Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or sun-worshipper, Mauritius is a paradise on earth
I’m standing on a small platform made of logs about the same size as my desk at work. Possibly less. I’m not alone. There’s a man standing beside me, so space is rather limited. And, considering we are only one step away from a 100ft drop to sure and certain death in a lush, tree-filled valley, I’m standing rather closer than I might normally feel is appropriate. We’ve only just met, yet I feel my life depends on this man.
“Look straight out,” I keep telling myself, over and over, “not down. Whatever you do, don’t look down.”
I don’t like heights – that much is probably obvious. But when I was told we’d be doing some ziplining, this wasn’t quite what I had in mind. I was thinking playground flying fox. A bit of tame fun. So when our all-terrain vehicle finally reaches our destination, high up in Casela nature and leisure park, in the eastern mountains of Mauritius, I am momentarily speechless. Once I have recovered the power of my vocal chords, they go something, squeakily, like this: “I don’t think I can do that.”
However, it’s a long way to come and then chicken out so, as I whisper a quick prayer and tell my children – 6,000 miles away – that I love them, I step out into the void and prepare for the breath to be sucked from my lungs.
What a rush. What a heart-pounding, mind-blowing, blood-pounding rush. As my harness takes my weight I am pulled at speed towards a tiny speck in the distance. That’s my destination, where my braver, more gung-ho colleagues have arrived and are already preparing for the next adrenaline fix: zipline parts two and three. Oh yes, there’s more – each one higher, longer and scarier than the last.
Casela’s main claim to fame is that it is home to the longest zipline in the Indian Ocean – 400m to be precise – but this is not the only thrill to be had. We ride Segways (who knew a glorified scooter could be so much fun?), and take quad bikes through the safari park. We stroke zebras, encounter giant tortoises and come a little too close for comfort to an angry ostrich that reminds this child of the 1970s of Rod Hull’s inglorious encounter with Michael Parkinson. It takes a sharp peck at the rear end of my quad but, thankfully, doesn’t quite make it as far as the softer, peach-like rear end that joins my legs to the rest of my body.
Picture Mauritius and inevitably you envisage white sandy beaches, turquoise seas and coral reefs. Be honest. You’re thinking palm trees swaying in the breeze, romantic sunsets and rum cocktails. And, for sure, all those things are there in spades. More surprising, perhaps, is the fact that you need never set swimsuited bottom on a sunlounger for the entirety of your stay – unless you want to, of course.
There’s a stop-off in the capital, Port Louis, where the market tempts with vanilla pods and aromatic spices and odd-shaped vegetables and fruits I couldn’t even begin to guess the names of.
Mauritius was once home to the dodo – that poor, flightless, rather dim bird that was hunted to extinction in the 17th century. They still seem rather fond of the doomed creature here, and you can find an insane number of souvenirs that pay homage to it. Fluffy dodos, fridge magnet dodos and ashtray dodos. Dodos on teatowels and keyrings; clocks and T-shirts; desk sets and lighters. The daft old bird may be extinct, but its comical little face with bulbous beak stares out at you from every window of every craft shop on the island. The dodo is dead; long live the dodo.
Back at “the most prestigious address in Mauritius” – the Royal Palm, a member of Leading Hotels of the World and a home from home for royalty, celebrities and other guests of distinction (“No, we couldn’t possibly name them,” comes the reply when I ask, “that’s the reason they come here in the first place – discretion”) – the temptation is to finally kick back on the beach.
There is no first-come, first-served lounger battle here, however. Each room has a reserved spot, with a safari-suited guardian on hand at all times to protect it from interlopers. The biggest, softest beach towels in Christendom are here, and the celebrated Bar Plage would be happy to deliver a small refreshment to madam’s lounger while she makes herself comfortable. Hotel staff outnumber guests by three to one, so they have a habit of knowing what you want before you have a chance to anticipate your own desires. Yes, chilling on the beach would be a tempting prospect indeed.
But we’re taking a sunset cruise on a catamaran and the clock’s ticking. No time to sit still. Well, not until we’re on board, champagne in hand, skimming the waves. If there’s a better way to watch the sun go down, I don’t know what it is.
The next day we’re back on the water, initially at a more leisurely pace on pedaloes, then less so, clinging on to an inflatable doughnut for dear life as it is pulled behind a speedboat and our laughs alternate with screams. Watersports are complimentary but not compulsory, and there are tennis courts, a gym, squash court, and kinesis and power plate studios for the fitness-inclined (plus a Clarins spa in which to recover afterwards).
But before we can relax, we have one more adventure – aboard the Royal Palm’s speedboat as it cranks up the knots en route for Ilot Gabriel. Is this the most beautiful beach on Mauritius? Some think so, though it has pretty tough competition. An islet 20km off the northern coast, right on the coral reef, it is a nature reserve, home to many indigenous species and a popular (but not too popular) spot for day cruises and snorkellers.
My colleagues don their flippers and masks and I am about to join them when I hear a tempting pop. Champagne? Hey, I can snorkel anytime, right? Which is how I find myself lying on the prow of a speedboat, chilled glass in hand, at 11am on a Sunday morning, gazing into the perfectly clear cerulean sky as flocks of the native Mauritian bird – the graceful, white-tailed paille en queue – dart and soar high above me. The sun is on my skin and the waves are lapping gently at the side of the boat. And just like that, the terrifying but exhilarating ziplining, an irritable ostrich and my desk at work all seem very, very far away.
THE FACTS Beachcomber Tours (01483 445 685, www.beachcombertours.co.uk) is offering a seven-night stay in a junior suite at the Royal Palm on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis, including economy class flights with Emirates from Glasgow, June departure and private hotel transfers, from £2,580 per person sharing.
Royal Palm Mauritius, www.royalpalm-hotel.com
Casela Nature and Leisure Park, entrance 340 Mauritian rupees (£7), segway 1,160r (£25), ziplining from 900r (£19), quad biking from 1,750r (£37), www.caselayemen.mu