As I step onto the landing outside my room, the soft tropical air embraces me in a wet sticky hug... a downpour had greeted my arrival at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport not long before. The name might be long and winding, but after an interminable immigration queue – Mauritian authorities eventually deciding I was harmless – it was happily a short and straight road that led me to the gates of Beachcomber’s Shandrani resort.
A breeze whipped in off the Blue Bay Marine Reserve and rustled the palm trees above me. A few fat dollops of rain did their best to turn into a downpour, but instead gave up and went scudding away across the island. I dump the umbrella back in its stand and set off in search of dinner.
The heart of the resort is folded around a massive pool, with restaurants and bars spilling out under palm trees towards the beach. A band plays low-key lounge music in the corner, near a dance floor evidently cleared for a bit of a party this Friday night.
I find myself at the doorway to Porto Vechhio. Scattered around the terrace, the tables are full of parents grateful for the babysitting service, young honeymooners grinning after too much holiday sex, and boisterous corporate groups intent on drinking the island dry. What happens in Mauritius stays in Mauritius, I reckon.
Dining solo is an occupational hazard of travel writing, so I pull out a chair for Stieg Larsson to join me under the umbrellas of Shandrani’s Italian-inspired restaurant. It’d been a long journey from Cape Town via Johannesburg to Mauritius, and it was time for a drink.
As the incentive groups were discovering, one of the joys of Shandrani is that it is an all-inclusive resort. And the ‘standard’ Serenity Plus package means just that. All. Inclusive.
Meals. Spirits. Champagne. Everything. Once you’re in the gates, leave your money at home.
And even better, it applies to all guests, so there is no holiday-envy as your neighbour flashes their all-in card while you fumble for your wallet. Holidays are meant to be about leaving your troubles behind, not fretting over whether you can afford another beer, and it made me wonder why all resorts don’t follow this model.
A waiter interrupts my mental conversation with Stieg to offer a menu. Unsurprisingly, Mediterranean-style cuisine with a dash of local colour reigns at Porto Vecchio. Dishes are artfully plated and served by waitrons that know the menu backwards, and know how to turn a meal into an occasion. This may be a large Mauritian resort, but it’s certainly no catering for the masses.
After dinner I ignore the dance floor, or the prospect of another nightcap, and head off for an early night. The morning dolphins wait for no man.
I’m up with the sparrows the next day, and my driver is already waiting. It’s a fair drive to the black sands of Rive Noir on the island’s west coast.
It’s here that many of the island’s top dolphin watching operators launch from; an ideal location because the water drops away quickly into the inky deep, but the fringing reef keeps conditions calm.
Our DolSwim skipper doesn’t take long to find one of the many pods of dolphin that are common to this area, and there are already seven or eight boats out this morning. Many, egged on by European guests it seems, are sadly only too happy to go roaring right up to the pod, and we watch from a distance while a party of large Germans splash about noisily on their ‘natural encounter’.
“These are Spinner Dolphins, and we never chase them, never,” our skipper tells us as we give the pod a wide berth and head a little further out to sea. “The trick is to judge where they are going and then wait for them to swim past.”
Happily, our skipper has perfected his technique and before long we see a dozen or so fins rising and falling towards us. In the distance, the Germans are scrambling to heave themselves back on board.
We bail out of the boat, masks facing down into the void. “Only four at a time. Any more and we’ll scare them,” warns our skipper. Silently, and with supreme grace, the spinners glide towards us a few metres below the surface. I fin down for a dolphin’s-eye view, but the pod is one step ahead of me. In formation they dive vertically down to 15, 20, 25 metres... and then continue undisturbed on their way.
Sugarcane and extinct calderas
It’s a brief, magical, experience that was well worth the early morning, but even if you’re not a water baby it’s worth it simply for the drive. While most visitors spend their days ensconced in a resort, a trip through the island’s dramatic landscape is well worth an outing. Fields of sugarcane flow down the extinct calderas of volcanoes that formed Mauritius; fertile volcanic soil giving rise to lush bush framed by razor sharp remparts.
The landscape softens as we return to Shandrani in the south but, sadly, I’m only here for one more night before heading to the nearby island of Rodrigues. A spa treatment at the serene La Source Spa is a tempting option, but it’s a glorious day so I kick off my sandals and take a grand tour of the resort’s beaches.