A budget-beater right on the beach

Mauritius is for the well-heeled and, of-course, those on a budget. One does not have to pay a fortune to get sand in ones toes, writes Aladin Pen

Budget-beating on the idyllic paradise Mauritius does not mean one has to compromise on style or a room with a view. While one would pay top dollar to stay in a five-star resort with the bells and whistles, it will not hurt the pocket to consider dropping a few stars and still be able to get the sand in your twinkle-toes.

Ocean Beach hotel and spa in Grand Baie is a cosy hideaway, recently spruced up on a lovely sandy beach, away from the bustling city centre. Depending on the room you book, you can almost poke your toe in the water from your room. Okay it is an exaggeration but the sea-sand is just a few metres away in this haven – if you have the beach room. Honeymooners may enjoy the extra mile they go in ensuring that the room is giving the red-bed rose treatment ringa-ring-a rosy replete with petals and adornments around the room to match.

You can’t be on such a location and not have access to a range of activities although in such a cosy spot water sport may be a bridge too far from the minds of amorous couples. Personalised service is a given and somehow seems so much more real in a resort comprised of 45 rooms and staff seemingly at your beck and call.

On a recent rendezvous, I was superbly impressed by the super-friendly Clifford Ng, who delights in offering a five star experience even though his establishment is a three-star delight. A night here costs around R600 a night per person for a basic room to about R1500 for a sumptuous dwelling offering a view of the beach. Rates are on a bed and breakfast basis and vary according to the season. To get the best out of such reasonably priced accommodation, it is a treat eating out at one of the many restaurants in Grand Baie.

Remember five-star establishments feel compelled to charge exorbitant five-star rates. Ocean Beach is proof that the water is just as warm and enticing regardless of the resort. Be sure to try out the hot dossa (pancake) sold by vendors around Grand Baie near the Ocean Beach resort. (www.oceanbeach.mu)Ocean Beach photos2 Ocean bikini Ocean room

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Picture perfect postcards from the skies

Amazing on the ground, Mauritius is even more stunning from the sky. Seeing the island by helicopter is a breathtakingly splendid jaunt. If Mauritius is heaven on Earth, the view to a thrill from the skies above is a wonderful glimpse into this delightful haven.

Taking off from the runway on a windy morning, within minutes one was airborne and awestruck by the views. The eyes can take shots quicker than the best camera. Memories are made of this. Our two hour ride took us on a whirlwind tour of the island. Everything divine starts at sea. The view from above took in some of the best resorts Mauritius has to offer.
Most famous for its sandy beaches is the popular spot Île aux Cerfs Island, dubbed the deer island although none of them roams here anymore, near the east coast in the Flacq district. Naturally, one goes here mainly for swimming and snorkeling in the lagoon.

Our whistle-stop visit took us over Chamarel, a village in the district of Black River, on the island of Mauritius, where one can witness a dune with seven different colors. The dunes are also known as the ‘Seven Colored Earth’, starting from the red sand, brown, purple, green, blue, yellow, and orange merged into one, creating a beautiful spectacle. In the same area, the park offers another attraction in the form of the Waterfall of Chamarel.

Our pilot said many regard this as one of the most beautiful sights on the island. He was not wrong. Three distinct stream plunging down a free fall of nearly 100 metres into the gorge. It is one thing standing below and watching the water fall and another completely exhilarating emotion watching it from high up above.

We also breezed past the Trou aux Cerfs, a 605 m high extinct volcano located in Curepipe, Mauritius. The crater has been alternately described as 300 meters in diameter, and is 85 meters deep. Trou aux Cerfs is considered among the main attractions of Curepipe. In the center of the crater there is a small lake.

From the view point on the crater you will have a spectacular view of major part of the island. The volcano is considered dormant. For more on the endangered and wildlife list, try Ile aux Aigrettes, the tiny coral island just off the coast of the town of Mahebourg. The island has been declared a nature conservation site and today is being preserved by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. A few of the world’s rarest birds, including the kestrel, can be seen there. You can also discover the extremely rare Pink Pigeon, the Green Gecko Phelsuma and the Aldabra giant tortoise. Some of the plants found in Ile aux Aigrettes grow nowhere else in the world and they form the last remnant of a coastal forest that once surrounded much of Mauritius. Eighteen Mauritian plant species which grow on the island are classified as endangered or very rare.

Save a prayer

Mauritius is renowned for its religious festivals that attracts not just locals (pictured) but worshippers from all over the world.

Treasure trove of fun for the family at Domaine de L ‘Etoile

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Showing that it is not just a beachside tourist haven, the expansive Domaine de L ‘Etoile on the East Coast of Mauritius is a treasure trove of activities. Aimed at providing a family fun day, one can go quad bike riding through the mountainous terrain, engage in horse riding or walk through the luscious green surroundings that takes one into the heartland of nature. A serene stroll along the river that runs through the property is a wonderful appetizer of things to come. We were driven to the highest part of the mountain from where one could enjoy a panoramic view of the island. Tourists seemed to be queuing to go quad biking at Domaine de L ‘Etoile but there’s much more than meets the eye. Indigenous forests, beautiful bird life, stag roaming around the valleys and a silence in the air that gives one a feeling almost of being in a religious sanctuary. Domaine de L ‘Etoile shows off a different side of Mauritius. Where one is captivated by the country’s beaches, Domaine de L ‘Etoile takes one into the bosom of nature, embracing one with beauty and some beasts. It was a different slice of Mauritius, a paradise but for families to take in the atmosphere through the range of activities on offer. Some families bring their children to go horse-riding while the adults drive the quad through the valleys of Domaine de L ‘Etoile.

Lord Shiva Statue in Mauritius

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Mauritius is an island with people of many different faiths.  Places of worship on the island date back to 1752. One of the modern wonders attracting tens of thousands of worshippers annually is the 108-foot-tall Hindu god, Lord Shiva regally placed at the entrance of Ganga Talao, also known as Grand Bassin. Majestic even on a wintry day when the sun disappeared briefly, the statue of the Hindu deity looms larger than life near the lake which plays hosts to thousands of worshippers. Plans are underway to build a second statue across the road from the existing giant statue are at an advanced stage.

The statue was built in 2006 and completed in 2007 in Ganga Talao, otherwise known as Grand Bassin. “Ganga” is associated with the Ganges River in India and “Talao” means pool. The Hindu regards this lake as sacred. It is here that you will find the Mangal Mahadev or Shiva statue which stands 33 metres tall in a district where there are many temples where devotees worship Lord Shiva and other gods. Standing at 33 metres or 108 feet, it is the tallest statue in Mauritius and the second biggest statue of Shiva in the world. Compared to other iconic statues, you’ve got the Jesus statue in Corcovado Rio in Brazil, which is only the fourth biggest statue of Christ in the world with nations like Bolivia, Mexico and Peru boasting taller Christ statues.

Construction has already begun on a statue of Durga Maa Bhavani next to Mangal Mahadev statue. It will be of a same height. The main reason is that the temple premises on which the Lord Shiva statue resides becomes heavily congested during Maha Shivrati prayers so another temple would ease the overcrowding which occurs at prayer time. Tens of thousands make the pilgrimage to the temple during prayer time.

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Places of Worship

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Mauritius is an island with people of many different faiths. Places of worship on the island date to 1752. One of the modern wonders attracting tens of thousands of worshippers annually is the 108-foot-tall Hindu god, Lord Shiva regally placed at the entrance of Gangatalao, also known as Grand Bassin. Majestic even on a wintry day when the sun disappeared briefly, the statue of the Hindu deity looms larger than life near the lake which plays hosts to thousands of worshippers. Based on the original Shiva statue in Gujarat, India, it was inaugurated in 2007 and became operational during the Maha Shivratri celebration in 2008. Standing at 33 metres it is also the highest known statue in Mauritius and the second biggest statue of Lord Shiva in the world. Compared to other iconic statues, you’ve got the Christ the Redeemer statue in Corcovado Rio in Brazil, which is only the fourth biggest statue of Christ in the world with nations like Bolivia, Mexico and Peru also boasting tall Christ statues. Construction is underway of a new statue of Durga Maa Bhavani of similar height next to the imposing Mangal Mahadev statue. The main reason is that the temple premises on which the Lord Shiva statue resides becomes heavily congested during Maha Shivrati prayers so another temple would help ease the overcrowding at prayer time. Tens of thousands make the pilgrimage to the temple on foot when Maha Shivratri is celebrated every year normally around February or March. Hindu worshippers walk from their home to the sacred lake near the statue from all corners of Mauritius. Many believers were offering prayers at the lake near the statue but it was a far cry from the tens of thousands who made the pilgrimage during Maha Shivratri in February. Gangatalao or Grand Bassin is a crater lake situated in a secluded mountain area in the district of Savanne, deep in the heart of Mauritius. It is about 1800 feet above sea level. It is considered the most sacred Hindu location in Mauritius as well as a major tourist place of interest. During the Maha Shivratri most of the devotees from all parts of the island leave their homes and journey to Grand Bassin on foot despite the fact that cars and buses are also preferred means of transport. It has been a tradition that volunteer people offer foods and drinks to the pilgrims (the devotees). Devotees often built Kanwars which are then carried to the sacred lake. Maha Shivratri in Mauritius is, for many Hindu families, a favorable time of the year to meet, and offer prayers together at Ganga tTalao. On the day of the festival, everyone goes to his/her local temple and offers the sacred water collected at the lake. The name “Ganga” is associated with the Ganges River in India and “Talao” means pool. Hindus believe that the lake is sacred. Part of the original forest near the lake is still found alongside. Statistics provided by the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority says that last year between January and December 89 058 South Africans visited the island, compared to 86 232 in the previous year. People I spoke said while it is a tradition for Mauritians from all walks of life to walk from their homes to the temple in Grand Bassin, overseas interest is high and many South Africans make the journey during prayer time. Statistics provided by the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority says that last year between January and December 89 058 South Africans visited the island, compared to 86 232 in the previous year.I would suggest to put the phrase I have highlighted here. what do you think?
Mauritius is a country with diverse religious faiths. If one leaves the beach for a bit one can find among others the St Louis Cathedral in Port Louis which was built in 1752, the Al Aqsa Mosque which was built in 1805 and Father Laval’s Tomb from 1864. Father Laval was known as a churchman of the slaves in Mauritius. He was beatified by the Pope John Paul II, who prayed at the tomb, a popular tourist attraction, in 1979.

In a nutshell…

Mauritius, the beautiful island discovered by the Portuguese in 1505 is sublime.  Superlatives about its breathtakingly gorgeous beaches, scrumptious cuisine and unlimited outdoor fun even in winter have been well documented. Yet there is so much more and my recent diary of Mauritius was different from what one had imagined. It’s no secret that I love Mauritius. Perfect weather, friendly people, and service is always dispensed with a gleaming smile. To my surprise, on my third visit, I had not even touched the water. I had a whale of a time on the beach 100 metres away from my villa on the plush Four Seasons resort in February. Yes, there is much more to Mauritius than its beautiful beaches.  Of course, travelers will know that it is a tropical island with just two seasons, summer and winter, though the latter could hardly be the spur to send one rushing out to purchases winter woolies. The sun shines in winter, too, in Mauritius. Not just a tourism destination, Mauritius is a place to do business with textile, sugar cane and information and technology industries, and its ‘blue’ economy ocean state enjoying a boom as investors take advantage of generous tax and other benefits. The island which gained its independence 45 years ago and became a Republic in 1992 is renowned for its natural beauty. To mark the occasion of becoming a Republic, the reddish-orange flower Trochetia Boutoniana was declared the national flower. Long extinct, the Dodo is still fondly connected to the history of the island. Souvenir shops still carry items depicting the bird. Easy to access, the island is broken up into nine Districts, made up of Black River, Flacq, Grand Port, Moka, Pamplemousses, Port Louis, Plaines Wilhems, Riviere du Rempart, Savanne and Rodrigues is an island of Mauritius. Most people speak Creole but English is the official language. Exploring Mauritius by road is easy. One can travel the island by car, never missing awesome views of the sea and abundant natural beauty. With Ambre Hotel on the coast of Flacq as my base, one is to able traverse all four corners of the island, starting with a visit to Ile aux Cerf and the magical Le Touessrok, which boasts an international golf course with a sea view guaranteed to make one gasp. Golf is fast becoming one of the most attractive sports tourism hooks in Mauritius. Next up was a trip nearby to Domaine de L’Etoile, a beautifully expansive pleasure dome set in mountainous landscape with breathtaking flora and fauna and the opportunity of a 4×4 adventure.  And if one is so inclined, there’s also the opportunity to go horse-riding. While leisure is the goal, there are resident snappers on the resort to ensure memories made are retained for posterity on a DVD. However, the difference in the detail was to follow the next morning when the soldiers from the Department of Civil Aviation gave us a two hour helicopter ride that showed Mauritius like one has never seen before. Now that was awesome. Panoramic views to leave one marveling at such a haven, one could not help but feel drunkenly shaky with delight. After such a fanciful flight, it was only right that one was brought down to Mother Earth with a visit to the giant statue of Lord Shiva at Ganga Talao en-route to Grand Bassin.  After such highs, the next day was an early start for an hour-long drive to watch dolphins before a drive back along the North East Coast to Ambre. Mauritius is incomplete without taking in a tour of the bustling capital Port Louis which has the propensity to remind one of Johannesburg with its plethora of malls with a South African flavour and some taxi drivers who would be comfortable in South Africa. The marketplace in Port Louis was filled with the aroma of spices, fruit and vegetables and lined with stallholders selling souvenirs and clothing. Lunch at Lambic, across the road from the offices of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority was simple, yummy fish and chips served London-style in newspaper wrapping. Mauritius never fails to disappoint. There is something for everyone in this paradise. Holidaying, sports, just relaxing or the new buzzword is MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) with special packages for visitors. There’s so much to do here, that’s why I love Mauritius.