The main thing to say about the North is that it offers a warm and stable climate all year round; as easterly winds tend to come in further south. The beaches in this area are thus spectacular; with formidable white sand; those in the North West offering colourful sunset views. In the far north, sheltered coves interspersed with black lava rock formations; provide spectacular scenery for sunbathing and swimming, most of them with stunning views over the northern islands.
The main city of this area is Grand Bay, once a small and forgotten little harbour with sugar cane growing all around it, today the island’s tourist centre with restaurants, bars and shops; as well as a myriad of sports activities and boat excursions to the outer isles. The road linking Grand Bay with Port Louis is a rather comfortable two lane affair, passing by the Sugar Museum “l’Aventure du Sucre” which beckons with a wealth of information and great rum tasting. Not to be missed are the splendid botanical gardens of Pamplemousses. Once surrounding the home of governor Mahe de Labourdonnais and masterpiece of famous botanist Pierre Poivre, they indeed offer a delightful atmosphere to pass a leisurely day.
Most places in the north are mere villages, but in the Grand Bay area, there is a more or less solid band of houses along the road for several kilometres, linking Grand Bay, Pereybere, Bain Boeuf and Cap Malheureux into one large village. Those eager to cool off a bit may take a trip to la Nicoliere, the hilly region behind Pamplemousses, where temperatures drop considerably and a fresh breeze blows most of the time.
Taking the exit at Roche Bois, a narrow coastal road leads to Baie du Tombeau, famous historical site of Pieter Both’s shipwreck and the battle of La Preneuse. In modern times, this tiny beach village is rather peaceful though; with a long sandy beach and a predominant church that may be worth having a look at.
Named after the infamous battle site in the Crimean war, Balaclava is located by the mouth of the Citronne River and was once the flourishing estate of a rich and famous family. Today, its ruins form part of the Maritim Hotel, but can be visited for those interested who are not staying at the hotel too. Behind Balaclava, the terrain drops dramatically down to the river, and the remnants of an ancient mill and a powder depot which are haunted by the ghost of a white lady who is said to have been seen in the area for decades. Luxurious five star hotel InterContinental is located a bit further down south.
Pointe Aux Piments
The area of Pointe aux Piments Beach and the village bearing the same name are shared by the Oberoi Hotel, and The Ravenala Attitude (Ex Plantation Hotel). Around the bend, Le Meridien Maurice and Le Victoria BeachComber Resort stretches along the more open space and offers luxurious sunset views.
Pamplemousses gardens are located halfway up the road to Grand Bay and a little bit to the left in the midst of the village bearing the same name, right by the oldest church of the island. Their entrance is marked by a wrought iron gate of outstanding beauty. Guided tours through Pamplemousses gardens are available throughout its opening hours.
Note that the gardens are open to Mauritians on Sundays at no fee, so on those days they tend to be a bit crowded, but also offer interesting glimpses into local life. The gardens host the largest collection of palms and interesting plants, namely the huge Amazonian water lilies. Opposite the garden’s white iron portal, the oldest church of the island is another site to visit. The churchyard across the road is like a who’s who of island genealogy; poet Adrian D’Epinay is buried there among other famous sons and daughters of the island.
Triolet is Mauritius’ longest village with many clothes and food shops, and extending from the access route to Trou aux Biches almost right through the lovely lake at Solitude. During traffic hours it can be a veritable trap though, as cars move along its busy roads very slowly.
Pointe aux Biches
Pointe aux Biches is the place where the tourist Le Recif hotel is located; its village consisting of a small cluster of houses strewn along the magnificent beach. The aquarium offers a one on one dry encounter with marine life; whereas those eager to actually go into the ocean to behold its manifold denizens may book a submarine tour. Those actually ready to get wet may be happy with the submarine scooter expedition into the “Great Blue”.
Trou aux Biches
Neighbouring beach village Trou aux Biches is located between Mont Choisy and Pointe aux Piments, offering a large white sandy beach adorned with a few exclusive hotels such as Le Palmiste and the Sakoa, as well as the Trou aux Biches BeachComber Resort.
Just below Point aux Cannoniers, Mont Choisy stretches and stretches along the side of the road, beckoning with myriad filao trees and wonderful white sand, tantalizingly inviting for a dip in the water or, better, a long leisurely day on this beach which is definitely one of Mauritius’ finest. The Coral Azur Hotel Mont Choisy hotel offers a congenial atmosphere, whereas lovers of horse riding may enjoy a canter through the forest of “Horse Riding Delight”, a stable and farm-turned once upon a time sugar estate featuring an elegant colonial mansion and other historic buildings surrounded by a handsome park.
Pointe aux Canonniers
Pointe aux Cannoniers is situated just below Grand Bay, on the spit which forms one end of its protected harbour. Drawing its name from the ancient fort with the cannons still on display, Pointe aux Cannoniers features several hotels including Le Cannoniers BeachComber Resort with the remnants of a French fortress and a ruined lighthouse.
Grand Bay is the tourist Mecca of the island. Once a tiny and insignificant sugar cane port with a rather warm and stable climate, this tourist centre offers a bustling day life with banks, shops, restaurants, beach activities and supermarkets whereas at night anything under the moon can be found to make one’s island experience thrilling. Bars, great food, live music, and exotic dancers add to a sizzling atmosphere. Places to try: Sunset Boulevard Shopping Promenade, Banana Cafe, Le Capitaine Restaurant, La Langouste Grisée, Don Camillo Restaurant, Les Enfants Terrible Disco Bar, Buddha Bar, Zanzibar, Surya Spa. Hotels: the Royal Palm, Veranda, and many more. Unfortunately, as happens to so many famous beach destinations, Grand Bay has lost much of its original charm and become quite expensive not only for the locals but for tourists also.
It is not clear whether this most prominent of all islands has got its name from the block underneath ships cannons which seem to resemble it in shape or the gunner battery stationed there by both the French and English (its French name is Coin de Mire). This bare rock cliff with a prominent hole inside that rises so abruptly out of the ocean is a majestic landmark. Tropical birds can be seen flying in and out of their nests located in crevices on is rocky surface as one passes it on the way to Flat or Gabriel Island. All in all, the island with its rounded back side is shaped more like a whale when spotted from a certain angle and is inaccessible by catamaran. There are several beautiful dive sites located around it and whales can be spotted near it during their migratory season.
Books have been written about this famous island, which served as a quarantine station for the British and hosted a large number of immigrants; some of them buried there. (Le Clézio; La Quarantaine) Today, remnants of a village and a still intact lighthouse bear witness to those bygone times. Flat Island is much larger than Gabriel Island and its beach is not as wide, but longer and quite picturesque. Adventurous visitors may spot the pirate graves in a forest a short walk from the landing to the left. As catamarans bound for the northern isles leave the protective reef behind and the ocean swell can be quite rough on the stomach, travellers are advised to take precautions. Sea sickness tablets are available in the local pharmacies.
The islands closer to the shore are among Mauritius’ favourite tourist attractions. Boats of any shape and size take off every morning, a veritable armada, setting out to conquer Flat Island and Gabriel Island; the latter being rather small but harbouring one of Mauritius’s nature treasures: an endemic shrub with interesting pharmaceutical properties which exists exclusively on Gabriel Island. Gabriel Island has recently been taken under the wing of a local tour operator who besides offering eco-tours around the island, installed a restaurant and an open air church for couples wishing to tie the knot, as well as some beach massage bungalows for the ultimate wellness experience. The island sports a very pretty beach and a colony of white tailed tropical birds that breed on the island. Visitors are asked to not under any circumstances pick up eggs or fledgling young birds who have escaped from their nests. As boats bound for the northern isles leave the protective reef behind and the ocean swell can be quite rough on the stomach, travellers are advised to take precautions. Sea sickness tablets are available in the local pharmacies.
The Northern Isles consist of Round Island, Serpent Island, Flat Island, Gabriel Island and Gunners Coin. However, nothing about them is as their name indicates: Round island looks like someone bit a piece off it, there are no snakes on Serpent Island and uniquely endemic shrub “Baume of Flat Island “exclusively exists on Gabriel Island and nowhere else in the world. Apart from that, the northern isles are each unique in its own way.
Having been declared nature sanctuaries years ago, Round Island and Serpent Island are situated rather far out in the ocean and out of bounds for regular visitors. Being so remote, their fauna and flora is a veritable treasure trove for botanists and zoologists; featuring a rare boa on Round Island and the only native tarantula to the Mascarenes on Serpent Island. It is unknown how they got there, as there are no such species on all the other islands, but theories of continental drifts have been raised by scientists.
One of the busiest and most picturesque beaches of the north is doubtless Pereybere, which has developed into a tiny sidekick of Grand Bay with restaurants, cafes and lots of water activities such as kayaking, boat tours and snorkelling. Located a few kilometres up the coast from the latter, Pereybere has a few very nice restaurants in a protected setting between two small protruding land spits and beautiful views over the northern isles.
Bain Boeuf offers probably the best view of the Northern isles from the beach of the Coin de Mire hotel, a nice white sandy beach and a quiet and serene atmosphere.
The northernmost tip of Mauritius is Cap Malheureux, its famous red-roofed “Notre Dame Auxilia Trice” church depicted on many postcards. Picturesque and calm, inviting for a dip on a hot sunny day, its beach becomes a paradise for wind and kite surfers when the wind starts blowing.
There is one large inland city in the north of Mauritius; a focal point of local bus routes and a very busy place especially on the weekends, when local people gather to buy the goods displayed on the sidewalk stands: Goodlands has its very own groove and is refreshingly different from tourist-oriented Grand Bay.
A very quiet and typical fisherman village, Grand Gaube sports some great views from its white sandy beach and a few luxury hotels such as Feng Shui oriented five star “LUX Grand Gaube”.
Calodyne is located about 15 minutes from Grand Bay, in the northernmost corner of the island. It is a small and charming village, with a warm and sunny climate and a spectacular view over the Northern Isles. There are no big hotels and vast beaches; instead small sandy coves with black lava rock formations interspersed with white sand create beautiful and dramatic scenery. Small hotels Calodyne sur Mer Hotel and Zilwa Attitude Hotel welcome visitors to enjoy a peaceful and quiet vacation.
Being a favourite spot for mountain bikers, the area around La Nicoliere water reservoir is famous for its green and lush vegetation, but also for heavy and extensive rainfall. The Northern isles to provide exciting views and beautiful picnic spots for those eager to venture on a wild boat ride beyond the reef.