What can be termed “highlands” and is mentioned in the weather forecast as the central plateau together with “rain, foggy patches or lower temperatures“, is actually the largest and most densely populated area in Mauritius. Strange actually, one is tempted to think, but then one has to understand that most of its major towns and cities are not only conveniently close to each other, but also conveniently close to everything else on the island: schools, supermarkets, cinemas and all the other amenities of the civilised world. For someone living in educated Curepipe where most of the higher schools on the island are located, places like Mahebourg, Chamarel or Goodlands are highly underdeveloped and not even worth visiting due to the lack of activities. Needless to say that the highlands are criss-crossed by a net of good large and busy roads, with many bus routes providing good connections everywhere.
There are, however, vast differences between the various parts of the highlands! The area between Port Louis, extending over Moka, Beau Bassin, Rose Hill and Quatre Bornes is an urban zone where one can practically walk through without seeing a green surface larger than a football field. Out of Curepipe and towards the south west though, it changes completely and becomes green, lush and rather wild; bearing many endemic plant and wildlife treasures for the visitor to behold as well as spectacular sights to see from the many viewpoints. In olden times, many colonial estates were spread on the lush green rolling hills of the interior, such as can still be seen today at Pailles, Moka and all over the Beau Bassin – Curepipe – Quatre Bornes area. Museums and exhibitions as well as shopping centres, restaurants and parks are plentiful in the interior of Mauritius, as are waterfalls, small lakes as well as lush and pristine vegetation.
Moka is situated behind the mountain range that separates Port Louis from the rest of the island. This fast growing place once surrounded the domain of famous writer Le Clezio’s family. After their deaths, their famous and wonderful estate “Eureka House”, was auctioned off and thankfully came into the hands of a wealthy Indian family who maintained the ground floor largely in its original state and installed showrooms for their merchandise on the upper floors. Visitors may thus enjoy an authentic atmosphere, complete with ancient bathroom, and immaculately groomed premises, where guided tours are available. Those looking for first class information about India are welcome at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute which is located between the two main roads and where concerts, theatre and Indian dances take place regularly. The Bagatelle shopping mall is also found in Moka, with supermarkets, designer shops, plenty of restaurants, artificial football pitch and more to enjoy.
Beau Bassin-Rose Hill
Beau Bassin and Rose Hill form one of the largest cities in Mauritius. Its central location, public transportation links to all four corners of the country, and large selection of stores, attract visitors from all over for affordable shopping. Rose Hill is the second largest shopping centre of Mauritius after the capital, Port Louis. The most highly regarded art museum on the island is found here too: the Rose-Hill Municipal Museum and Gallery. The Plaza, the site of the Municipal building and gardens is also a draw for locals in the warm evenings when families come to enjoy the ambience and sample food from street vendors, or ice cream from the local parlours, indeed Beau Bassin and Rose Hill benefits from later opening of restaurants and bars and is livelier than other Mauritian cities in the evenings, with street vendors around until the early hours.
The area is also home to some grand historic churches, notably the Sacre Coeur in Beau Bassin and the Notre Dames de Lourdes in Rose Hill. Expect road closures and a lot of traffic in the area during Easter, Christmas and other Christian festivals. In Beau Bassin, hidden away in the side streets you will find the Balfour Gardens, which covers an area of five acres and is situated on the banks of the Grand River North West. Locals come here to make use of the jogging tracks and the children’s playground. There are several species of palm trees, and a giant tortoise park, and nearby the viewpoint Cascadelle affords a spectacular vista of the river and waterfall below.
Its name meaning straw in English, Pailles hosts an ancient domain and Mauritius’ largest concert and exhibition hall, the Swami Vivekananda Centre. La Domaine du Pailles has met a similar fate like its namesake at Moka, but its surroundings have been rather more developed, featuring an old sugar mill, excursions by horse drawn carriage or ancient train as well as authentic old style cooking. Riding excursions are also available.
Ebene is a relatively new suburb of Mauritius, located in the centre of the island, about 15 kilometres south of the capital Port Louis. Construction began in 2001, on what was promoted as a new information technology hub for the country, and as such it is also referred to as Cybercity. Now Ebene is a collection of modern skyscrapers that house local and international banks, government offices, multinationals, educational institutions and more. There is also a shopping mall with a large supermarket, shops and restaurants. The Hennessy Park Hotel is also based here, with the bar/restaurant usually hosting live music at the weekends. There are also a couple of bars/nightclubs, Atmospheres and Altitude that host themed nights and football screenings on some occasions.
There is actually not much going on at Quartier Militaire; however the place is of some importance as far as traffic is concerned. It is the axis point for all those wanting to go up to the North or East and not necessarily being caught up in the heavy Port Louis or Quatre Bornes traffic. The artificial lake of La Valetta offers pretty views and lies just a few minutes down the road towards Curepipe.
Besides the permanent residence of the nation’s president, there is something uniquely beautiful and vastly unknown at Le Réduit, which even many Mauritians are not usually aware of. Behind the University and in a rural area, the Terre Rouge and Cascade River unite and tumble down a steep cliff, thus creating a very impressive cascade in the middle of a settlement; a nice distraction from the heavy traffic which at certain hours prevails in this area.
There are various theories about its name and also about why it has the name “city of flowers” as there are only a few suffocated ones to spot in front of the city hall at Quatre Bornes. Being one of the largest cities and certainly offering some great shopping, Quatre Bornes is located just 15 minutes by car out of Port Louis. During rush hours though, this can take much longer, as Quatre Bornes is located on the main road linking much traffic on the island.
There is restaurant where guests enjoy an unique and local atmosphere; with cascading waters and surrounded by the plants of flower shop Vaneron Garden; right behind the large Shoprite complex and shopping mall right off the highway, is definitely worth a visit.
To ask whether the beer was there before giving the name its place or the place gave its name to the beer is something like the proverbial question about the egg and the chicken. Phoenix is located at one of Mauritius’ infamous traffic jam points and even if you should not get stuck there, take your chance to visit the glass gallery, a formidable project where glass is being recycled into very interesting and arty pieces; some of them unique. The Jumbo hypermarket and shopping mall is also found here.
Curepipe has had myths and legends told about its name. The most probable one is that the train pipe needed some cleaning at precisely this point after climbing up the rather steep stretch from Rose Belle. The British loved Curepipe’s rather cool and rainy climate as it must have reminded them of their native soil so they built many schools, banks, and beautiful churches. Curepipe is great for walking around, doing some shopping and enjoying the cool climate after hot days on the beach. Nearby crater the Trou aux Cerfs offers a 360 panorama view over the island and is a must to visit. The botanical gardens, as well as a small copy of the Eiffel tower are other attractions of this most European of all Mauritian cities. Bring an umbrella and good shoes as well as a sweater during the winter and in the evenings!
Posh Curepipe suburb Floreal offers a variety of shops and restaurants, most of them centred on beautiful Floreal Square. The area generally boasts all kinds of shopping, together with its nice cool climate and good accessibility it is not to miss for those eager to buy classy souvenirs.
Nouvelle France is a small and charming village located in the highlands of Mauritius, the neighbouring town of Curepipe. Nouvelle France is a place where the cool climate is available all year round.
High up on the central plateau of Plaine de Champagne, Le Petrin is located at the junction that links the road from Grand Bassin “Ganga Talao” with the main road going from Chamarel to Henrietta and Vacoas. Several trails for hiking tours in the National Park and scenic view points are also to be found in the area. The close by park ranger office can give adequate information about them.
Black River Gorges National Park
The Black River Gorges is the name of Mauritius’ only National Park which extends over 6,754 hectares, thus covering about 2% of the island’s area. Located in the southwest corner of the island, the park invites visitors to discover one of the rarest forests in the world with more than 300 species of native and endemic flowering plants and 9 species of birds, which are found only in Mauritius. A visitor’s centre which is located at the foot of the mountain and accessible from Black River informs about trails and highlights.
Grand Bassin or Ganga Talao, as this sacred lake of the Hindus is called nowadays lies on the road between Bois Cheri and Chamarel. Surrounded by temples dedicated to the various deities of the Hindu religion, Grand Bassin is nevertheless dedicated to the Lord Shiva. Its sacred waters are said to have stemmed from a droplet of water lost by this very same God during one of his voyages; an incident that is mentioned in ancient scriptures. A huge Shiva statue and annual pilgrimage to the lake highlight the importance of this lake.
A few kilometres south west from Ganga Talao, Bois Cheri reflects a totally different island spirit: that of colonial and modern time’s tea making. Vast fields of the lush bush can be seen around the tea estate and according to season, one may find them covered with delicate flowers or alive with chatting and smiling ladies, busy harvesting the most tender leaf tips only, for the delicious brew Mauritians are so fond of. A visit of the toy-like factory and tea tasting in the romantic pavilion with its great view is highly recommended!
Henrietta sits perched high up on the rim of the Vacoas Mountains, just before the terrain descends abruptly towards the West coast. Its lights can be seen from the Tamarin road. Consisting of a few small houses and some snack shops, this village is the access point for wonderful nature activities in the area called Tamarin falls, where a chain of cascading waterfalls creates top conditions for hiking, swimming and canyoning.
Behind the Bambous Mountain Range and by the side of the Grand South Eastern River lies Belle Rive, a cluster of houses from where Domaine Etoile can be reached by those eager to spend a leisurely day outdoors and enjoying various exciting eco- and nature activities.
Eau Bleue is situated in the highlands of Mauritius where the blue waters of the Rivière Eau Bleue can be explored on a gentle canyoning trip. A half day trip there involves some short abseils and refreshing swims down a tumbling stream hidden deep in the cane fields.