21 February 2006

Scuba diving in Mauritius

Scuba diving in MauritiusWith its lush vegetation, sandy coastline, and coral-circled lagoons, Mauritius might as well be a purpose-made luxury holiday destination. But does that necessarily make it a divers’ holiday of a lifetime?

Purely in terms of its diving, the Mauritius experience is enjoyable rather than spectacular. But marry the sub-tropical marine scene with the sumptuous allure of the islands and the presence of gold standard hotels, and you have a genuinely unique package.

The republic lies 855km to the east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and is comprised of the largest island in the group, Mauritius, and includes the Agalega Islands, St Brandon and Rodrigues; these islands, along with the French island of Réunion, form the Mascarenhas Archipelago (or Mascarene Islands). Mauritius is 1,865 square km in area with 330km of coastline almost entirely surrounded by coral reefs. It is these coral reefs that have made Mauritius such an interesting prospect from a diver's point of view, there's a lot of good diving to be had, from sinister caverns visited by sharks, to high energy drifts accompanied by giant trevallies and eagle rays.

British holidaymakers have traditionally thought of Mauritius as an exotic destination out of the reach of most budgets. However, an increase in the number of hotels around the island, combined with regular flights has made it a more accessible destination.

Divers rgularly report big pelagics around Mautitius, and the marien scene is defined by different currents to the ones that fuel the Maldives. If you think you know the Indian Ocean, underwater Mauritius will hold many surprises for you.

The distance from the UK, it's exotic flora and fauna – particularly underwater – and some of the best holiday hotels in the world mean that this remains a place where you can truly have the trip of a lifetime.

Belle Mare Plage
Sited on a sandy beach on the eastern side of Mauritius, the resort of Belle Mare Plage offers excellent accommodation and an interesting mix of diving. Most visitors come to take advantage of the beautiful beach and two world-class golf courses, as well as fitting in some watersports, including diving.

The Legend and Links golf courses (designed by the voice of golf Peter Alliss) are the pride of the resort, with snooker table greens and intimidating water features. Even if golf is not your bag, you'll be tempted to hit a few balls during your surface interval.

There are 235 rooms and 20 villas, each with its own private pool. If you feel like really busting your budget, then a villa (available in two or three-bedroomed versions) is the thing to go for. They come with your own villa master to look after all your needs, from taking your breakfast order to organising one of the resort buggies to come and collect you. These are at the top-end of holiday accommodation. While it takes a couple a days to get used to being waited on, you'll find that by the time you get home you'll struggle to find your way to your fridge – "Where's my Champagne?"

A dizzying range of treatments is available at the spa, from reflexology to ylang ylang massage. The prospect of donning a paper thong might not appeal to all, but the end result is well worth savouring. You feel like liquid ready to be poured into a comfy chair to watch the sunset.

There are several restaurants offering something for every palate, from buffet-style sushi to European and Thai, all with a touch of Mauritian flair thrown in.

While the resort is undoubtedly luxurious, for some, its large scale might be off-putting, in which case plump for the more intimate Le Prince Maurice.

Le Prince Maurice
As you step into the lobby of the Le Prince Maurice, the view is quite simply breathtaking. Standing there in plane-rumpled clothing, there's a tendency to think "I'm not worthy", but this soon gives way to a gleeful "Yes! I've arrived!"

Opened in 1988, the hotel was designed by a Mauritian architect with no expense spared. There are 89 suites, but you would be forgiven for thinking there are far fewer, given the number of empty sun loungers by the infinity pool, which sits between the beach and the lobby and is flanked on either side by the restaurant and bar.

If watersports are your thing, then you'll be well catered for. There is a dedicated watersports centre on the beach, providing windsurfing, Hobie cat sailing, waterskiing, Laser boats, kayaks and glass-bottomed boat trips. Diving is available from the centre at Belle Mare Plage, the centre will send a boat to collect you from the pier at Le Prince Maurice and then it's a ten-minute boat ride to the centre.

As with the Belle Mare Plage, golf is available to guests at both the Legends and Links courses. The beach itself is long and wide, opening out on to a sheltered lagoon which is good for watersports; and with the hotel's propensity for weddings – it hosts 60 weddings a year – you will often see photographs being taken of happy couples down on the beach or perhaps a candlelit dinner for two laid out at the water's edge.

As well as a modern gym and spa, the hotel offers a number of massage treatments in double rooms where couples can receive the benefit of two masseuses each – the ultimate in stress relief.

The food is a fusion of Indian, French and modern European, with some touches of Africa thrown in. The Barachois is a floating restaurant on five barges that specialises in seafood. Sited above a fish reserve, the serene atmosphere is only broken by the occasional plop of a fish in the water or the pop of a Champagne cork as another couple toast their good fortune to be here.

There's little to criticize – younger visitors might feel that the resort is little too quiet and the service (which is a lesson in discretion) too polished, in which case I'd recommend they visit the Belle Mare Plage. However, if you're looking for excellent service, stunning beaches, excellent food and drink then Le Prince Maurice could be your trip of a lifetime.

Belle Mare Plage

Villa package:
Prices from £1,495 per person for seven nights, based on six adults sharing a three-bedroom pool villa on a bed-and-breakfast basis, including return flights with British Airways. Based on travel between 1 May to 14 July 2006.

Standard package: From £1,380 per person for seven nights, based on two adults sharing a "prestige' room on a half-board basis including return flights with British Airways. Based on travel between 1 May to 14 July 2006.

Le Prince Maurice

Standard room package: Prices from £1,840 per person for seven nights – two adults sharing a "junior suite" on a bed-and-breakfast basis, including return flights with British Airways.Travel between 1 May to 14 July 2006.

Princely Suite package (pictured above) Prices from £10,800 per person for seven nights based on two adults sharing a "princely suite" on a bed-and-breakfast basis, including return flights with British Airways. Based on travel between 1 May to 14 July 2006.

To upgrade to BA Club World costs £1770 return or £900 one-way.
To book, phone Aspire on 0845 345 9096, www.aspireholidays.co.uk

For more information about the diving on Mauritius, email Blues Diving on bluesdiving@intnet.mu or see the website www.bluesdiving.net


The Blues Diving Centre, run by the irrepressible French-Mauritian Jean Michel Langlois, services both the Belle Mare Plage and Le Prince Maurice. Diving is available all around the island, but Blues tends to concentrate on sites near the hotels on the east coast. The centre is serviced by two semi-rigid inflatable boats and most of the diving takes place within a few minutes" boat ride of the centre. However, trips further afield can be arranged and night dives are available when weather permits.

The coastline is characterised by a fringing reef a few hundred metres out to sea. Within the boundary of the reef, the water is calm, with excellent training spots for novices. Once you get close to and beyond the reef, the water gets a bit choppier, but as most sites are within ten minutes' Zodiac ride from the resort, it's not too uncomfortable.

Visibility is mixed, on our dives averaging 15 to 20m, perfectly adequate, although not up to Red Sea standards. The same could be said of the reefs, which are rocky in parts and coral growth can be patchy. However, the existing coral is healthy, with mature table corals, fans and plenty of anemones.

Many of the reefs have small gullies, with sandy bottoms full of nooks and crannies. The Castle site drops to a maximum depth of 23m and consists of lots of these small gullies, where we saw soldierfish, angelfish and butterflyfish, as well as some large grouper.

However, what really stood out were the nudibranchs, which were a wonderful variety of colours, so much so I was tempted to think that Jean Michel – who paints underwater scenes while underwater – might have flicked a few with his paintbrush! In addition, there were trumpetfish, striped goatfish, blennies, parrotfish, and bird wrasse. We also saw large triton and cowrie molluscs.

La Passe de Belle Mare is a stunning dive only a short ride from the dive centre. The maximum depth is 17m. We dropped in at 3m and slowly moved through a number of boulders and gullies. Turning a corner, the current picked up dramatically and we were joined by a large number of huge jacks, dogtooth tuna and giant trevallies, which milled around us as an eagle ray glided past. Moving on, the dive became something of a rollercoaster as we bounced between rocks, one moment fighting the current, the next hovering in mid-water. Emperorfish, goatfish and unicornfish were all in attendance, but it is the abundance of large fish that make this dive a winner.

Another notable dive was Middle Rock, where I was stalked by a great barracuda while I floundered around at the surface trying to recover a rogue fin. Here we were joined by schools of yellow snapper and striped barracuda, as well as seeing jacks, emperor angelfish and a large eagle ray. We ended the dive watching a porcupinefish puffing itself up before moving off.

There is plenty of other diving to be had around the island, but the eastern side gives visitors a good taste of Mauritius diving as a whole and, combined with good food, accommodation and activities makes for the complete holiday experience.

KEY dives

La Passe de Belle Mare
Sharks, jacks and eagle rays all make an appearance at this current-fuelled site.

Sea Fan Forest
This forest of gorgonian fan corals is home to lots of parrotfish and is renowned for its abundant marine life and good visibility.

Lobster Canyon
Clown triggerfish, moray eels and, of course, lots of lobsters are among the highlights of this dive, where the interesting topography makes for arches and channels.


Mauritius is near to the Tropic of Capricorn and has a sub-tropical climate. Summer is from November to April, when air temperatures average 30ºC and water temperatures average 26–28ºC. Winter is from May to November when air temperatures can still be a pleasant 24ºC, dropping to 17ºC at night, with water temperatures averaging 22–25ºC. Cyclones can occur between January and March, bringing a lot of rain which soon clears. Good diving is available all year, but you are likely to see more eagle rays in summer.

Source: www.divemagazine.co.uk/news


At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you prefer west coast of Mauritius,
two dives centers are very good :
Sundivers Ltd PADI 5 stars english(www.sundiversmauritius.com) and exploration sous marine CMAS (www.exploration-sous-marine.com)
I enjoy to dive with them. Sundivers Ltd is specialist of photography.




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