Mauritius has never really been high on our bucket list, simply because we typically try avoid crowds and big “resort” type holidays. But this time, due to sheer convenience (being only a 4 hour flight from South Africa) we took the plunge and decided to explore. We discovered a place very different from the tourist brochures and bustling resorts that many South Africans in particular may be familiar with. if you look a bit closer, there is a very chilled, beautiful, culturally rich side to Mauritius.... and of course a coastline and ocean that makes your knees tremble with excitement.
Where did we go
We based ourselves in Point Aux Piments, a quiet little village on the north western coast, not far south of the busier Grande Baie area and north of the capital city, Port Louis. The Recif Attitude Hotel, one of the smallest hotels on the Island (we chose it for this very reason) was our home and a good call by any stretch of the imagination, great location, great service, gorgeous chilled zen vibe. …and of course cracking snorkeling 10m from the breakfast table.
Although the entire island is surrounded by a barrier reef, we focused our exploring on the northwestern corner simply to avoid the wind. The South easterly trade winds blow continuously throughout the winter months, making the eastern half of the island feel a lot cooler and of course, wind, no snorkeler enjoys the wind. The western side of the island is largely protected from the wind, during the days, we would venture inland a bit and the wind would be verging on uncomfortable, head to the beach and you’re so protected that the water is smooth as glass, almost felt miraculous!
Where we snorkeled
Our main focus was snorkeling right in front of the Refic Attitude in Pointe aux Piments, the offshore protected coral reef is just a few hundred meters from shore and a dead easy swim to reach, even for the severely unfit. Huge shoals of parrotfish and surgeons dart around the shallows (and we mean shallow, less than 1m deep in most parts) loads of interesting wrasse, I think in total we must have seen nearly every wrasse in our field guides, butterflyfish, including loads of Longnosed Butterflyfish, more than just a handful of goatfish species and gorgeous shoals of chromis and damsel species, many of which we had no clue as to their identification. It was busy. In amongst the usual suspects we also found things like the exquisite Longnose Filefish, plenty of Ocellated Snake Eels, Flutemouth, Batfish and a surprisingly good population of Scribbled Pipefish (Corythoichtys sp) - snorkeling in Mauritius was good!
It was easy snorkeling, as is most of the snorkeling in Mauritius, the reef is less than 1m deep, if that and an average 10m plus visibility.
A bit further out, the reef drops off to 10m or so deep and a well known spot for seeing Hawksbill Turtles, we were not lucky enough to encounter one of these fellas but we were lucky enough to find a Southern Right Whale and her calf coming into the shallows for what seemed to be a “good old chillout" - very special moment.
A spot further north is the very popular Trou aux Biches. This is considered one of the finest snorkeling spots in Mauritius. Especially good for families, this impossibly pretty beach with baby powder sand is very pretty. The reefs in this area are not as easy to reach as Pointe Aux Piments, a bit further to swim, but also a hive of activity, several triggerfish species, curious White Spotted Boxfish, loads of starfish, damsels and all round pretty place. On the downside, the lagoon at Trou aux Biches is very busy with boats, water skiers and the likes making it a bit nerve-wracking being out there. We loved the beach but preferred the quiet secluded snorkeling we had at Pointe Aux Piments.
Further south in the South Western corner is another great area to visit, Tamarin Bay, just south of Flic en Flac, this bay is simply breathtaking, but to get snorkeling you will need to get a boat out to the reefs. On the day we visited, the skipper said the visibility was “average today” …..if that was average, we cant imagine what brilliant is like, 30m plus visibility is quite a thing!
The reefs are a lot deeper around here and not so easy to spend time close up with snorkel gear, probably better suited to SCUBA. However, a highlight is the resident pod of Spinner Dolphins, 20-30 individuals racing through the water past you is something you will never forget. The boat skippers are also extremely (surprisingly) responsible when it comes to swimming with the dolphins, only allowing two people in the water at a time and very strict about keeping their distance and minimizing disturbance. We like this.
However, a highlight is the resident pod of Spinner Dolphins, 20-30 individuals racing through the water past you is something you will never forget. The boat skippers are also extremely (surprisingly) responsible when it comes to swimming with the dolphins, only allowing two people in the water at a time and very strict about keeping their distance and minimizing disturbance. We like this.
Snorkeling excursions in Mauritius
You will find scores and scores of people offering you snorkeling trips out to the reefs, glass bottom boat rides and other trips. We like to support these small local businesses, so we tried a few of these and really don't recommended them for a couple of reasons. Firstly, glass bottom boats, we took a trip over a reef we had snorkeled on about two hours earlier and saw surprisingly little, after jumping overboard for a closer look, we realized what was happening. Most fish just make a run for it when the boat approaches, so you really see very little compared to being in the water without an outboard engine buzzing along.
We were also surprised to find that very few people, hotel staff, skippers, guides had much knowledge of the reefs, marine life and even what a Nudibranch was, so a guided trip added very little value to anything you could do yourself by simply swimming into the sea from the beach …..pretty much anywhere.
Scooters, getting around on scooters is huge fun and for less than R200 per day (US$ 15) it’s the easiest and best way to get around, especially exploring from beach to beach along the coast. For longer excursions, there are plenty of taxis and tour operators haggling for your business, you wont be stranded anywhere.
We loved the freedom of the Scooters, easy to just stop in at a quaint little coffee shop under a giant fig tree or have lunch as a random café overlooking a quiet lagoon or stop in a visit a Hindu temple or explore markets up the back roads…..just the perfect way to spend time in-between the great snorkeling.
We certainly never felt like this was a crowded “mass tourism” destination. In fact, we felt the opposite, quaint, friendly people, safe, beautiful, rich smells, sights and sounds, loads to explore and all round wonderful idyllic place, we can see why it so popular.
Although in real terms, we probably explored 100 Km’s (if that) of the 300Km coastline, there is no doubt that this little island is a great, easy, convenient spot for a snorkeling getaway. Although we would have loved to have seen more interpretive information, active conservation awareness (for the reefs which were quite damaged in a lot of places) and guides who had a good knowledge of marine life, Mauritius is still an extremely well organized, hospitable, friendly, good value for money ecotourism destination for ocean lovers.
...and on a final note
As hard as we searched, we could not find a single Nudibranch, possibly just too many hiding places in the reefs, which are also wall to wall coral and very little sponge. But we did find this little flatworm, the very pretty Pseudoceros confusus
At Tidal Tao, we are dilly, silly and plain old passionate about the ocean and our neighborhood of Salt Rock, near Ballito, on the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal. This is possibly some of the best snorkelling expediences South Africa has to offer, year round warm water, incredible fish and marine life, all in shallow, safe, protected areas.....and we want you to experience it too. "In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."