Mauritius, the jewel of the Indian Ocean, is renowned for the beauty of its tropical vegetation and the splendour of its seabed. In addition to its coconut trees, birds of paradise and flamboyant trees, Mauritius is home to a multitude of multi-coloured fish, coral gardens and sea turtles that can be seen swimming in the lagoon.
For divers, the destination is a must. For those who are not yet divers, the desire to explore the treasures of the silent world is difficult to resist.
For my part, I couldn’t resist. And I immersed myself in this magical aquatic world with dazzlement. Let me tell you about it…
Mauritius, a diver’s paradise
Sitting at the breakfast table, I see my neighbours in a frenzy. They swallow their breakfast in a hurry, check their backpacks and make sure they have their swimming costumes and towels. There are seven of them, happy and excited like children.
I dare to ask them: “Hey, are you going on a trip?” They all answer me in chorus: “Yes, to Stella Maru!”
I feel like a fool for not knowing where this is, even after I’ve studied the map of Mauritius for hours. “Where is it?” I ask.
One of them smiles and answers me: “Off Trou-aux-Biches on the north-west coast. It’s a sunken wreck at a depth of 22 metres. We’re going on a dive today. Would you like to come with us?”
After a few minutes of hesitation, I accept. I postpone my bike trip until the next day: this opportunity is too good to pass up. Of course, I don’t intend to go exploring the seabed, my last dive was years ago. But maybe this is a good opportunity to get my feet wet again!
Wrecks and aquatic wonders
We leave Anse-la-Raie in a minibus and arrive about 20 minutes later at the diving centre of Trou-aux-Biches. Pierre is waiting for us there with a smile on his face. He lets everyone put on their wetsuits and take their equipment: mask, fins, waistcoat, regulator and weights to allow for immersion. The tanks are already waiting for the divers on the boat.
At this crucial moment, Pierre gives the instructions and explains the characteristics of the site. Stella Maru is the wreck of a 44-metre long Japanese ship. The site, easy and accessible, is home to a wide variety of fish: surgeonfish, damselfish, clownfish, platax. As a bonus, a Javanese moray eel has taken up residence here, so don’t get too close!
Once the briefing is over, we head for the pontoon and board the motor boat. The pairs exchange a few words during the crossing but the atmosphere is one of concentration. Once at the site, the divers put on their tanks and sit on the edge of the boat.
Three, two, one: everyone tips over backwards at the same time. After a little hand signal that all is well, the figures sink into the depths of the ocean. The sea is calm. I let myself be lulled by the movement of the waves and by the voice of John, an instructor who has now become a boat captain.
Numerous dives sites accessible to all levels
“You don’t dive?” he asks.
“I dived a few years ago, but I’m not sure if I dare to try it again.”
“It’s a pity. Mauritius is the ideal place for those who are starting or returning to diving. Here, you have everything you need: easy sites and more complicated ones, arches, caves, drop-offs, wrecks. No matter where you are on the island, you can find dive sites nearby. The north of the island is the best place to brush up on your skills!” he tells me.
As he surveys the water, John describes his favourite dive spots. The Aquarium and the wreck of the Silver Star in the north-west, the Blue Bay Marine Park, the Roches Zozo Canyon and the Colorado Caves in the south-west of the island. The sites of Cathédrale and Casiers in Flic-en-Flac, as well as the numerous wrecks in Mauritius. In the north and west of the island alone, 15 have been sunk. These wrecks are real refuges for fish and constitute extraordinary observatories for underwater-world enthusiasts.
In the course of his anecdotes, I learn that the wreck of the Stella Maru was righted underwater during a cyclone, and that the wreck of Sirius has been blocked in the Mahébourg channel since 1810, when the English warship ran aground there.
I am carried away by John’s verve and I feel as if we have barely started talking when I see the first divers coming to the surface. I know then that I too will be in the water on the next dive.
Discovering Coin de Mire: an incredible biodiversity site
Blue sky, a light sea breeze, good visibility and a water temperature of 27°: the austral summer offers me ideal conditions for my first dive in Mauritius. The appointment is fixed at 8:30am on the beach of Péreybère.
A slight apprehension knots my stomach, which I forget as soon as I get on the boat. We head for the Coin de Mire, a nature reserve with a majestic profile located behind the coral reef. Today we are diving at Carpenters, at the south-eastern tip of the Coin de Mire. Pierre warned me: the site is not easy for beginners because of its topology and the sea currents. But it is so wonderful that it is a must. Pierre offers to be my buddy for this dive. Reassured, I let myself slide into the water. I take a few breaths to check that I can breathe properly. And we start the descent in stages.
Before my eyes, jacks, fusiliers, barracudas: the depth of the site attracts impressive species like these famous pelagics. I see a fault, towards which we gradually move to access a tunnel. The gorgonians, corals, nudibranchs and leaf fish create a magical, almost unreal spectacle. Silence, weightlessness, elegant movements and an explosion of colours: I rediscover the joy of diving, sharing in the enthusiasm of the enthusiasts.
After 40 minutes of exploration, we quietly return to the surface. The smiles on the faces of the group are worth all the words.
Then Pierre breaks the silence: “The next dive is on Tuesday at Fosse aux Requins, at the Ile aux Pigeons next to the Ile Plate. Any takers?”
Considering my level, I will probably not be part of this future expedition. But I hope to have the chance to experience the thrill of deep diving among sharks one day.