Smaller Default Larger

south of mauritiusIt all started a long, long time ago when our island was but a vegetation-covered rock, in the middle of nowhere. “Earth! Earth! At last water and food,” must have undoubtedly shouted the tired Dutch sailors, reinvigorated by this dream-like sight of land, after so many months travelling along the spice route. This was way back in 1598. The first explorers had set foot on what they called Mauritius. God's blueprint for paradise as referred to by Mark Twain. Sailing over the lukewarm waters, they came across the beautiful shallow crystal clear lagoons, painted in different shades of blue which contrasted with basalt cliffs where the open seas came crashing.

The least developed region of the country, the Savanne district remains the closest to the past. Beaches and holiday spots are quite scarce but the district’s landscape alternates with the pleasures of the countryside, sunbathing and hiking.

The flora along the south and south-east area used to be profusely luxuriant thanks to the high degree of humidity which proved favourable to the growth of many plants and trees.

Unfortunately, ship building, the sugar road, rail network, the creation of upland settlements and the introduction of animals and invasive plants over three centuries have slowly but irreversibly destroyed the island's indigenous forests.

The need to preserve the island's forest was realised too late and today less than 1% of the original forest remains, most of which lies to the south of Plaine Champagne in the Bel Ombre-Macchabée area. There are presently nine nature reserves in Mauritius, the smallest of these, Perrier, Cabinet, Les Mares, Gouly Pere, Bois Sec, dotted around the Tamarin Falls and Grand Bassin area contain tiny traces of indigenous forest. The largest nature reserve extends from Macchabée to Bel Ombre which sweeps southwards from Mare Longue Reservoir across Plaine Champagne along the south-west slopes of the Savanne Mountains.

Natural reserves

The reserves offer an interesting though scarce collection of indigenous plants such as the ebony along with the 'natte', 'tambalacoque' and 'dodo' tree. The uses of these trees were diverse, from furniture, house and ship building to manufacturing of plasters, ointments and varnishes.

Touring the South Coast we begin at the western end. The first significant hamlet is of course Baie du Cap. Typical of coastal villages, it is quite a peaceful fishing village, where many of the youth have now chosen the hotel sector to forge a career.

A short distance beyond is Bel Ombre, where a few centuries back, the only vehicles one was likely to come across were lorries or carts laden with sugar cane and minibuses crammed with cane cutters. Today it welcomes some of the most prestigious hotels of the island.

Fancy a walk on the beach? One of the best places for a seaside walk is the sandy promontory which lies across the road of Bel Ombre factory. At one time sugar cane and banana trees tumbled to the water's edge for about 5 km.

Driving through the swaying fields of sugar cane, a mile or so east of Beau Champ, the road inland takes you to Chemin Grenier, where a minor road runs north to the water filled crater of Bassin Blanc.

Further up is the natural reserve of Domaine du Chasseur. It is the unlikely viewpoint from which to survey the scene of conflict where the French and the British battled in 1810. Once popular for its private hunting parties, the estate is now targeting eco-tourists who wander along the 30 km of nature trail that runs through forests of spice plants and native trees.

Continuing our tour we come to Souillac, one of the most important villages of the south which spreads into scattered settlements along the coastal roads. Named after French Governor François de Souillac, this village played a crucial role in the development of what was to be later known as the Savanne district. It used to be the place where all the sugar from the mills of the south was embarked on coaster sailing boats to reach Port Louis. This activity stopped only in the early 1900s when the railway network was stretched to Souillac.

Today the village offers to the visitors several historical remains such as the “Battelage quay” the ancient railway station, the courthouse, the police station, the basaltic church and the coral built 'La Nef' house of the famous Mauritian poet Robert Edward Hart.

Further to the east we end at the Vieux Grand Port bay. The first port of Mauritius, the region received the first Dutch camps and later in 1735, the well-known French Governor François Mahé de Labourdonnais decided to develop the present port (Port Louis) right at the opposite end of the island making it the capital and administrative centre. The South however did not lose any of its importance. The village of Mahebourg, named after him is a landmark of his contribution to the history of Mauritius.