If you’re lucky enough to get to this island, you’ll want to do more than naval gaze in your hotel complex. There are plenty of eco adventures in Mauritius you can try, and a good starting point would be to go sea kayaking to Amber Island. It’s easy to do, environmentally-friendly and opens a door to one of the island’s most interesting eco-systems.
As with many a Mauritius adventure, you’ll need to plan ahead. The main roads around the island are excellent, it’s just difficult and time consuming if you want to use the local buses. The main road is the M2 which runs south to north across the island (Mauritius is just 65km long and 45km wide). Just before the M2 ends you can take the A5 headed to Grand Gaube on the north coast.
We joined our guides from local activity company Yemaya Adventures just short of Grand Gaube, in the nearby village of Goodlands. From there we jumped in their 4×4 and it was a 10-minute trip to the coast. Roads are mixed, track and tarmac, but it’s easy going and something your average hire car should easily survive.
We unloaded our kayaks on to the small beach and after a quick familiarisation we were off. Kayaks were a mix of single and double boats by Ocean Kayaks, some had tillers but most were basic, but still well suited to the trip.
The first human residents of Amber Island (Ile D’Ambre) were the survivors of a tragic tale. In 1744 a slave ship, the ‘Saint Geran’, ran aground on the nearby reef and only nine people made it to shore. Today it’s protected from development by local laws and kept under the close eye of the country’s agro-industry ministry.
The island – which is more of an islet – sits off the north east coast of Mauritus and is a short paddle (400m) from the jetty at Bain de Rosnay. It can be accessed by kayak or small boat at just a couple of landing points. As with other parts of Mauritius, Amber Island is packed with natural forms and species. Standing out from the more tropical banyans are tecoma and pine trees, which would look more at home in a European forest.
This divergence of flora and fauna in some way tells the tale of Mauritius: an island with an evolving patchwork history of colonial influence. The trees were brought here by the British, via Australia. Interestingly, Amber Island is also where it’s claimed the ill-fated Dodo was last sighted in 1662.
We crossed the open water into what felt like a mix of tide and wind. The going was easy once we got some momentum – and had sorted out the usual ‘who’ is doing what’ kayaking etiquette. First stop was the mangroves where we regrouped and rafted up the kayaks.
It’s here where the benefit of this Mauritius adventure trip sinks home. It’s eco-adventuring. No motors, no pollution, human-powered and a refreshing break from the watersports activities that dominate part of the Mauritian experience. And there’s a bonus: sea kayaking to Amber Island might be the advertised activity but along the way is one of the best eco adventures in Mauritius: kayaking through its mangrove forests.
I knew very little about mangroves before this trip; two hours later and I was intrigued. Somehow, mangroves can desalinate water. They draw the fresh water from the sea then excrete the salt through their leaves. They also act as nurseries for smaller fish and baby sharks in the summer.
The mangrove forest provides vital storm protection and sediment retention – it’s also essential to counter the effects of the coastal development that has accelerated with the rise in tourism. The benefits of protecting this forest are now widely known and fortunately its health is now closely monitored.
We skirted the forest’s fringe for a while before heading right through the mangrove. At times it was so narrow there was just space for one kayak, the vegetation growing up from the sea, curving overhead, creating tunnels that sheltered us from the midday sun.
The group reunited in small clearings of this watery forest before moving on for some snorkelling. Yes, if you go sea kayaking to Amber Island you can also go snorkelling.We left behind the life vests and went exploring the undersea side of the forest. A shoal of fish flashed across in front of me, then another. After this I expected to see many more. Well, it’s worth noting that there’s not always a lot to see. The water is easily murkied by your own movements and depending on which time of year it is, the fish action is to be found elsewhere. I’d still recommend it just for the mangroves. It was incredible to get so close, to follow their forms under the water and to rest up in their shade.
You can guarantee fresh fruit in Mauritius, especially if you like pineapple or coconut which is widely grown on the island. Our guides, Matthieu and Hemraz, cut up pineapple for us and we snacked on its sweet nectar – energy for the next phase of the trip: the paddle to Amber Island.
After no more than 20 minutes paddling we landed at a short, natural jetty before taking shelter in a small pagoda, just 20 metres from the shore. Shelter’s the right word as by midday the sun gets super strong – even in winter. Lashed up with suncream we took to the nature trail that crosses Amber Island.
Again it’s the natural diversity which amazes – Mauritius is known for it – and here you get the feeling of what the main island may have been like long before the tourist dollar poured in. That said, nature here has been given a recent helping hand: to keep the island thriving the forestry department has reintroduced a large number of endemic plants.
Most impressive are the banyans, with their distinctive supporting roots weaved together over decades. Others to look for include frangipani and casuarina trees. There’s also species found only on the island, including exotic birds, lizards and butterflies. It’s a fascinating place for the amateur ornithologist, as much as for the adventuring holidaymaker.
Returning from sea kayaking to Amber Island there was a genuine sense of excitement amongst the group, as if we had discovered something special. And the trip is just enough effort to be a challenge for a beginner, rewarding enough for anyone more familiar with kayaking looking for a snapshot of paradise or for one of the best eco adventures in Mauritius.
The success of small group adventures is always in part down to the guides. Yemaya Adventures were well prepared and super knowledgeable about the island, the wildlife and the mangroves, they also trusted we had a level of proficiency – or at least confidence. On this, it’s not an introduction to kayaking course and some people might be surprised how quickly they are on the water and underway. But, as the kayaks are open and the waters calm, it’s very doable for a first kayaking experience.
When sea kayaking to Amber Island our guides gave us space to enjoy our moment, leaving us with a genuine feeling of adventuring. This really made the trip as we learned so much and returned to the mainland keen to learn even more.
For more information about this trip as well as other sea kayaking, mountain biking and trekking activities, take a look at Yemaya Adventures.
Photo credits (1,2,4,6) @Julia Horbaschk