Specialising in catamaran excursions in Mauritius since 1992, Croisières Australes, a subsidiary of Rogers Aviation, offers fascinating dolphin-viewing trips off the western coast of Mauritius on board the Harris Wilson 1.
photos : croisières australes image bank
It’s early morning and the sprightly Harris Wilson I gently sets out from the Morne Anglers Club jetty, its bow cleaving through the clear, warm waters of the lagoon. The famous 60-foot-long catamaran was originally built to take part in the Route du Rhum solo regatta across the Atlantic with famous sailors such as Florence Arthaud and Jean Maurel at the helm.
With the imposing Morne Brabant Mountain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as the backdrop, the boat heads slowly towards Tamarin Bay. On one side, the ocean stretches all the way to the distant horizon and on the other, a picturesque coastline comes into view with small fishing villages nestling in the midst of diverse tropical landscapes. When the conditions are right, the bay offers one of the greatest experience ever, an encounter with a small school of dolphins whose playground it is. They are mainly spinner dolphins (Stenalla longirostris) and bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).
If one is lucky and players are in the mood, they’ll display themselves in their full glory – to everyone’s delight, however young or old they are. These sea mammals love playing around and have always fascinated people, sometimes too much. They are very vulnerable creatures, which is why the Tourism ministry brought in a code of conduct in 2006 setting out rules for the observation of these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
It is a code that Croisieres Australes’ catamarans follow to the letter in order to show proper respect to the dolphins. Based on International Whaling Commission rules, the code bans sudden changes in speed, sailing right up to the dolphins and making a racket to attract them. Boats should not cut them off in their tracks nor get any closer than 50 metres, and engines have to be at a standstill during observation periods. Feeding them is also forbidden as is throwing anything at them.
After this marvellous show, the Harris Wilson 1 eventually sets off in a south-westerly direction and anchors by the beach at La Preneuse, where ancient cannons stand on the beach, with the Martello Tower Museum just behind. The brief halt provides an opportunity to admire the rich marine life around the coral reef.
The next stage is the lagoon around Ile aux Benitiers, a coral sand islet just off the coast, popular with day trippers. It’s a great spot for swimming and the temptation to put on snorkel and flippers is almost overwhelming. Lunch is then served on board. By mid-afternoon it’s time to set sail again to return to the jetty in Black River. It’s always a pity that such trips have to end but there are plenty of happy memoires that will linger on for many a day.