Terry Friend

TERRY FRIEND gets on a quad bike in Paradise

We travelled from Sugar Beach, and its sister resort La Pirogue, on the west coast, right across to the Domaine de L’Etoile on the east side of the island. That is a big nature reserve where you can do mountain biking, deer and boar hunting, the bow-and-arrow hunting of dummy animals, and hiking.

Quad trips of between three and four hours cost 4 800 rupees for two people to ride two-up, and that includes a great lunch. After a brief introductory ride on the Arctic Cat 400 series automatic, you are off in a group.

OK, stadig nou boetie, this thing is quite hard to turn.”

You have to go full lock, and it wouldn’t do to go plunging down one of the steep slopes. The only consolation of being squashed by a quad on the way down would be that they can then send you home to SA in a small, flat box. So you have to ease off the thumb throttle altogether in the sharp, downhill turns, or you could find yourself going straight on into space as a latter-day Kamekaze pilot.

The sweet-faced Java deer are seen along much of the quad track, and there are three supreme viewing sites, with either the sea or mountains or both stretching into the distance. The boar are smaller and less aggressive than ours, so there’s nothing to worry about on that front.

After an hour the thumb begins to ache, and there are still more than two hours to go.  These are not wild adventure rides (although you can get covered in mud well enough if you like), but most enjoyable interludes in which to take in the sights and voices of nature. Definitely not for ‘windgat’ oafs of any kind.

 L’Etoile offers the option of side-by-side all-terrain vehicles – a safer option because of the roll bars and wrap-around seats. They are fast displacing quads everywhere, and I’m sure there will be street-legal ones in the not-too-distant future. Full-sized, three-dimensional dummy animals await the derring-do of the bowmen.

Back at the idyllic L’Etoile retaurant and main building, you are treated to a buffet of traditional, spicy Creole cooking. The islanders eat mainly seafood and chicken, although they did offer a dry beef curry. But I’m a mutton vindaloo man myself.

The 1 865sq km island is 65km long and 45km wide, and volcanic action fashioned mountains with fascinating peaks, spurs and ‘fingers’ pointing at the sky.

Mauritius has 1.2 million people, and there are five towns. The beautiful capital, Port Louis, which is surrounded by mountains, was named after Louis XV, and established in 1735.

The British took over the island in 1810, during the Napoleonic Wars, to prevent French privateers from preying on British ships trading with the east. The English obviously liked to sweeten their tea with Mauritian sugar, as the country gained its independence only in 1968, and became a republic in 1994. Fortunately little remains of the British ‘boil everything’ cuisine, and there are plenty of opportunities outside the five-star resorts to indulge an adventurous palate.

A pause before the long haul back up the mountain at L’Etoile for the quad bike team. Pictures: Terry Friend

Another legacy of the French is the superb botanical garden started in 1766,   featuring exotic trees and plants from all over the world. A giant baobab was, for instance, planted in 1770.

There are 80 differenct species of palm, lotus flowers from India, and giant water lily pads (145cm across) with flowers that start off white, then turn pink, later red and finally purple. Probably the most impressive of all are the enormous Venezuelan mountain roses – essays in scarlet nestling in trees.

One place worth visiting is the Chateau Labourdonais, built in 1859 by a colonial French family, and now fully restored as a gracious period home. Even the rotted wallpaper featuring rural scenes was restored by hand painting new wallpaper to replicate the original designs.

Bikers are often into other outdoor pastimes, and back at Sugar Beach there is great snorkelling. A reef surrounds most of the island, and you may regard that as a nuisance if you like swimming in the surf, but there are two trips of one hour a day outside the reef, weather premitting, and Club Nautique organises all for you.

Among the fish commonly seen while snorkelling are the brown-spotted merou loutre (greasy grouper), the black-and-yellow pavillon cocher, flutes, crowned toby and the yellow boxfish. But beware the dreaded stonefish (poisson piere), which hides in the sand, and is a member of the scorpion family, which includes the scorpion diablé (devil scorpion fish). Serious eina there, my china.

You can take different levels of snorkelling courses while you are there, and return with a diploma. You can also go swimming with the dolphins, do big game fishing with marlin as the top prize, or go on a catamaran cruise (all organised through www.blackriver-mauritius.com).

There are three Harley Davidson clubs on the island. In the north of the island at Montchoise there are tracks for quads, bikes and go-karting, so MX enthusiasts can keep the mud content of their blood constant.

Quadding started in the hunting domain, and the Castela park area, which started as a bird park, now has lions and cheetahs. The Java deer, introduced by the Dutch in the 17th century, are bred there. Hunting controls the numbers, and Mauritians go there for weekend team building, using quads.

In Mauritius, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Chinese Buddhists live in harmony, mingling at the schools. There are periods at school in which the children are taught their own language and culture, but there are a lot of mixed marriages.

Useful info I gleaned from a guide: the flag you see flying from poles outside homes tells you of what persuasion the residents are: red for Hindu, blue for Catholic, Green for Muslim and a multi-coloured flag for Tamils. At least if you get into trouble, or are looking for a date, you can seek out your own people.

The families are large at between four and eight children, and householders tend to build onto the top of the house as the family grows, or money becomes available. That explains the number of  half-finished homes, with grey concrete blocks the main building material. A bit dreary.

There is still quite a lot of poverty on the island, where 40% of the population is employed in tourism, and 50% of the land belongs to resorts.

The country’s main sources of income are sugar, tourism and textiles, but unfortunately sugar is in the doldrums, the Chinese have whacked the textile industry as they have done in many countries, and since the financial crashes in which the whole world got poorer, tourism is also down.

 One source said some resorts fluctuated between 40% and 60% occupancy. So watch out for specials.

But Mauritius has been a tourism success story, as in the year 2000 there were 250 000 visitors to the island, and by last year this had grown to 934 000.

A lot of wealthy French people holiday in Mauritius regularly, and other tourists come mainly from South Africa, the United Kingdom, Italy and Asia.

Our genial and supremely knowledgeable guide from the SummerTimes organisation, which handles excursions and cruises , told us there was no sex tourism on the island, which retains its charming  air of innocence. But we did notice that the ambience encourages l’ amour, as most couples at the two resorts at which we stayed were either smooching, holding hands or lost in intimate tete-a-tetes.

As the water is warm, and there is even a big, turbulent sort of spa bath in the middle of a larger pool stretching away under the palms, those whose thoughts lightly turn to love find it difficult to leave space between themselves.

Also consider that Mauritian rum is famous, and they claim it is the best in the world. The white rum is delicately perfumed, and makes superb cocktails mixed with juices such as mango, melon  and pineapple.

A limerick wrote itself while I watched, with avuncular eye, some torrid tonsil hockey being played in the pool:

The old islander’s pretty-eyed

Is hostile as a shark out of water.

But give her some rum

And now full of fun

She comes like a lamb to the slaughter

We found the blended dry white house wine at Sugar Beach excellent, and I was informed only that it is ‘Wine from SA’, without an indication of the estate. There’s obviously a reason for this, but I can’t think what, unless they don’t want to let on in which way they’re getting rid of their surplus.

For active types with children there is the Sun Kids’ Club, shared by both resorts, and this has films, books and plenty of playthings for smaller children.

Of course the top resorts are among the best in the world, and you have to keep reminding yourself that you aren’t on a film set. Infinity pools, palms and azure sea like a lake. You also get privileges at golf courses nearby.

An entertaining touch after dining virtually on the beach is a ‘guided tour’ of the night sky, with the clear constellations, planets and stars pointed out.

Sugar Beach is in the French colonial style, and La Pirogue has chalets with roofs reminiscent of the local pirogue fishing boats, and that is how the resort got its name.

The two resorts share a number of facilities, such as the excellent Aura spa, where we were treated to heaven on earth. It must be marvellous to have a pocket long enough to enable you to become a full-time Sybarite, and tell the whole world to get lost.

Ag, ja.

Quadding in Mauritius offers the stupendous scenery of an exotic volcanic island combined with great hospitality, and French or Creole cuisine.  Fly there with Air Mauritius.

‘Mr Motorsport’ in Mauritius, Robert Chung, is the man to contact for info and advice on quadding or biking, and he can be found at robertch@orange.mu, or phone (230) 7277667 of fax (230) 4647837.

Robert organised the first national quad competition in 2009, with Suzuki 450 LTZ’s and Kawasaki 450 TR’s the main contenders.

Besides the seven private domains on which you can go quadding, special arrangements can be made to do trips of 80km or so outside the domains on 250cc machines. The trips take about three hours, and the cost is about 4 000 rupees (3.66 rupees to the rand).