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Mauritius - Off the beaten track

Hills, vales and the striking Indian Ocean

Belle Mare

A long, luscious, casuarina-fringed beach along the eastern coast, Belle Mare is best seen from atop a reconstructed lime kiln that's been converted into a lookout tower just inland from the beach. On the far side of the road that parallels the beach stand the ruins of a sugar mill, and more substantial sugar mill ruins hide behind Belle Mare village. Aside from swimming, which is probably the best the island has to offer, about the only thing to do here is lie back and relax. It won't take you long to get used to the idea. Belle Mare is a long and rollercoastery bus ride east of Port Louis.

Black River Gorges National Park

This beautiful highland area south-west of Curepipe is like no other part of the island. About 6km (4mi) from Curepipe, Mauritius' only mountain road reaches the dam wall of the park's large reservoir, Mare aux Vacoas. Surrounded by casuarina and coniferous trees, it looks more like North America than an island in the Indian Ocean. About 6km (4mi) south-east of Mare aux Vacoas is the sacred lake of the Hindus, Grand Bassin, and, a few kilometres farther east, Plaine Champagne, the rainiest spot and largest natural area on Mauritius. Toward the eastern end of the plain, the Rivière Noire overlook affords spectacular views of waterfalls and the 830m (2720ft) Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire, the highest point on Mauritius.

The best time to visit Black River Gorges National Park is during the flowering season between September and January. Look for the rare tambalacoque or dodo tree, black ebony trees and the exotic birds that perch in them. You may also run into a band of monkeys, deer or wild pigs. The park is some 30km (19mi) south of Port Louis and is best reached by bus via Curepipe or by private transport.

Rodrigues Island

A volcanic island 18km (11mi) long and 8km (5mi) wide, Rodrigues is in many way a miniature Mauritius. It's surrounded by coral reefs, covered with similar vegetation and landscapes, and blessed with an equally tropical climate. Rodrigues isn't quite as lush as Mauritius, but neither is it thick with tourists. The pace of life is more relaxed and the people prone to stop and chat. On the down side, it's more likely to be hit by the cyclones that plague the region. The last big one, Cyclone Bella, swung through in early 1991, bringing with it winds in excess of 200km/h (125mph).

The island is relatively small and perfect for rambling around at leisure. Hiking is good around Mt Limon and Mt Malartic, the island's two highest points at more than 390m (1280ft). The best coastal hiking leads from Port Mathurin around the eastern coastline to Port Sud-Est. Point Coton on the eastern coast has the best beach on the island, but there are other good ones at St François, Trou d'Argent and Petit Gravier.Caverne Patate in the south-west boasts some worthwhile spelunking opportunities. Diving is the big attraction of the waters around Rodrigues - you can arrange a trip through one of the big hotels. Several of the tiny islands just off Rodrigues, such as Île Cocos and Île aux Sables, are nature reserves and require permits to visit; others, such as Île aux Crabes and Île Hermitage, are just as beautiful and are open to the public.

Rodrigues lies about 560km (350mi) north-east of Mauritius. The two islands are connected daily by air and several times per month by sea. Keep in mind there's a minimum stay of 5 days and a maximum of 30.

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