Hiking the spectacular Le Morne mountain
The imposing Le Morne mountain in Mauritius is a difficult hike, but offers spectacular views of the surrounding lagoon - along with a fascinating, and tragic, history. Video: Craig Platt. The reporter travelled with assistance from Lux Resorts.
For most people, an escape to an island paradise – a place of palm trees, white sand beaches and warm tropical waters – is a chance to relax, unwind and do nothing for a few days.
But from the moment I saw Le Morne Brabant – a huge monolith on a Mauritian peninsula of the same name – I knew that my planned days of lazing by the beach would need to be put on hold, at least for one day. I needed to climb this spectacular geographical feature.
As it turns out, this striking sight is not the only natural wonder in this part of Mauritius. The peninsula sits on a lagoon, but at one point a gap in the reef gives way to open ocean and a deep trench has formed. The effect of this sudden drop-off, pulling water and silt into its depths, is the optical illusion of an underwater waterfall.
Although it can only really be seen from the air, the gap that causes it can easily be identified from the top of Le Morne, as I discovered on a morning hike up the mountain.
After a hearty breakfast at my accommodation, the luxurious Lux Le Morne resort, my guide Henri, a local, picked me up from the lobby and drove me to the foot of the mountain, where we joined another group of hikers for the climb.
Le Morne is not just a physically impressive sight, it also holds a fascinating history. Originally named Mount Triest by Dutch explorers, meaning "sadness", it was later renamed by French colonists as Le Morne, carrying a similar meaning.
And indeed, there is a sadness to the history of this mountain, though its connection to the name is coincidental.
Le Morne, with its excellent views of the surrounding countryside and abundant food sources, became a refuge for escaped slaves during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Slavery was abolished in 1835 after the British took control of the island from the French, but for the Le Morne refugees even this development brought tragedy. As Henri tells it, the British approached Le Morne to find the escaped slaves and break the news to them that slavery was over.
But the slaves on the slopes of the mountain, seeing the British approach and having no route of escape, chose to throw themselves from the rock rather than face becoming slaves again.
For this reason, Henri takes us up "the slave route" of Le Morne, an impressive, but at times challenging climb. It takes two hours to reach the top, 500 metres up, with the last section requiring us to scrambling up rocks using all four limbs.
It's well worth it though. We have a panoramic view of the lagoon, and can clearly see the coral reefs along with the drop off forming the underwater waterfall. Dozens of kite surfers ride the winds below, leaving behind a line of spray in their wake.
It must be one of the most beautiful views on one of the world's most beautiful islands, yet the original Dutch name remains fitting. This rugged, treacherous climb makes one think of the slaves that were forced to live in this harsh environment for years. The views were unlikely adequate compensation for their suffering.
Air Mauritius flies twice weekly from Perth to Mauritius (the airline will add a third weekly flight to this route from July 2017). See airmauritius.com
Rooms at Lux Le Morne start from $A1048 per night. Half board and full board rates are also available. The resort can arrange a variety of activities for guests, including the guided hike of Le Morne. See luxresorts.com/luxlemorne
See also: Lux Le Morne full review
The writer stayed with assistance from Lux Le Morne.