Walking in South Mauritius
I was preparing to get bored on Mauritius. It was our big holiday and this time it was Timi's choice as I had chosen Peru last year. Timi wanted a more relaxing beachy holiday and Mauritius ended up top of the list. It looked lovely in the brochure but it didn't look like there would be a lot of adventure to be had. I was wrong.
The island is well known as a honeymoon destination but there's loads to keep the adventurous busy. After the first week of relaxing and driving around the North-Western part we had worked out what to do for week 2.
We already knew that our hotel for the 2nd week was close to the island's highest mountain. We just didn't know how easy it would be to get there. One interesting blog post about it had a link to one of the big travel companies there. On enquiring about the trip it would be 60 Euro per person plus another 60 for transport from the hotel.
It was a lot of money and we asked our travel rep at the hotel if they had options for the same trip. A couple overheard us and came over after to give us some advice. They had been up the peak the day before without a guide and found it very easy. They had also seen many other walkers on the route without guides.
I wrote back to the travel company to let them know that we didn't need their services. Then followed an amusing e-mail chain where the company rep's attitude quickly changed from pleasant to threatening. They said that it was dangerous and illegal to trek in Mauritius without a guide. When I asked for them to point me towards evidence of this they told me to "Google myself". So I did. One connection was to a guy who wrote a great blog on Mauritian treks. He explained that there was no law about local guides. Many of the routes are not dangerous but some go through private land. The advantage of a guide would be to steer you in the right direction. Other than that, there's little advantage if you're an experienced walker.
I also found the contact details for the Mauritius Office of Tourism. Nothing on their website referenced the need to use a guide. I e-mailed them to explain the situation but no reply came. So, we we pretty sure that we didn't need a guide but not 100% so we took a risk and did it ourselves anyway.
Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire
Significance: Highest peak in Mauritius
Elevation: 828 m
Date climbed: 11th October 2018
Coordinates: 20° 24' 32'' S, 57° 24' 29'' E
Route Start / End: out and back from layby on Plaine Champagne Road, just west of Gorges Viewpoint Parking
Route Stats: 6.7 km in 3 hours 32 mins, +241 m elevation gain
Piton de la Riveire Petite Noire is the highest mountain in the country. There was an option of walking there from our hotel, approaching from the South-West. Instead, taking advantage of our rental car, we drove to the more popular start near the Black River Gorges Car Park. The best option is to park in the lay-by West of the Car Park, starting you much closer to the trail.
The trail is very easy to follow and very little chance of going wrong. Much of it cuts through dense trees with a few gaps to see the view. For most of the route its not particularly steep either. The main hazard is the combination of mud and tree roots. We went on a dry day following a few days of rain and it was fine. It would be a lot trickier under much wetter conditions.
The final 10 minutes is much steeper although there are ropes in places to help you up. One rope was tied to a tree that had fallen over and I wasn't completely confident that it was anchored properly. It held fine and we were up to the top in no time. This would only part where you would need a guide for safety reasons. Even so, compared with the trickier parts of many UK mountains, it's pretty straight-forward.
The summit rewards you with amazing 360° views over the South of the island. Le Morne Mountain to the South-East is particularly enticing from the angle. It was here that we decided to climb that one too a few days later.
On the descent, following the same route, we counted up how many people we had passed on the trail. For the full walk there were 25 people in 10 groups of which only 3 groups had a guide. Having tested the route for myself I can't see any reason to use a guide unless you're really inexperienced or the guide has amazing stories to tell along the way.
map below: Trailhead at Gorges Viewpoint Parking
Le Morne Mountain
Elevation: 556 m
Date climbed: 13th October 2018
Coordinates: 20° 27' 10 S, 57° 18' 60 E
Route Start / End: out and back from parking at Le Morne Trail Entrance on the south of the peninsula
Route Stats: 7.3 km in 3 hours 50 mins, +560 m elevation gain
Inspired by our easy conquest of the country high-point, we set off for Morne Mountain 2 days later. This was the walk where most articles suggested that having a guide was either mandatory or highly recommended. The 2 reasons for this are the steepness of some sections and that some of the route goes through private property. Taking the advice of the couple we'd met in the hotel earlier in the week we decided to try it ourselves.
Parking for the walk is easy to find on the South Side of the Morne Peninsular. You need to sign in at the control booth by the gate. There were a couple of employees in the booth but neither seemed bothered about either checking or helping people.
From the trail-head the first 3 km is a gradual easy ascent on wide paths. This takes you to a fence and a gate which marks the entrance to the private area. I'd read stories of people either being turned away or charged an entrance fee for going past this point. On the day we went the gate was open and no-one was around so we passed straight through. This is a good point to make a decision whether to attempt the full climb or call it a day. From here you can see the steep part and several people we spoke to had decided they weren't fit or brave enough to go further.
A few minutes past the gate you'll reach the Chimney. This is a steep high-sided section that's the hardest part of the route. Normally there's ropes on either side but these had been removed for maintenance. There's lots of rocks and routes to hold on to though and we found it easy to help each other up. I definitely would not have attempted this on a wet day as the descent through it would be treacherous.
Even if it wasn’t for the sharp edges, this is not a route to rush through. There’s an amazing view out of every angle. On a clear day like the one we had you can see for miles and get a great perspective on the underwater waterfall next to the peninsula.
The walking route ends by a big metal cross. The actual summit can only be accessed with climbing gear and proper experience. We had neither but it’s hard to be disappointed with a finish as spectacular as this. The Cross was rammed with people queuing for the best selfie positions. We found a quiet rock, waited patiently for our turn whilst taking a breather, then started our descent.
We took our time on the way down as we negotiated the tricky parts of the chimney. We were thankful that we didn’t take a guide so that we could have the walk to ourselves. Observing some of the other trekkers on the way up though, it was clear that some people should have taken a guide. Some were clearly not fit enough, others poorly dressed, one was carrying a baby and some had no water with them. If all a guide did was tell them to be better prepared, then there’s definitely a reason to use them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not certainly against guides in general. They play an important part of the local travel economy, especially in developing countries. I had some amazing experiences with guides on Kilimanjaro, the Inca Trail and the Balkans. In these trips the guides kept us safe, informed us on local history and were great ambassadors for their countries. My problem is with companies, like the one I battled with in Mauritius. They try to exploit tourists with “mandatory" guides for simple trips like Piton de la Riveire Petite Noire. We were happy to save the money this time and spend it on bigger tips for locals who really deserved it.
Far from being just a honeymoon destination, I discovered a wonderfully diverse, fun and adventurous island that would be high on my list of places to return to.
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