Mauritius: The life aquatic
Rebecca Corbally skips the spa to try some more adventurous options in Mauritius
Saturday 26 July 2008
If you like your towels fluffy, your bathtubs vast and your waiters attentive - and I certainly appreciate all three - then Mauritius is the place to come. Then again, I've always been worried that there's something ever-so-slightly pathetic about rolling from your oversized bed straight onto a padded sun lounger and then, well, back again. Even spa treatments involve lying flat on your back most of the time.
I was keen to cultivate a bit more of an Action Girl persona, to try to buck the trend of lying down and to see if I couldn't have an Indian Ocean experience with a little more get-up-and-go. So I checked in at the Shandrani Resort and Spa in the south-east of the island; refuelled at the nearby La Belle Creole, a laid-back and traditional open-air restaurant on the shore (no point in embarking on this sort of thing on an empty stomach); and launched into my new regime at the Shandrani Resort dive centre.
I felt (relatively) intrepid as I joined my fellow divers aboard the boat and we cruised away from the hotel and all its floaty, silky curtains. It was refreshing to take a break from all the glamour - and as a single dive burns around 500 calories, it would help make amends for all the eating going on.
Once submerged in the Indian Ocean, I soon settled into a weightless groove. A large shoal of cuttlefish pulsed past me with their skirts waving. Hundreds of silver slides swished in unison like a giant beaded glass curtain parting to let me through. A giant, olive-green turtle cruised past at very close quarters, its black eyes shiny in the sunlight. This was an active holiday at its most beautiful.
The next morning I transferred from the cushioned comfort of the Shandrani to the Mövenpick Hotel in the south-west, an even more impressive luxury compound. Determined to keep up my action ethos and not disappear into the spa for the rest of my stay, I set up some excursions with White Sands Tours - experts at helping people see that bit further than the opulence of the hotels.
Before long I was squashed into a minivan, which crawled past fields of sugar cane and up and over wooded hills. An hour-and-a-half due north of the marbled maze of the Mövenpick, I was finally deposited at Grand Bay on the north-west coast for a submarine scooter safari experience: the dive for non-divers.
Four pastel-coloured sub scooters sat in a row on a hydraulic platform at the back of a moored boat near the Grand Bay lagoon barrier. It all looked more Mickey Mouse than James Bond, but for those not too comfortable with the idea of breathing underwater this was quite a relief. My dive buddy Sara and I climbed aboard a pearly pink version in our wetsuits. One major difference from a landlubber's scooter is the large bulbous lid which swings down over both your heads on a hinge and which, on impact with water, creates a breathing bubble - much like lowering a glass into a bath.
After a briefing which revolved, rather alarmingly, around points for "our own security", our gang was told that we would simply sit in tandem and then descend underwater using a buoyancy weight system controlled by safety divers. Soon all but our head and shoulders would be entirely submerged; we could then charge off in any old direction, albeit at a snail's pace.
For some reason, I ended up in charge of the wheel. Our heads were covered by the Perspex lid and our voices developed a frightening echo. The hydraulic lift began to send us slowly below the water and our wetsuits flooded. As the lid hit the surface, the air lock was created and filled with the compressed air for us to breathe. The platform dropped away beneath us and we bobbed back up to the surface, largely out of control.
The water slapped at the outside of our lid, forcing the horizon to dip and reappear in our line of vision, and I began to regret my four-course breakfast. After a painful few minutes the safety divers made their way over to adjust the buoyancy device keeping us afloat and we dropped down straight into a large shoal of soldier fish which darted about our legs.
After half-an-hour of pottering about at six metres deep, the divers indicated that we had gone far enough. A couple of octopuses swam past, blasting out a mist of black ink to disguise their paths, and as we slowly made our way back to the hydraulic platform, brightly coloured parrot, angel and butterfly fish mingled together, unperturbed by our ridiculous presence.
The sea isn't the only attraction. A whopping 70 per cent of Mauritius is covered in a jumbled forest of sugar cane, and the St Felix plantation in the south of the island has successfully turned the crop into a tourist attraction by setting up an intricate maze of high wires. You wear a harness and fly across deep gorges and ravines. It's still an active plantation: tractors buzz around below. It seemed a great way to get a different perspective on the island.
So, harnessed up I walked to the start of the course. At that point I was told, to my horror, that the zip-wire tour would involve three hours of high-speed flying. As I gazed down the first ravine at the near vertical drop and my eyes adjust to the twinkling wire overhead, I considered whether my fresh perspective was really necessary.
But there was no backing out now. One by one we jumped, like baby birds launching from a nest. I soon found that zipping above pillars of sugar cane was an exhilarating way to spend an afternoon. It also threw up some incredible views of a green and rolling Mauritius.
Back in my room, I lolled in a bath which had space for a comfortable if somewhat dubious party - and I realised that I was surprisingly relaxed. Try a little harder in Mauritius and you will shed your cares that much sooner.
The writer travelled with Best At Travel (020-7849 4047; www.bestattravel.co.uk) which offers a week's holiday in Mauritius including three nights' fully inclusive accommodation at Beachcomber's Shandrani Resort & Spa (www.shandrani-resort.com) and three nights' half-board at the Mövenpick Resort and Spa Mauritius (www.moevenpick-mauritius.com). Prices start at £1,567 per person, including transfers and return flights with Air Mauritius (020-7434 7375; www.airmauritius.com); the national carrier flies non-stop from London Heathrow seven times a week in peak season and five times a week in low season.
Also from Heathrow, British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.ba.com) flies three times a week, and Virgin Atlantic (08705 747 747; www.virgin-atlantic.com) twice a week.
Mauritian tour operator White Sand Tours (00 230 208 5424; www.whitesandtours.com) runs a number of trips and excursions for visitors to Mauritius.
For further information visit www.tourism-mauritius.mu
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