black River Gorges Na­tional Park

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