Words Paulina Herpel // Photos Daniel Weiss
After 11 hours in a stress position, otherwise known as coach class, Valentin Illichmann and I finally land in Mauritius. Flung out in the Indian Ocean some 800km off of Madagascar with only Reunion for company, its closest neighbour in the other direction is Australia (where interestingly they also drive on the left).
Touch down was at 0500 hours as a spark starts to glow in the dawn sky. We had thought we’d be greeted with a light, warm breeze and lilting birdsong but after two hours of revving engines, car horns and sluggish traffic we flop into our beds, keen to claw back our sleep deficit but we’re too wired to rest. We slept well for the first time on the beach of Le Morne. Tall kangaroo trees (their proper name, even though the closest ones are on the next island to the east a.k.a Australia) line the public beach and provide luxurious shade. At the weekend, large groups of Mauritians sit in the shade of the trees, barbecuing, playing football and gazing over the sea. And every morning they sweep the place clean – a most encouraging site. We hardly saw any litter during our time here. The water is similarly pristine, as turquoise and clear and when the sun hits it, you could be forgiven that it wouldn’t take much talent to take a photo of Le Morne that looks just like the ones in a brochure. But then the real beauty starts. About 500 meters from the beach, small playful waves are running and further out we see the white water corona on the reef edge.
Out to the left we see Manawa, a well-known deep, big wave that that windsurfers love. But today there is no wind – just perfect for us to exploit. We grab the boards and get sunscreened up. As we float over the shallow coral blooms we spy black urchins in the cracks; further incentive to remain upright. Turns out Manawa is further out than you think, it takes about twenty minutes on our small boards. But every paddle stroke is worth it, and if the boat doesn’t drop them off few prone surfers make the passage. Since the wave is also not very steep, Manawa is a real stand up paddle wave. But of course as a guest you have to follow the rules and find your rhythm behind the local sup surfers. As long as you stay humble, you’ll have endless fun. As we waited with our feet dangling in the warm ocean a few dorsal fins rolled up out of the water, not twenty metres away. Dolphins. They seemed curious and came closer, diving to emerge again only a short time later at the surface. Unfortunately, a boat full of sight-seeing tourists came just as close so the passengers could also see. The dolphins soon turned and disappeared. The next set came and we both swung around and got a belter each. After a long ride that just does not seem to stop, you just hop onto the returning conveyer current back up to the peak, but if you did surf too far to the inside you’d get overtaken by the white water washed in. In your mind you’d be mentally repeating the mantra ‘live coral, do not touch!’ but happily neither of us hit bottom. Completely broken and very thirsty, we paddled back to the beach in the sunset. The way back somehow felt even longer. Arriving at the beach we hurriedly stuffed everything into the car and set off to find something to eat. Restaurant Enzo above the supermarket in la Gaulett was more German than Creole but was serving great food. Tuna burgers all round, just the ticket after a marathon session. We were up the next morning for a dawn raid before breakfast, grabbing a banana each for the insulin spike. We paddled out to Manawa again and the morning session was as productive as the night before. Only the dolphins didn’t make an appearance. After two hours we were so hungry we paddled in on reserve tanks. On the way from Le Morne to La Gaulette we stopped at a local restaurant on a roundabout. I went for the banana cake and muesli with fresh fruit – all incredibly good while Valentin ate a more traditional breakfast: white beans, tomato sauce and marlin.
Some people have reservations about marlin due to biomagnification – these giants sit at the top of the food web but I can confirm Val’s breakfast was also excellent. The wind comes up slowly on Mauritius. Our mornings were quite still, with the thermal intensifying around lunchtime and after an extra-curricular windsurf we were back at it on the sups for the late evening glass off (LEGO). This time we stayed on the Little Reef in front of the beach, it was fairly well populated with surfers who fancied the easy paddle without a boat. But a mellow, social session was an appropriate active recovery for us. All I’m going to say about evening dinner was that we both felt like playing the biomagnification odds and went for marlin paninis, so good.
A new day and a new paragraph begins, and at noon we made our way to Mount Brabant, the ubiquitous lump of rock that soars up behind the beach at Le Morne. Luckily it was overcast, otherwise it would have been too hot to go hiking. With a lot of water in the backpack we started to follow the trail. Googling Mauritius, the first pictures that come back are of Brabant mountain, the waterfall and the outer reef from a bird’s eye perspective. It looks stunning, and we were told that the view from the mountain is just as breath-taking so we had high expectations. The first section was exhausting with a 35 degree uphill gradient, still doable. Then we arrived at a sign warning us “from here you have to climb, only experienced hikers with sturdy shoes beyond this point”. Good for us that we at least could satisfy the second requirement…would we really have to climb? We stepped through the gate and then it started. It was at least an ambitious scramble, I really couldn’t recommend it to those with a fear of heights.
We finally made it to the summit and then the dreaded happened: a thick fog front pulled up over the mountain. We were feeling a bit stuck, but a chance meeting with a nice, newly married couple from Morocco who gave us some Mauritian sweets meant we had the energy to sit out the fog and wait for better visibility for the descent. We didn’t have to wait too long; suddenly the fog broke and we saw through to the sea. Turquoise, dark blue and dark circles everywhere. Outside, the reef edge and in the middle we saw the channel pulling out into the open sea. The dark circles were coral mushrooms in very shallow water. The view was priceless.
Turns out the climb down wasn’t that simple, me being a lowland kid from Hamburg I found myself a little bit out of my element. But when we arrived at the ground floor, we were both glad we made the effort to score the view.
That evening, feeling the need to return to a more relaxed state we hopped onto our inflatable sups to watch the sunset over the ocean, gently paddling around, exploring the area and enjoying the golden light.
Again a successful day came to an end. We kept up with our morning routine. The waves in Manawa were living up to their side of the deal but in between sets we had time to contemplate what would happen if a shark turned up here, way off shore. But a chat with a local revealed that he no longer sees sharks around here, not even when diving.
Feeling calm again and with hands full of fresh mangoes, we went for an evening drive to continue our terrestrial exploration of the island. We found two beautiful banyan trees. The branches of these unique trees grow back into the earth; this creates swings and great options for climbing. Loads of local kids were playing happily in the trees, it was wonderful place to enjoy the sunset.
On our final day it was time to turn right out of the lagoon and paddle to One Eye. The famous wave was sadly sleeping for the whole week – the swell seemingly too small or coming from the wrong direction by a matter of degrees. But just looking at the coral heads that this famous left-breaking tube runs over was exciting in itself. We’d stowed our snorkelling gear in the cargo nets on our sups so we could have a bit of a freedive around the coral network. It was absolutely teeming with colourful tropical reef fish. The corals grew over each other like flowers, forming an intricate carpet. It was wonderful. We also discovered the anthropomorphic rock formation – the face in the Brabant mountain with a nose and an eye that can only be seen by those deep enough in the wave which gives One Eye its name. You probably know this already but may we reconfirm that Mauritius is a flatwater stand up paddle paradise and it also have a perfect gradient of increasingly technical waves for those that want it. We will be back definitely. SUP International