Sunday picnic at Bernache island in Mauritius

Thursday February 3, 2022

During the summer, it’s a tradition for Mauritians to meet at the beach with their family and friends. But if you’re looking for a more uncrowded, peaceful and natural experience away from the public beaches, there are some idyllic options to help you totally disconnect. One of the best places to discover on a Sunday – and a real joy – is little-known Bernache island.

Live Sunday the Mauritian way

Ever since I arrived in Mauritius, I have revelled in the local Sunday tradition that unfolds on the island’s public beaches. The first time I joined in this big Sunday outing was in January on the magnificent Mon Choisy beach on the north of the island. Every week after that, I had fun discovering a new beach, from Flic-en-Flac to Péreybère via Trou-aux-Biches. And although the view changed, the atmosphere was always the same.

I felt like a spectator, sat alone on my towel under the shade of the casuarinas between three tents and two demonstrations of Sega dancing. So, the day I was offered a getaway to Bernache island, I couldn’t wait. I wanted to experience a different Sunday where I could finally be part of the show.

Bernache island: the promise of a little paradise

“Do you know Bernache islet?” Constantin said. “It is right next to Ile d’Ambre. We leave Grand-Gaube by boat and we are there in 20 minutes,” he assured me. “When you are over there, you’ll see something other than the public beach. You are going to live your first Robinson Sunday! And above all, don’t forget your snorkelling gear and your sunscreen.”

Excited by the prospect of this new discovery, I prepare my bag on Saturday evening. At 8.30am on Sunday morning, I am at the meeting point. Constantin has already launched the boat and is busy loading the cooler, water packs and beach bags inside his small wooden motor boat. A tribute to his island, his boat is painted in the colours of the Mauritian flag: red, blue, yellow and green. At 9am, our small group is ready to go on an adventure.

Getting to Bernache island

Clear blue sky with a few white clouds, a gentle breeze, a light swell: the weather is ideal for our excursion. The sea air even makes me forget the heavy heat of the southern summer.

Sat at the front of the boat, I receive a few sprays of water. I am dazzled by the shades of blue, from the turquoise lagoon to the indigo that cloaks the ocean beyond the coral reef. Suddenly, the boat slows down and other colours catch my eye. The black of the rocks; the green of the casuarinas whose elegant branches dance under the breath of the trade winds; and the light-yellow strip of sand edging the blue lagoon. Even before setting foot on Bernache island, I’m amazed by the beauty of the place and its dazzling light.

Walk, swim and admire the 100% natural island

“Welcome to Bernache island!”, says Constantin happily. Here, you can do everything: sing, dance, swim, eat, drink. The only thing forbidden is to damage nature. So, we leave with all our things. No more, no less.” At the time, I do not understand the warning of Constantin.

After mooring the boat, we disembark. It’s impossible to escape the first foot bath – up to the knees – to reach the shore. I then decide to explore the islet to take advantage of this virgin space before other boats arrive. Constantin joins me. “It’s beautiful here, don’t you think? Many people come here for a picnic and are careless, throwing away their papers and their cups. However, Bernache islet is a nature reserve. Like the island of Amber. It is a coral-formed island and is surrounded by volcanic rocks and mangroves. Along with the northern islets, such as Ilot Gabriel and Ile Plate, Bernache is one of the little gems of Mauritius that is not yet too invaded. Let’s take advantage!”

The Sunday picnic in Mauritius

On Constantin’s advice, I open my eyes to the surroundings. I observe the ground, the trees, the shore. I jump from rock to rock. Turning my head to the south, I see the peaks of the pitons embracing the sky. Towards the north, I can see Ile Ronde and Ile aux Serpents, these two pieces of land endowed with endemic flora and fauna, protected and prohibited from entering.

My reverie is interrupted by Séga music announcing the start of the festivities: “Aperitif rum-coco!” When I return to the beach, the rest of my small group have found the best place to drink. Water at mid-thigh and glass in hand, they invite me to join them. I then meet Arlette, Didier, Anjoo, Amreesh, Steven, Erika, Ajagen and Joshila.

Passionate about history, Didier tells us about islet Bernache. “The name has two possible origins. In one version, islet Bernache’s name comes from a former settler, François de Bernage, whose name would have been distorted into ‘Bernache’. The other version, which is written Île aux Bernaches, evokes barnacles (bernaches), that is to say the small shells that one finds on the rocks or the ropes of a submerged boat. This is what is interesting about Mauritius: the names of the places are steeped in history. After the aperitif, I will tell you about Ile Ronde and Ile aux Serpents.” Didier’s stories end and the aperitif continues with laughter and jokes, before the grilled fish is served. The banana flambé offered for dessert leaves us sated.

Marvel until sunset

After a nap in the shade of the casuarinas, I put on my mask and snorkel and set off to meet the aquatic world. Ajagen, who seems to know the place well, suggests that I follow him: “If you want, I’ll show you where you can see porcelains, the tiger shells having the same shape as cowries.” This is how the afternoon unfolds on Bernache island, discovering fish and shellfish. Around 4pm, Constantin announces that it’s time to depart. We are the last to leave the islet, which we leave as pure as a desert island.

The return trip offers us a new spectacle: that of the scintillating sea splashed by the rays of the setting sun. The orange-hued sky announces the end of the day.

Already this Sunday is ending and, this time, it is not the music of the transistors that resonate in my ears, but the melody of the waves and the casuarinas shaken by the breeze. A breath of poetry accompanies me. No nostalgia, but an infinite wonder.

Written with love by Tessa M


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