In the Western Hemisphere, Mauritius is well kept secret. Even it's name tells of its exotic luxury…a place that you may not be able to find immediately on the map, but when you do, it will have been worth your while.
Mauritius is an Indian Ocean paradise, sun and surf and sweet breezes; all the trappings of a perfect off-the-beaten track get-away. Graced with the amenities that go hand in hand with life’s sophisticated pleasures, a cultured cosmopolitan caché and a graceful style and ease of knowing that some of the best the world has to offer can be found within its shores. Mauritius has attracted the European rich and famous, and the rich and discrete…as well as those who want to enjoy the trappings…for many years. The secret is out. Mauritius Magic will introduce you to a place you might never have heard of…but that you’ve always wanted to visit--and never want to leave.
The island is over 720 square miles in area, making it about the size of the state of Rhode Island. It rises gently from the northern coast to a central plateau, culminating in a steep drop towards the south with peaks of weird and abstract shapes. Piton de la Petite Riviere Noire is the highest of these at some 2,700 feet. Remnants of volcanic activity dot the island from extinct craters, like Trou aux Cerfs, and lava boulders abound, many of these have been gathered into cairns during land clearing for sugar cane planting. The island’s surrounding coral reef is broken in several places, allowing surf to crash through; the most spectacular and largest break is on the southern coast between Souillac and Le Bouchon. Between the breaks the white coral sand beaches stretch invitingly, presenting a coastline that’s, interestingly, both serene and rugged.
The Mauritius climate is surprisingly varied. The coast is generally around 8 degrees F warmer than the Central Plateau…and it’s quite possible for it to rain in one locale and not in the other, even though physical distance is not great. Summer, from January through April, can be hot and humid with daytime temps averaging in the high 80’s. Summer is cyclone season and while direct hits are rarities Mauritius can experience days of squally rain. There are no distinct monsoons and rain is possible on any day of the year. The wind blows either from the north or from the regular trade winds blowing from the southeast. The winter season lasts from July to September, and is completely and perfectly pleasant. Daytime temperatures range to the high 70’s, falling to high 50’s at night, with less rain and humidity.
Average Temperatures and Rainfall at Port Louis
The 16th Century Portuguese, apart from leaving a lasting place name…that of Rodrigues Island (named for the navigator Don Diego Rodrigues)…and a growing colony of rat & monkey animal pests, had minimal impact on the Island. The Dutch came in 1598, tried for over one hundred years to promote a settlement and abandoned the effort in 1710. Their legacy endures to the present day as it was the Dutch who introduced the sugar cane. They were also responsible for the introduction of Javanese deer, wild boar, tobacco, slaves from Africa…and for the extinction of that archetype of natural obsolescence, the dodo.
French settlement took hold by 1721 and they constructed the infrastructure necessary for a colony, renamed “Ile de France.” The significance of the sugar industry increased and Port Louis, the colony’s capitol, became a free trading base and home to mercenary marines who preyed on the ships of their enemies. When revolution came to France in 1789 the Mauritius colonists deposed the French governor, but the island refused to agree to France’s abolition of slavery in 1794.
During the Napoleonic Wars the British retaliated for the mercenary marine attacks and in 1810 succeeded in taking over the island. The Treaty of Paris in 1814 gave control formally over to Great Britain, who returned it to the Dutch name of Mauritius. Mauritius and Rodrigues Islands, along with Seychelles, were now formally British but the islanders were allowed to retain the French language, Roman Catholic religion, and their sugar cane plantations. Slavery was finally abolished in 1835, and masses of indentured laborers from India and China were imported. Sugar continued to be king up to the present, and the growing thousands of still arriving and indigenous Indian workers gradually tipped the balance of political power. Mahatma Gandhi visited Mauritius in 1901 to support the cause of increased civil rights.
The island’s place in the world’s political and economic scene continued to be tied to the vicissitudes of a single crop economy, buffeted a bit by malaria epidemics and cyclones, but generally came through the two World Wars unscathed. Under the leadership of Dr. Seewoosagur Ramgoolam the Labour Party, founded to insure workers rights, gained strength. When the country was granted independence on 12 March 1968 Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam became its first Prime Minister. Mauritius officially became a republic in 1992, and in 1995 Navin Ramgoolam, son of the first Prime Minister, was elected to leadership.
GMT + 4. Mauritius is 4 hours ahead (3 hours during the European summer) of Greenwich Mean Time. Noon in Mauritius is 3:00 AM in New York and midnight in Los Angeles.
68 miles (177 km)
Lowest point: Indian Ocean, 0 m
Highest point: Mount Piton 2716 ft (828 m)
arable land: 49%
forests and woodland: 22%
permanent crops: 3%
other: 23% (1993 est.)
Amazingly, there are over 900 species of plants on Mauritius and almost 1/3 of these occur only on Mauritius. Since the cultivation of the sugar cane and the introduction of non-native species, less than 1% of the original forest remains intact. The best place to see the pre-colonized Mauritius plant-life is at the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens at Pamplemousses (North Mauritius). Government programs and nurseries are attempting to regrow and repropigate the rare native plants.
Tall, slim casuarinas define the best beaches. They look like, but are not, pine trees, grow well in sand and make useful wind breaks. Eucalyptus was also widely planted and you’ll also see many huge Indian banyan trees and the striking, crimson-flowering flamboyant. One native tree you’ll almost need a guide to show you is the tambalacoque or “Dodo tree” as it was thought that the extinct bird did the propagation…it may well have as the tree itself is close to extinction. Anthurium, the red-petaled glossy flower is grown over vast acres and sold for export, but you’ll see many fine examples in all the best hotels and public places.
There are no animals on Mauritius dangerous to people…dangerous to other animals is another story. Mauritius was the last home of the dodo, wiped out in the 17th century by mankind’s introduction of dogs, pigs and rats. Other unique but extinct species the island gave rise to include the black, flightless parrot and the giant Mauritian tortoise…losing their habitats to sugar cane production. However, much wonderful bird life still makes Mauritius its home. The Mauritius kestrel (once the world’s rarest bird) and the world’s rarest parakeet, the echo parakeet, have both benefited from captive breeding and reintroduction programs. The very rare pink pigeon isn’t faring quite as well with planned reproduction, falling prey to monkeys, rats and to islanders’ casserole dishes. Many of the native songbirds…the Mauritius cuckoo-shrike, Mauritius black bulbul, the Mascarene paradise flycatcher, Mauritius fody and Mauritius olive white-eye…are also threatened. Introduced songbirds who’ve thrived include the Madagascar fody, the Indian mynah and the most common island bird, the red-whiskered bulbul. Nesting around the small surrounding islands are boobies, sooty terns, noddies and petrel. Both the red and white-tailed tropic bird can be spotted.
Marine life fared a lot better (sugar cane won’t grow under water) and you’ll find a similar rich diversity here that populates all of the Indian Ocean off-shore realms. Fourteen species of whales and dolphins plus both the hawksbill and the green turtles are populous. The game fish population includes the most sought-after trophy fish…marlin, sailfish, wahoo, yellow fin tuna and shark, and it’s a big business. Reef and coral protection is the goal of both the Mauritius Marine Conservation Society and the Mauritius Underwater Group and their recommended “Code of Conduct” for proper marine resource utilization (do not take or break living corals, do not purchase shells, corals, etc, from a vendor, do not litter beaches and recognize hotels who have contributed to good beach management) has been widely publicized.
Fish, arable land.
The Republic of Mauritius is a Parliamentary Democracy. Democratic multiparty activity elects a President, Vice President and a National Assembly with 66 seats. The President appoints a Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. There is also a judicial branch.
Independence: March 12, 1968 (from the United Kingdom).
Constitution: March 12, 1968 and amended March 12, 1992
National holiday: Independence Day, March 12.
Cassam Uteem became president of the Republic of Mauritius in July, 1992. Since September 1990, Mr. Uteem was minister of industry and industrial technology. He has also served as minister of social security and national solidarity. He has been a member of the Legislative Assembly since 1976.
Cassam Uteem was born on March 22, 1941. He attended Royal College of Port Louis and the University of Mauritius. He went to France, studying social services and psychology, and earned his masters degree in psychology. After returning to Mauritius, he served as municipal councilor for Port Louis from 1977 to 1982 and from 1986 to 1988. He became Lord Mayor of Port Louis in 1986.
Vice President. Angidi Verriah Chettiar (since 28 June 1997).
In June 1982, Sir Anerood Jugnauth became prime minister of Mauritius. He remained prime minister in all successive elections. He also holds the offices of minister of finance, minister of information, minister of defense and internal security, and minister of external communications. Throughout the 1960s, he held other ministerial positions.
Anerood Jugnauth was born on March 29, 1930. He received his secondary education in England, and in 1954, he was called to the Bar, Lincoln's Inn, United Kingdom. He was leader of the opposition, the Mauritian Militant Movement, from 1976 to 1982. In 1983, he formed his Prime Minister..