The island country of Mauritius uses its crystal clear waters to engage visitors in a glut of adventure activities. By Joanna Lobo
It’s called the Iron Man adventure. You ‘fly’ above water, hovering in the air. You can jump, twist and turn, somersault, and do other mid-air stunts. And when you’re done, dive
into the water at great speed. All you need: a hi-tech pair of shoes. The sport is called flyboarding and is one of the many water-based activities on offer in Mauritius. The stunning island country is home to unending beaches and crystal clear waters; it’s the perfect playground for watersports. From enjoying a soothing submarine ride to operating a Seakart to making my snorkelling for the first time, my experiences in Mauritius varied in skill and adventure. But each one was as magical as the last.
I AM IRON MAN
If an activity gets nicknamed ‘Iron Man’, expect it to be exhilarating, scary, and cool. French jet ski racing champion, Frank Zapata, invented the fly board in 2011, and recently, wowed crowds at this year’s Bastille Day celebrations with his personal aviation system, Fly board Air. Zapata makes flyboarding look cool. I have prepared myself by watching videos on loop and trying not to think about crashing into the water. The next day, at FLYn’Dive, I am clad in a swimsuit and a life jacket before I can change my mind. The safety briefing claims that virtually anyone can do this— you just need to be comfortable in the water. But therein lies the catch.
I grew up in Goa, a state known for its beaches. The sea has always held sway over me. I remain in awe of its power and its ability to destroy everything in its path. I would like to
say that a silly accident as a child where I was stuck underwater and couldn’t bring myself to the surface is the basis of my fear, but it is not the whole truth. I’ve visited many beaches in India and overseas, always playing it safe in the shallows. My mild, non-adventurous persona has meant that I rarely move out of my comfort zone especially when it comes to adventure sports. In Mauritius, however, it is as if the water calls out to me.
At Grand Baie, the sea is still. My guide, Emmanuelle Juliette, walks me through the
process. Before I can ‘fly’, I have to learn how to stand straight on the water. I get strapped to the fly board—boots attached to a hoverboard that is connected by a hose to a watercraft. It feels like an anchor, but it doesn’t drag me down. Juliette controls the fly board and the watercraft. I just have to stay vertical. It’s tougher than I imagined, and after half an hour of trying, Juliette has given up. We go tandem—all I have to do is position my feet on the board and hold on to him, tightly. Being airborne is an unparalleled experience. I feel like a queen surveying her kingdom: the sweeping mountains in the distance, the shore nearby, and the water beneath. It’s liberating and empowering at once. So much so that going back to walking on land seems underwhelming.
NEED FOR SPEED
A few days later, I find myself on another kind of flight. This one combines the comfort of a boat with the speed of a jet ski. The powerful Seakart has its origins in Mauritius and was built after a jet skiing ban came into effect. It fits three, with the driver in the centre, and has a 110 horsepower engine that makes it reach speeds of up to 80 kmph. Here, too, there’s no prior experience required. The instructors at Fun Adventures Mauritius insist that the boat is built in such a way that it will never flip. I am told that the faster I accelerate, the smoother the ride will be. Once in the water, as the boat hits its maximum speed, it begins to ‘fly’. It’s a scary sensation, and my courage loses out to the terrifying thought that I will be pitched into the water. I switch places with my partner who has no qualms about the speed. Seakarting is supposed to give you the chance to enjoy Mauritius’s coastline from afar, but navigating the boat, at least on your first try, requires focus. Driver aside, the passengers seated on the sides can enjoy views of La Morne Brabant Mountain or the Benitiers Island Lagoon.
I swap speed for something calmer: exploring Mauritius’s underwater world. All I need is a submarine. I find one at Trou-aux-Biches, a quiet town on the northern coast. A ferry takes me out into the ocean to a ship that is my bridge to my destination, the Blue Safari Submarine BS1100. The 7.5-metre long 10-seater specially adapted vehicle is one of 12 leisure submarines in the world and the only one plying in the Indian Ocean. The interior looks like that of a compact aeroplane: each seat has a life jacket and breathing apparatus, and our pilot gives us a safety briefing. My entertainment, though, is the port window that exhibits ever-changing vistas. At a depth of 20 metres, the corals appear. The submarine takes us to a Japanese shipwreck, intentionally sunk to create a home for fish; then, an artificial coral reef that towers like an underwater mountain. Every few metres, the environment changes till we reach the white sandy bed at 35 metres. Around us, fish swim past unconcerned by the leviathan’s presence; few come up to the ports ostensibly to check us out. It feels like we are in an aquarium, except our places have been swapped. Here, the fish are the ones watching us. Being airborne during flyboarding is an unparalleled experience. InterContinental Resort Mauritius offers many complimentary water activities.
I get another chance to enjoy underwater vistas at InterContinental Mauritius Resort Balaclava Fort, which is perched on a pristine beach. Private access to the water means the resort offers ample activities like water-skiing, snorkelling, kayaking, sailing, and surfing. It’s the perfect spot to make my snorkelling debut. I’ve only recently learned how to swim but haven’t had the courage to try my moves outside of a pool. Here, unlike the submarine, I have to enter the water. Though I have a life jacket, my body forgets everything I learned in swim class, and I can only spend a short time in the water. Yet, it’s enough to help me realise the treasures that lie beneath and I do spot a few fish, who, quite rightly, keep a distance from the amateur on the surface. An easier activity is just sitting in a glass boat—a boat with a thick glass base. As the boat drifts away from the jetty, the underwater world comes into focus again, teeming with schools of fish and invertebrates swimming in and out of coloured coral reefs. The variety of fish is stunning: patterned young emperors, golden moray eels, blue spined unicornfish, and yellow-spotted emperors. As much as I enjoyed flying over water, going underwater gives me an unrivalled glimpse of the country’s hidden wonderland and biodiversity. It’s a subterranean Mardi Gras worth fighting your fears.