The Mascarene’s punch-packing paradise

Posted by Mishqah Schippers on 10 February 2021

On Rodrigues, a unique and diverse outlier of tropical Mauritius, endless adventures await, not to mention sugar-sand beaches; the psychedelic colour buzz of a vibrant island culture and the exhilarating rush of acid-clear water. The place should come with an addiction warning.

Words & Photos Jacques Marais

Kites light up Marouk Bay – Rodrigues is a kite-surfer’s paradise, with consistent trade winds and sloping beaches perfect for this aqua adventure sport.

Nirvana – that’s the first word that popped into my head as our buzzy red-and-white plane dipped its port wing to give me my first bird’s-eye view of the island of Rodrigues. A dozen different shades of ocean blue; idyllic beaches and hide-away bays lining the shoreline; jade hills undulating onto the rugged Indian Ocean’s edge; and an expansive coral reef system circling ever outwards from the central island.

Once on terra firma, there was an innate sense of endless adventures awaiting. I was fortunate (and forever more grateful) to have discovered Rodrigues when I was part of a global media team covering the annual Expedition Africa adventure race, arguably the best way to explore every square inch of this island.

A fairy tern on Île aux Cocos

This adventure race, with teams from no fewer than 26 countries, was guaranteed to place Rodrigues firmly on the tourist map. For a week, competitors biked, trail ran, zip-lined and trekked into the forested peaks or valleys; coasteered, snorkelled and swam the ocean reefs, and propelled themselves non-stop under human-power along a gruelling 320km route. Best thing is, though, you don’t have to be an endurance athlete to immerse yourself in the multitude of outdoor and leisure activities on Rodrigues.

Situated on the extreme eastern tip of the Mascarene island group, this autonomous territory of Mauritius is isolated 560km east from the rest of the island republic. The island is a mere 18km long and 8km at its widest point. At well over 15 million years, it’s substantially older than most of the surrounding Indian Ocean island groups, with layered conglomerate sediment topping an underlying volcanic basalt rock layer. This makes for a pleasing rounded topography, often bisected by precipitous gorges but still easy enough to be explored. And take it from me: this compact paradise begs to be explored.

Hide-away beaches and warm tropical water awaits

A solid week of 24/7 adventure along the Expedition Africa route allowed us to link together the array of tourism highlights. Everything goes, from abseils off rickety suspension bridges and tunnelling deep into the earth via limestone caves, to sailing to pristine island bird sanctuaries.

Let’s start the party by communing with ancient tortoises. Some of the species on the island can be traced back to Jurassic times. Rodrigues originally brimmed with these endemic reptiles but the first 
settlers decimated them after landfall in 1730, with an estimated 280 000 tortoises killed by sailors as their primary source of fresh meat.

Centuries later, in 2006, the Francois Leguat Reserve was formed to reintroduce three species to Rodrigues. Named for the 18th century Huguenot settler who recorded much of the island’s fauna and flora, this successful conservation project has seen 3 000 Aldabra, geometric and ploughshare tortoises bred here.

adventure racers abseil off a suspension bridge during the Expedition Africa event – and you can do this, too.

Up close and personal interaction with these amiable dinosaurs – some of them 250 years old – is a must at this Giant Tortoise Park. They proved incredibly interactive and inquisitive, wheezing up to us and stretching out their necks for a tickle and scratch.

From the reptile sanctuary, we descended into the limestone underbelly of a vast Cave Reserve tunnel system networking for many kilometres beneath the island. This forms part of the Francois Leguat Reserve, and can be explored on guided tours. I strongly suggest that you stray off the easy walkways to do the technical scramble for some true subterranean adventure.

Back above ground is where the fear factor begins to kick in. Abseil, via ferrata, ziplines and a King Swing are on offer from TyRodrig. It’s up to you how you package your endorphin rush.

Local street musicians entertaining the tourists.

Both the abseil and King Swing take place off a swaying suspension bridge, and even walking across this may be a ‘bridge’ too far for many folk. Excellent guides will assist you before you succumb to gravity, either on a 60m controlled abseil into the gorge, or a daredevil dive while your screams echo from the surrounding cliffs.

The Zipline rates as one of the best high-wire adventures of this kind I’ve had anywhere in the world, with a series of cable slides, the longest a dizzying 400m. Harness up and get ready to fly across three lush valleys, with giant fruit bats and tropic birds sharing the skies all round, and a view over the stunning Mourouk Beach on the horizon.

Interesting Creole architecture abounds in the tiny villages and town

My personal favourite of all these ‘Tyrolean’ adventures, however, has to be the via ferrata, a cable-and-steel-rod walkway of around 500m in length. Safely harnessed, you can commit to this vertiginous course clinging to high basalt cliffs overlooking the village of La Ferme, with a fluted rock-face rising high from the steamy tropical vegetation far below you.

You may encounter air traffic as you negotiate the via ferrata, including endangered Rodriguan fruit bats, chattering olive white-eyes and the crimson Mauritius fody. Not that you will necessarily notice as you fight to keep vertigo at bay…

The ocean is calling and you can’t refuse the seductive embrace of the jade lagoon surrounding the island. Île aux Chats and Île Hermitage are both popular snorkelling spots, brimming with coral reefs and neon-coloured fish.

Sipping on fresh coconut water.

It’s best to book a local boat charter to the outlying reef but you could easily sneak a swim out to The Aquarium at low tide (there is easy access off a dramatic rocky headland at the end of the Banana River beach). Exceptional plate coral and the protected inner reef here make for breathtaking finning into the Big Blue, so be sure to pack a mask and snorkel.

Venture further out to sea and you’ll reach Île aux Cocos, one of Rodrigues’ favourite tourism attractions. The island is a world-renowned birding site, where thousands of nobbies, fairy terns, tropic birds and other feathered fowl inhabit a tiny spot of wind- swept palms and beaches. The birding is exceptional, and photographers can get unbelievable 
images thanks to the proximity of the birds. But that’s not the only drawcard. Great snorkelling and one of Rodrigues’ only surf breaks is within easy reach here, while several untouched beaches make for blissful meanders.

Another key activity on Rodrigues is kitesurfing, with wind freaks from around the globe pulling in to skim the waves or whirl against a windswept sky. Mourouk Beach is the island’s kiting hotspot, featuring a protected lagoon, flat water and steady wind year-round.

Interacting with a geometric tortoise at the Tortoise Park.

Once you’ve ticked these action boxes, all that remains is to grab a book and an island cocktail before retiring to the beach. You’ll be blown away by wide smiles around every corner, and the ever-friendly, intoxicating culture of this enchanting island.

Imagine Mauritius, but way wilder, with fewer tourists and endless mind space, and you may get an inkling of what awaits you on Rodrigues.

Trip Planner

Stay Here

Cocotiers Boutik Hotel

Situated on Port Mathurin’s seafront, this three-star beachfront hotel offers excellent value. It’s nestled in a beautiful tropical garden; air-conditioned rooms from R2 119 pp pn. cocotiersrodrigues.com

The vertiginous Tyrolean traverse will test your head for heights.

Escale Vacances Hotel

Is in the valley of the Cascade Pigeon, with a scenic garden, endemic trees and swimming pool. En-suite rooms are air-conditioned and furnished in island style, with a popular restaurant serving Rodriguan and Chinese cuisine. From R1 960 a double. escale-vacances.com

Le Refuge

Located in the fishing village of North Bay, the hotel has a main villa with several bedrooms as well as an independent bungalow. Rates start from R395 pp, including dinner and breakfast. Book via bookings.com or WhatsApp +230 5875 0660, lerefuge.mu

Snorkelling at The Aquarium in Marouk Bay, one of two marine parks adjacent to the island. The other is at Riviere Banane.

Cotton Bay Resort & Spa

A beach paradise on 
a sparkling lagoon boasts comfort and tranquillity, with a wide, upmarket room choice. Check the variety of premium accommodation options at cottonbayresortandspa.com

Mourouk Ebony Hotel

This stunning hotel in the Port Sud-Est area is set on a pristine beach, overlooking the ocean. Rooms are Creole-styled bungalows, each with their own veranda and small garden, plus en-suite bathrooms, mini-bars and ceiling fans. Typical Rodriguan cuisine is served, mainly sourced from the hotel’s garden or freshly caught seafood. For action there are boats, canoes, hiking trails, surfing and water sports. Unfortunately the hotel is closed for the duration of 2021 (and possibly longer) for renovations. Go to mouroukebonyhotel.com to check on the progress.

Getting There

Air Mauritius should have resumed flights from Joburg and Cape Town via Mauritius and onwards to Rodrigues. Get prices and quarantine info at airmauritius.com.

Marouk Bay, with its protective outer reef, is the hub of kitesurfing activity on the island.

When to go

Rodrigues is a tropical island with a pleasant climate all year round; the rainfall is relatively low with regular south-easterly winds.

Need to know

The island is densely populated with approximately 38 000 inhabitants, mostly of Creole heritage. English is the official language, but French is widely spoken. Foodies can look forward to Creole, European, Indian and Chinese cuisine, with seafood as the focus (often featuring octopus as a main dish). The island rum is exceptional and the Phoenix Beer is great. Don’t expect to get good wine at an affordable price, though. tourism-rodrigues.mu

Do This

François Léguât Giant Tortoise & Cave Reserve

A guided tour of both the tortoises and caves (2.5 hours) costs around R199 an adult and R95 per child. francoisleguatreserve.com

A lofty view of the diminutive island’s capital, Port Mathurin.

Tyrodrig

Offers a series of technical rope activities, including zip lining, abseil, king-swing and via ferrata. The popular zipline adventure (1.5-2hrs) costs around R600. [email protected] or tyrodrig.com

Ile Aux Cocos

Full-day boat outings to explore this islet, including snorkelling, lunch and drinks starts from around R400pp. mauritiusattractions.com or marideal.mu

Island trekking Walking

Is a great way to explore Rodrigues, with many exceptional routes. A popular hike starts from Grand Bay, a small coastal village in the north, all the way to Port Sud-Est in the south. The Grande Montagne Nature Reserve – near Port Mathurin on the island’s highest summit – is one of the last remaining indigenous forests in the area. Hike these routes solo, or join the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation on guided tours, R130 pp. facebook.com/pg/MauritianWildlife

Trail de Rodrigues.

Full-day island tours

Guided tours in French or English include shopping in Port Mathurin, a road trip along the north coast, the Francois Leguat Reserve, a two-course lunch, a visit to the slavery memorial and the St Gabriel Cathedral. A minimum of two people is required, from R1 510 a tour. marideal.mu

Kitesurfing

The kite operator based at the Mourouk Ebony Hotel will be closed while the hotel is renovated this year. The only other licensed operator on the island is Club Osmosis which offers everything from equipment hire to beginner kiting classes. +230 5875 4961 Kitesurf-rodrigues.com

Trail de Rodrigues

This annual trail-run festival happens in early November, with distances of 7km, 15km, 25km and a very tough 50km. Athletes the world over rate this as one of the most challenging endurance runs out there. trailrodrigues.com






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