Karl Cushing visited Mauritius to discover that there’s more to the island than fly-and-flop holidays
Casually pootling towards the open ocean on our SeaKarts, we had little clue of the high-octane spills that lay ahead.
But with a quick signal from the guide boat, the tight formation was broken and a full-throttle speed fest ensued, our two-person craft snaking around the swells and slapping up and down on the waves.
With their impressive acceleration and responsiveness the SeaKarts – a cross between a jetski and a mini speedboat – are fantastic fun. But not, perhaps, the kind of thing you’d associate with Mauritius – more Miami, perhaps.
Such is the island’s reputation for rest and relaxation in exquisite hotels, the range of activities that Mauritius also has to offer has been somewhat overshadowed.
As well as Fun Adventure Mauritius’s SeaKarts – a great way to appreciate the island’s dramatic south-western coast, and the “best fun ever”, according to Kuoni’s Emma Tibbetts – there is diving, kitesurfing, hiking, horse riding, quad biking and zip-lining.
Our action-packed fam trip programme was created by the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Agency, with the support of Air Mauritius, to showcase the island’s versatility to agents, and support its drive to get more visitors exploring beyond the beaches and family-friendly resorts, from its rich culture and cuisine to active options in the lush mountainous interior.
First we headed to the island’s more secluded south coast and one of my favourite hotels, Shanti Maurice.
This luxury hideaway, which offers 61 suites and villas, is home to one of the best spas on the island, and features activities such as yoga and meditation. We loved the Grandma’s Kitchen onsite cooking classes and the jet lag-busting tipples served up at the recently opened Rum Shed.
Our next base was the nearby Heritage Le Telfair, with its stunning colonial stylings, Seven Colours Spa, excellent golf club and sprawling Frédérica Nature Reserve.
One way of exploring the latter is on a ‘wellness walk’ led by a yoga therapist, while a new Segway adventure traverses the resort’s stunning Domaine de Bel Ombre estate.
If such sedate options wouldn’t cut it for clients, they could follow our example – we tore around Frédérica on quad bikes and buggies as if we were in a demolition derby.
Then it was time to stretch our legs rather than rev our engines, with an easy scenic hike up Le Morne peak, followed by a poignant visit to the monument of the abolition of slavery at the base.
Rain put paid to our planned adventure activities around Tamarind Falls, although we got a tempting taster during a presentation from Vertical World, a one-stop-shop for adventurous clients.
As well as rock climbing and canyoning, it offers hikes ranging from the accessible – Black River Peak and the circular Maccabee Trail – to the relatively tough Pieter Both.
Two nights in the west coast resort of Flic en Flac staying at the Sofitel L’Impérial Resort & Spa gave us the opportunity to take a scenic drive inland to Chamarel, in the Black River district, an increasingly popular element in multi-centre Mauritius breaks for operators such as Hayes & Jarvis and Sunset Faraway Holidays.
At an altitude of several hundred metres, and home to plantations and boutique properties such as Lakaz Chamarel, it makes a lovely base and a great contrast to the coast.
Our focus was La Vieille Cheminée, which offers rooms in five charming self-catering chalets, for a spot of relaxed horse riding through lush farmlands (for clients who fancy a ride along the secluded beaches of the south coast, also suggest the Centre Equestre de Riambel).
Horses aren’t the only furry friends in the region and the Sofitel is a 15-minute drive from the family-friendly Casela Nature & Leisure Park, where plentiful wildlife is easily sighted on guided quad bike or truck safaris.
It was the network of zip wires that grabbed our attention though, zooming at high speed over the tree-tops.
The big news in the north of the island is the reopening of the iconic Le Touessrok Resort & Spa under the management of Shangri-La Hotels, following a six-month refurbishment.
It may have idyllic beaches for lounging on and a pampering spa, but there is also a watersports centre and an 18-hole golf course designed by Bernhard Langer on Ile aux Cerfs, one of its offshore private islands.
It’s not the only renovation in the area – the new-look Veranda Pointe Aux Biches reopened in September, while last month, the former La Plantation hotel reopened as the all-suite Ravenala Attitude. So clients will be spoilt for choice when it comes to box-fresh hotels.
Our base was sister property Zilwa Attitude, where the 214 rooms have a stripped-down, industrial look. The four-star hotel’s selling points include the spa with its signature Watsu treatments.
We also loved the laidback atmosphere and Attitude’s ‘Otentik’ philosophy, which adds welcome local colour to everything from the cuisine to its excursions.
At the kids’ club, we let our inner-children road-test the Treasure Hunt, before enjoying a cooking demo and rum tasting on the resort’s island. Then it was time to try our hands at kayaking and paddle boarding.
Another marine highlight was a boozy speedboat tour from Pointe Jerome organised by Connections, complete with snorkelling in Blue Bay, visits to Ile aux Phare and the waterfall at Grand Riviere Sud Est, as well as a tasty lunch on Ile aux Cerfs.
We left Mauritius impressed with the versatility of the island and the wide range of selling points. As Kuoni’s Emma Tibbetts says: “This is a great destination for a five-star, family-friendly adventure – you can go from three-course meals and butler service to adrenaline-fuelled fun in just a short journey.”
5 of the best active options
Golf: Tee off at hotels including the Constance Belle Mare Plage, which has two courses; Heritage Awali and Heritage Le Telfair, which share a course; Tamarina Boutique Hotel, which adjoins Tamarina Golf Club; and Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita, with its Golf Academy, driving range and putting green.
Kitesurfing: The south-west coast between Le Morne Peninsula and Tamarin is great for surfing and kitesurfing. Good bases include St Regis Mauritius, which offers kitesurfing lessons, and Lux Le Morne hotel, which hosts a kitesurfing festival in July.
Diving: The west coast is the best bet. Properties with dive centres include The Oberoi, which offers beginners introductory sessions and Padi open-water courses for more advanced divers.
Submarine: Even non-swimmers can make like Jacques Cousteau with Blue Marine, which offers 40-minute Safari Submarine and 30-minute Sub-scooter excursions. Clients can also take guided ‘undersea walks’ in shallow lagoons using solar-powered helmets with Solar Under Sea Walk.
Canyoning: Vertical World offers canyoning adventures for all abilities. Trips fuse elements such as hiking, climbing and jumping into pools and rivers in locations such as Black River and Chamarel Falls, where clients do a 90m abseil into the pool below.
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