Nobody is averse to being based on an island with the proverbial powder-white beaches, palm tree fronds swaying in a gentle wind, azure lagoons and balmy tropical nights. Certainly this was my fantasy, as I was relaxing on the Air Mauritius flight and anticipating my first resort stay on this island that’s much- loved by South Africans.
Based at Sugar Beach Resort, I was immediately embraced by the warmth of the islanders who could not do enough for me to make me feel welcome. My spacious, airy suite was a few paces from the beach, so sported a view of the aquamarine lagoon and dazzlingly white beach. My daydreams fulfilled and my holiday had just begun.
I had not heard too much detail about the diving in Mauritius, so was eager to explore some of dive sites. A short stroll from my suite and I was at the Dive Centre - set in the adjacent La Pirogue Resort - kitting up for my nitrox dive.
The centre is highly organised and has stringent safety standards, including the need for a current medical certificate. A site named Aquarium can only be beautiful and this 15m dive was leisurely, with perfect visibility and a pleasing range of reef fishes including a yellow leaf fish, yellow boxfish, large scorpion fish, many trumpet fishes and more.
As I was finning past a Titan Trigger Fish it darted out and bit me on my calf, right through my 5mm wetsuit! It was a sharp, painful nip, but did not faze me as I had read somewhere that male Trigger Fish could become aggressive when they are guarding eggs.
My dive guide, Linley, had spotted the fish and quickly ushered me away from the area. I considered it an adventure and sent a photo of the bite and resultant bruise home to my family. As we did our five-meter safety stop, a porcupine fish watched us with detached gaze.
Set on the western side of the island, Sugar Beach, La Pirogue and other resorts experience very little wind. This means that the diving conditions are usually calm and easy. One evening when I was taking a leisurely walk along the beach, I saw a group of six people in the pond-like lagoon, sitting with elegant glasses and a bottle of wine, chatting and enjoying the splendid sunset. The water was so clear and still, that I could see many small fish and clusters of coral simply by looking into the water.
One of the most impressive dives I experienced on the western side of Mauritius was Cathedral, which has huge rocks where schools of Blotcheye Soldier fish hang out. One has to fin through overhanging areas where Lionfish lurk and one may peep into chimneys where large lobsters dwell.
After my fulfilling dives in such undemanding conditions and using nitrox (a mix of nitrogen and oxygen), I felt fresh and relaxed each night as I savoured the cuisine in a different one of Sugar Beach’s three restaurants.
Many guests seemed to prefer the buffets at Mon Plaisir restaurant, which has different themes every night for two weeks. My favourite was Tides, a seafood restaurant where I could sit with my toes in the sand, gaze at the indigo ocean and be served gourmet nouvelle cuisine.
One evening I was tempted over to La Pirogue Resort, where they had a Seafood Barbecue on the beach, with unlimited prawns, lobster, oysters and even fresh scallops.
When I am diving I usually eschew wine, but I succumbed to a glass of Steenberg Sauvignon Blanc from Constantia, which perfectly complemented the array of seafood. During dinner, a group of local musicians and dancers entertained us with the traditional local dance the Sega.
On the eastern side of Mauritius there is a pleasant wind that cools the hot tropical air. It also makes for great parasailing, windsurfing and exciting diving.
Based at the elegant Long Beach Resort I had another to-cry-for view of the blue hues of sea meeting sky from my top floor suite. Passionate as I am about my diving I was tempted to linger in the cool air-conditioned room with its fresh white walls and hints of grey in the décor.
Next door to Long Beach is Blues Diving Centre, owned and run by the delightful and kind Jean Michel Langlois, who gave me some of his personal underwater images.
As my first dive, with Mauritian dive master Raphael, was just the two of us it was super-relaxed and enjoyable. He finned slowly and showed me exquisite nudibranchs, shoals of striped eel fish, a honeycomb moray eel and many vividly coloured wrasses, which swam close to us when Raphael clicked his fingers. I was enchanted to look at soft corals through a hand lens, to see how much they resemble spring flowers.
With Antony, the owner of Pierre Sport Diving, I had my most exciting dive: a very fast drift dive in strong current where we were swept along close to the ground. La Passé de Belle Mar, besides being a thrilling adventure, is the place to see Royal Kingfish, which are about a meter and a half in length and studiously ignore divers.
I always seem to be hungry after diving, so it was a treat to be able to choose from five top class restaurants in the resort.
On my last day - when I could not dive before my flight - I indulged in a few treatments at the Sea Spa set in the manicured gardens of Long Beach. A full body massage is a must in this scrupulously clean, sensuous space, staffed by professional therapists.
Sitting on a deckchair beneath thatched umbrellas, I stared out to sea and decided that Mauritius is the ideal spot to learn to dive, advance one’s skills with a specialist course or to learn the names of the abundant sea creatures and corals. It is more tranquil and beautiful than I could have imagined. Now I understand why people return again and again to live this tropical dream.
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