There is so much to learn about Mauritius, let us start with the island’s geographical features first.
Mauritius is a volcanic island, 58km from north to south and 47km at its widest. The island rises steeply in the south to a central plateau, which gently slopes down to the northern coast. There are no active volcanoes but many extinct craters and volcanic lakes such as the Trou aux Cerfs crater in Curepipe and the Grand Bassin holy lake.
The island’s Coral reef
Mauritius is surrounded by a coral reef that provides several long stretches of white coral sand beaches; however, the south coastline presents more of a rugged and wild character. Mauritius is recognised internationally for its unique flora and fauna.
However, less than 2% of the island is covered with endemic plants. Many of these plants struggle to survive with the importation of introduced plants, and have been depleted by the introduction of animals such as deer, pigs and monkeys. General forest clearance and the establishment of sugar cane fields and agriculture have exacerbated the problem, so that now the island possesses less than 1% of intact original forest. The same applies to the loss of wildlife with only a few species surviving including some of the rarest birds in the world such as the Mauritius kestrel, echo parakeet and pink pigeon.
Historically, the legislation of Mauritius paid high regard to the designation of areas for conservation. These were established primarily for protecting vulnerable areas from soil erosion. Much of the coastal conservation areas within the Pas Geometriques have been lost to development. However, large areas of the mountain reserves and river reserves remain, much on private land. In the public sector, the National Park, State Forests and water reservoirs provide the best opportunities for recreation development.
The beaches of Mauritius are a key part of the tourism product. They are also a critical recreational resource for Mauritians themselves. Besides the beaches, the coastal areas offer potential passive recreational activities including trails and picnic areas along the linear ‘river reserves’ that stretch from the coast to the mountains.
Rivers and valleys in Mauritius
Ownership of the river valleys lies primarily in private hands and often the sugar estates. Closer to areas of population, banana plantations are more common. The National Physical Development Plan (NPDP) recognised the need to find and develop incentives to maintain these reserves through mutual benefit partnership schemes. These rivers are considered to be an under utilised resource and offer opportunities both for recreation and conservation.
Concept of ‘Greenways’ in Mauritius
There is therefore potential to develop the concept of ‘Greenways’ in Mauritius. Greenways are in essence a network of recreational trails that pass through rural and urban areas and allow walkers and often cyclists and horse riders (depending on the path) to travel long distances in pleasant surroundings without disturbance from motor traffic etc. The establishment and promotion of a network could offer opportunities for communities who live close to the network to benefit from recreational activities occurring on or close to the network, for example, offering accommodation or refreshments to walkers, providing guides, selling local crafts etc.
Black River Gorges National Park
Proclaimed under the Mauritius Wildlife and National Parks Act 1993 and established in 1994 this Park, which is entirely located on state land, extends to 6,574 hectares. The mountain nature of the Park provides a range of interesting visitor experiences. It consists of a wide range of habitat, which contain some of the rarest birds. In ecological terms this makes the park ‘critical’ on an international basis.
The park is an IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) member
The National Park is an IUCN member under the Mauritius Wildlife and National Parks Act 1993 and meets the IUCN management criteria. Under these criteria, the primary aim of a National Park is to protect and enhance the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems. Its secondary aims include providing for recreation, tourism, education scientific and spiritual interests.
The Park is a popular destination for both Mauritians and international visitors and the numbers are growing. Anecdotal evidence from park officers suggests that one reason that the number of Mauritians using the park is growing is because recreation areas are being sought as an alternative to crowded beaches.
Points of Access to the park
There are multiple points of access to the Park. The Vacoas — Chamarel road cuts through the park. This road contains access to the Alexander Falls viewpoint and Black River Gorges viewpoint. A new road accessed from the main coast road leads to the main HQ / visitor centre at Black River, opened in 2000. Hiking activities are largely undertaken by the locals.
Information Centre at the Park
The new visitor centre contains a main hall for display material information and a small lecture theatre, There are outside aviaries containing birds and fruit bats, It is understood that a sales area for the sale of mementoes, posters and other goods is to he developed.
Paths and Trails in the Black River Gorges National Park
There are nine principal paths and trails plus an unknown number of smaller informal trails that intersect the Park. The principal paths are marked at their start points and occasionally en route. A number of the routes loop but generally are not circular, thus, to return to parked transport, it is necessary to return by the same route. Given the mountain topography, thin soils and wear, the paths may be subject to heavy erosion.
Handrails, improved surfacing and steps on steep sections are required on the popular marked trails. The routes have been way marked at their starting point, but not regularly marked en route. Some difficulty in following a route may be experienced. A programme of reassessing the route condition and extent of marking should be undertaken and a programme of works initiated based on available finances.
Viewpoints and Picnic Areas in Mauritius
There are numerous informal viewpoints located throughout the Park where vegetation has been removed to create vistas. The major viewpoints in the Park are the Black River Gorges Viewpoint and the Alexandra falls Viewpoint. Both are accessed by vehicle from the Le Petrin – Chamarel road. The Black River Gorges is the most popular and is busy for most of the day with tourists stopping and viewing, The Alexandra Pulls Viewpoint is in a poor state of repair. It is not as popular as the Gorges Viewpoint since it is located off the main road.
Large areas of forests have been rehabilitated to ensure survival of the bird populations and the endemic flora. The forests contain animals that are detrimental both to the native flora (browsing and grubbing) and to the native birds (egg stealing). Protective fencing is required around the rehabilitated areas to keep the non-indigenous animals out.
Mauritius Mountains Areas
The island offers three principal areas for recreational activities:
- Long Mountain and Le Pouce area adjacent to Port Louis;
- Bambou Mountains centred on Domaine du Chasseur; and
- Black River Gorges — Savanne Mountains (proposed South West Natural Zone).
The mountain areas are particularly vulnerable to erosion and activities such as mountain biking and 4WD can create areas of extensive erosion. Where these activities are not compatible, for example, in nature reserves, access points have been gated or narrowed with fences and walls as to stop access.
There is potential for climbing and hill walking activities. However, climbing is dependent on the quality of the rock, if it is brittle and fragments easily, and climbing may not be suitable. The trails extending around the Black River Gorges National Park offer the best walking. These have been extended into the wider area, using existing tracks and river reserves. The network has way marking and walking maps to be produced.
The multi-ethnicity of the people of Mauritius, both ethnically and religiously, brings a great variety to the cultural resources of the country which include historic sites, architecture, oral and written literature, music and dance, visual arts and crafts, religious traditions and cuisine.
The architectural style in Mauritius is mainly tropical Victorian, similar to the Caribbean style, one or two stories, in stone and/or wood, with fretwork, shingled or corrugated iron gabled roofing, but with a particular touch in the verandas built with a design under Asian influence.
The urban pattern of the main towns of Port Louis, Curepipe, Souillac and Mahebourg was originally on a grid layout as most colonial towns. Each town has special historic buildings such as town halls, courthouses, police stations and churches (see Appendix 3.1 for a full inventory of historic buildings and sites). The Society de l’Histoire de l’ile Maurice organises tours for its members of historic buildings and places in Port Louis.
There are many plantation houses located outside the urban areas. These houses are situated on sugar estates and have excellent parks and gardens with their entrance drives usually characterised by an impressive alignment of royal palms. Other plateau houses are scattered around the island including Le Reduit – the President’s house and gardens – and Clarisse House in Vacoas -the Prime Minister’s residence.
Other buildings of tourism interest and worthy of conservation include administration buildings (police stations, courthouses and hospitals), education buildings and a great number of religious buildings of all creeds throughout the island. Industrial buildings include Les Salnes, Granary in Caudan and sugar cane factories in Bel-air and in Constance.
Pamplemousses is the most visited garden on the island both by Mauritians and tourists. It has both a historical and natural value. Even though it remains an outstanding site, it has unfortunately been altered in some of its original features, as for example, the asphalting of paths. A mission in 1999 recommended various actions including restoring the pebble walks, better maintenance and, because of its rare species, more scientific work.
Other gardens include:
■ Botanical gardens in Curepipe – a miniature Pamplemousses;
■ Jardins de la Compagnie in Port Louis — a historical garden, the first on the island; and
■ Domaine Ylang Ylang – providing good educational tourism on plants and fragrances.
Some of the cemeteries of the island still have very old tombs dating back to the early 1800’s. Some are listed and illustrate the history of the island.
Fortifications (forts, batteries and Martello towers) date back to both the French and British times (the Dutch destroyed theirs before leaving the island). Some are still well preserved even though in need of restoration. Martello tower in La Preneuse has recently been restored and includes an excellent museum. The Citadelle is the largest fortification on the island, standing on a hill above Port Louis. The state of most of the building is poor and needs special attention.
Apart from the Martello tower, all entrances to museums in Mauritius are free. They include:
■ Mauritius Institute – National History Museum in Port Louis;
■ Postal Museum in Port Louis;
■ Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Museum in Port Louis;
■ Photographic Museum in Port Louis;
■ Mahebourg Historical Museum;
■ Vieux Grand Port museum;
■ Martello Tower in La Preneuse;
■ Robert Edward Hart Museum in Souillac; and
Religious Festivals and Events in Mauritius
Given the large number of religions practised in Mauritius, most of them have religious festivals that attract a great number of pilgrims and also tourists since they are well advertised in visitor guides and brochures.
Music and Dance in Mauritius
Several dance companies from different ethnic origins perform all forms of local dances in Mauritius. More emphasis however, should be put on Sega -the national dance, which is danced by all Mauritians.
Art gallery in Mauritius
There are very few art galleries in Mauritius, mainly located in Grand Baie. There is potential for more local art to be displayed in hotels and for the organisation of art shows, opening up the market to tourists.
The National Handicraft Promotion Agency (NHPA) organises training courses to improve and diversify local handicrafts. It has also opened a series of handicraft villages in the most touristic places but with little success. Tourism operators and taxi drivers usually get a commission from private craft shops while the NHPA shops are managed on a non profit basis and are meant, on the one hand, to show tourists how artisans work, on the other, to allow artisans to sell directly to customers. This needs further promotion through visitor information. The main local production consists of basketry, woodwork, metal work, ship models, wicker furniture and clothing. The latter is mainly produced on a small industry basis.
Given the skills of Mauritians in the garment sector and the success with customers, there is potential to further develop fashion brands and designs through scholarships and organisation of local design competitions and fashion shows in hotels.
Mauritius Literature – Books on Mauritian Culture
A wide range of books on history and cultural heritage are sold in bookshops and at the airport news-stand in the departure lounge.