Mauritius: oceans away.

Author:Scheuringer, Carina
Position:Travel: gateway
 
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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...

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