Nestled in the southwest of the island in the heart of the Heritage Bel Ombre, Heritage Nature Reserve extends over 1 300 hectares. The reserve, abundant in endemic species and landscapes of lush green vegetation, is a haven of peace for nature lovers.
Repurposing the remnants of a lost sugar mill
Frederica Estate was created in 1823, and the sugar factory of the same name was constructed 22 years later. Despite its success, the factory closed in 1874 due to its isolated location in the mountains. From there on, its harvest was processed at the Bel Ombre sugar mill, which continued its activities until the early 2000s. This gave way to an extensive reforestation programme and thus, the nature reserve was born.
Discovering the reserve
Upon arrival, Zino, one of the reserve’s oldest guides, warmly welcomes us. He tells us about the various endemic and rare species that live in the forest, including the Mauritius parakeet and the Mauritian ebony. “The Mauritian ebony almost became extinct because of its overexploitation by the Dutch people who inhabited the island in the 17th century,” Zino explains. “It was essentially used for the creation of furniture and piano keys.”
After this brief overview, our guide allows us to choose our means of transportation for the tour: the “Discovery” route on quad, buggy, 4 wheel drive; or the “Adventure” route on foot. We chose to take a ride in the 4 wheel drive, on which the tour takes approximately two hours.
Throughout our visit, we see several herds of the majestic Java deer. “The Java deer were introduced to Mauritius by the Dutch people in 1639,” Zino specifies. “August is their mating period, an adult deer can mate with 25 to 30 doe.”
Our vehicle makes a stop at the top of a hill that overlooks the valley. The view is nothing less than spectacular. We spot white-tailed tropicbirds, pink pigeons and kestrels gliding. The harmony of the colours of the ocean and the rich, green reserve is certainly a sight to behold.
Zino gives us details on the various endemic and exotic species we come accross during the tour. We learn that the French introduced the white-barked black ebony tree to Mauritius for the manufacturing of matches. When he shows us the Mauritian Cardinal, an endemic passerine bird with a hood of red plumage, Zino warns “it should not be confused with the cardinal of Madagascar that has red plumage from the head down to its legs.”
Immersion into the heart of the forest
At the entrance of the forest, a Mauritius parakeet pokes fun at us. “He likes teasing visitors,” jokes Zino. “We call him Pedro! All the guides know him here. He was found in poor condition when he was a chick, a scientist took care of him and he managed to recover.”
In the forest, our eyes in the sky, we admire the massive hundred-year-old trees: black ebony, bois de natte, fandia, and red-seeded black ebony, among others. Zino shows us the dragon blood, a tree sap that turns red when it comes into contact with oxygen. “A long time ago, this sap was used to stop bleeding and disinfect wounds,” he mentions.
We continue the trip on foot to reach the waterfall. It’s serenity at its best, complemented by the echo of the flowing water. On the way back to the 4 wheel drive, we catch sight of artificial nests that the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation installed for the parakeets. “They were crafted in such a way so as to stop predators from eating the parakeet’s eggs,” our guide specifies. Nearby, we can spot a plant that’s known by the name ‘lizard legs’. “It grows only in places where the air and the earth are pure,” Zino says. On our way back, we also see wild boars in the middle of a nap. All things considered, this could be a metaphor of what we saw all along the tour: life going on in absolute tranquillity.