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Mauritius: oceans away.

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Adrift in the Indian Ocean, it is but a tiny dot off the eastern shores of Madagascar--the island that Mark Twain believed heaven was modelled on. Fringed by coral and patrolled by clownfish, parrotfish and manta rays, Mauritius rises from the turquoise expanse of the ocean as the highest peak in a long volcanic chain of islands, some 170 kilometres northeast of its younger French sister Reunion.

Sculpted by the forces of nature and time from oversized blobs of magma, the bijou island is an expressionist masterpiece. Its signature sweeping palmed beaches are framed by a broken ring of mountains and plateaux, cloaked in lush topical forest, savannahs and sugarcane fields. Accentuating the scene like pieces of oversized artwork are volcanic crates, sparkling azure lagoons and thousands of scattered lava boulders, some of which have been arranged into pyramid monuments by local farmers. Where the sugarcane plantations grow thicker, streams and rivers speckle the land, navigating the cracks once formed by lava flows past colourful local villages.

Boasting one of the richest eco-systems in the world (on land as well as under water), Mauritius is home to a number of endangered animal and plant species, including the pink pigeon, fruit bat and echo parakeet. Many of these have been pulled back from the brink of extinction in protected nature reserves, such as Black River Georges National Park.

The colourful diversity of Mauritius's flora and fauna is echoed by the colourful diversity of its people. An international role model for racial and religious harmony, the island is lent its vibrancy by a flamboyant potpourri of people and cultures.

Mauritians--with French, English, Indian, Chinese, Arabic and African heritage--are united by a strong sense of national identity, a focus on family life and a shared lingua franca, Mauritian Creole. In the local villages, Hindu temples proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with churches and mosques. Communities join in each other's celebrations, making life on the island a pretty eventful affair all year around--and lending Mauritius its trademark friendly and welcoming air.

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Selected Island highlights

Nature: Visit the botanical gardens of Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam and Pamplemousses to see giant Victoria amazonica water lilies and tortoises; dive at Rempart Serpent to marvel at stonefish, scorpion fish and moray eels or follow swirling shoals of big-eye kingfish at La Passe St Francois; visit Trou aux Cerfs at Curepipe to see an extinct volcano or marvel at the coloured earths of Chamarel.

Beaches: Mauritius is known for its finest beaches and seascapes. Examples include Mont Choisy beach, Pereybere cove, Blue Bay, Gris Gris, the beach stretching from Belle Mare to Trou d'Eau Douce, Flic en Flac, Tamarin and Le Morne.

Cultural highlights: In a country as varied as Mauritius, cultural highlights are manifold and include the Red Roof Chapel in Cap Malheureux, Maheshwarnath Temple at Triolet Shival, the Victoria 1840 sugar cane factory and the Salt Pans at Tamarin. Keep an eye out for sega performances--during Mauritius's national dance, the feet never leave the ground, making for some very interesting body moves.
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Title Annotation:travel: gateway
Author:Scheuringer, Carina
Publication:Swiss News
Geographic Code:6MAUI
Date:Jul 1, 2012
Words:516
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