With waterfalls to be found amid lush rainforest, palm tree lined sugar-white sand shores, and forested mountains, Mauritius is a wild oasis in the Indian Ocean. And perhaps the most extraordinary way to see this land is from above on a scenic helicopter flight.
“The take off may come as a surprise; it doesn’t feel anything like a plane”, our Zambian pilot James Walker tells us as the helicopter we’re in lightly lifts off the helipad, tipping to one side as the ground rapidly becomes more distant, filling me with light-headed euphoria.
Having taken off from the pristine palm tree dotted greens of Belle Ombre Golf Course, we’re just moments away from the island’s rugged southern coast where emerald green forested mountains and the lush wilderness of Black River Gorges National Park collide with white sand shores and the Indian Ocean.
Vast areas of Mauritius are set aside for sugarcane which, having grown to head-height, sways in the breeze that blows across the island at this time of year. And these sugar plantations are interspersed with undulating green fields of the crop Mauritius is best known for, its tealeaves. As we pass over this sea of emerald, James tells us through the headphones that the mountain we’re heading straight towards is Le Morne.
An iconic sight on the island’s skyline, Le Morne is designated UNESCO Cultural Landscape, as rich in culture as it is in natural beauty. Through the 18th century, and into the early 1900s, runaway slaves known as Maroons fled to the mountain to form settlements on the peak and in isolated caves, protected by the inaccessibility of where they were. Now this mountain is seen as a symbol of the slaves’ fight for freedom, with the added appeal of protected wildlife that’s indigenous to the island.
Veering sideways, we pass Le Morne and immediately fly out to sea, peering out of the glinting glass at the glimmering azure water below. The ocean here is so clear, it’s possible to see the sand, rocks and coral that lie below the surface. Here, the waves break a kilometre or two out to sea, leaving the sea in each bay still and tranquil.
This is also the spot where one of the most astounding natural wonders in Mauritius lies, the illusion that fools many people into thinking there’s an underwater waterfall just off the coast; created by sand and silt being pulled down a steep drop-off, this impressive feat of nature proves how unique the geography of Mauritius is, both on and off land.
Swinging back towards the coast, we fly disconcertingly close to the sea-facing side of Le Morne, before climbing over the summit at the very last moment to be met with a breath-taking view of what seems like the entire island before us. “It’s like Jurassic Park,” James enthuses, almost as though this landscape still takes him by surprise. As the rainforest and waterfalls, Black River Gorges National Park and the coloured earth of Chamarel unfolds below us, it’s not hard to understand why.
As Le Morne lies within an area of private land, the mountain and surrounding wilderness benefits from careful preservation, and as a result is home to flourishing vegetation, including a number of endemic species. Here, a three to four-hour guided hike to the summit and back can be taken with local outfitter Yanature.
Black River Gorges National Park
By setting out along the trails of Black River Gorges National Park, people have the chance to be amidst the island’s true wilderness. Spanning 6,754 hectares, this is Mauritius’s biggest national park, exhibiting some of its most spectacular scenery. Here, a lush gorge carves a path through forested mountains, with waterfalls tumbling down from great heights, and a wealth of endemic plants, which from September to January are flowering. Half-day guided hikes with Mauritius Attractions take in the park’s most scenic spots.
These seven waterfalls fall from a height of almost 300 metres – making these waterfalls the highest in Mauritius – tumbling into the deep pool of water below. Hike into the gorge to seek out these seven cascades and swim in the pool at their base. Mauritius Attractions hosts half-day and full-day hikes.
Scenic helicopter flights over Le Morne, Black River Gorges National Park, Chamarel and the Underwater Waterfall, can be arranged with Mauritius Attractions.
All images © Lauren Jade Hill