Catamaran-Trip to the Ilot Gabriel
For many vacationers, a holiday in Mauritius is a visit to paradise. But those who are looking for the real paradise of the island Mauritius, that offers a lot, starting from dream beaches up to the big city Port Louis that is stressful and polluted by waste gas, I recommend a day excursion to the island Ilot Gabriel that is located at the north. On this island that is under natural protection one really finds a piece of paradise like no other.
The best way to get to this island is by catamaran starting from Grand Baie. The catamaran-trip takes approximately 1,5 hours and is already a spectacle of its own. The adjacent map shows (amplified)the tour of the catamaran trip.
The Islands at the Northern Coasts of Mauritius
Those who are having their holidays in the north of the island or make an excursion to the northern part of the island will see Coin de Mire as the first big island that is at a distance of approximately 4 km from the main island. A huge rock majestically rises up to a height of 163 m in order to fall steeply into the sea at the west side. Coin de Mire is inhabitated and very easy to access. Those who pass the island by ship know why: the seawaves break with a huge impact against the rock faces, the water sputters umpteem metres high up the rock. This is not a friendly spot for an excursion!
To the contrary, the islands located in the further north, Ilot Gabriel and Ile Plate, are very friendly, we do find here paradise on earth! Both islands are at a distance of approximately 7 km from the island Coin de Mire, but the distance from each other is of only a few hundred metres. Ilot Gabriel and Ile Plate are surrounded by a common coral reef, so that the sea between both islands is very calmed and if the tide is low, one can even hike from one island to the other one. Both islands and also the island Coin de Mire are under natural protection, which means that here, it is not allowed to carry out agricultural activities, neither hotels, restaurants, or the like can be arranged.
As already said before, both islands Ile Plate and Ilot Gabriel are surrounded by a common coral reef; in the interior of the reef, that means also between both islands, there is a dream underwater world to discover. Here, some colourful fishes live undisturbed in corals of several metres height and of the most beautiful kind - a paradise for snorkeling tourists. But what is to be considered is that between both islands there is a strong current. Thus, there is no need to do a single flap with the fin to glide unhurriedly over the marvelous beautiful corals with the many fishes and fish flocks. But in order to swim back against the current, one needs all the force of the legs and arms, and of course a little stamina.
But the islands Ile Plate and Ilot Gabriel are not only a paradise for snorkeling tourists but also for very normal beach lovers. Both islands have dream beaches with a fascinating view to both of the reef sides, the neighboring islands and of course the main island Mauritius. Except the already mentioned Coin de Mire, we find as further two neighboured the round island Ile Ronde as also the snake island Ile aux Serpents. The Ile Ronde is realy circular, but strangely we do not find one single snake in the snake island. Rather in the Ile Ronde some local boas of a length of several metres live, which kind does not exist anywhere else in the world. These two islands are also under natural protection.
How does one actually get to these both paradisiac islands Ilot Gabriel and Ile Plate? Some catamarans start from the north of the island for a day excursion into this island paradise. We have made such an catamaran tour, and in the following chapter, I describe this unforgettable experience.
With the Catamaran to the Ilot Gabriel
In each hotel of Mauritius, the travel agencies offer in their excursion program a catamaran trip to the island Gabriel. The catamarans mostly start from the bathing resort Grand Baie. Those who walk alongside the boardwalk of Grand Baie, will see several of such catamarans of different sizes in the water. We did not book our catamaran excursion at our travel agency in the hotel but right at a small office in Grand Baie. The price including the transfer to Grand Baie was lower than the price of our travel agency, but therefore we were not taken in a minibus but in private cars to the harbour and back to the hotel.
Our catamaran, the Coral Belle, had a length of 45 foot, thus approximately 13,5 m and therewith it belonged to the bigger ones of its kind. We accessed the ship in the morning around 09.30 a.m.; A crew of five persons friendly welcomed us and 20 other passengers. One crew member collected all the shoes of the passengers and put them in a big box, as on board, people should walk with bare feet. A second crew member jumped wildly around with a digital camera and took a picture of every scene, starting from the welcoming by the captain up to the access to the boat.
Our catamaran had a maximum capacity of 45 persons; the shipowner said to me that he voluntarily limited the number to 35 persons in order to offer the best possible comfort to the passengers. But I have to say that with 22 people, the catamaran seemed to me already full, a few more and the comfort would be already over. This is why I straight give the following tip: those who book such a catamaran trip should get immediately informed how full the ship will possibly get. I have heard about catamaran trips were it was so crowded that the people even had to switch to the yawls in order to get a seat during the lunch time. Of course, in this case there is no comfort at all.
Thus, after all passengers found their places, we casted off and left the bay Grand Baie. As we were among the last passengers who accessed the ship, the only free places left were the ones at the very front so that we were going backwards. Of course, we had the better view to the front if we turned, but our seats also had a huge disadvantage I will explain later on. While during the first quarter of an hour we are still navigating within the coral reef, the captain greets us in French and English language and give us some explanations, the most important one: the ship bar with all kinds of drinks, from coke up to beer, from wine up to a cocktail, is opened during the whole day, everything is, of course, included in the price. Moreover, the toilets are to be handled in a slightly different way than in the hotels, but we still get it. I only wonder why he insists so much in getting the rucksacks under the deck so that they do not get wet. I think that this is completely needless, and also I would like to have my stuff with me; We are finally sitting one metre over the water surface and the sea is calmed.
No Way! While the navigation up to the reef limit was as calmed as a harbour sight seeing trip, some minutes later, we find ourselves in the high seas. The captain truns off the motor and raises the two big sails. From now, we are drifted witzh the wind through the waves. During the raising of the sails we rapidly notice the impact with which the south-east wind drifts us forward. While in the beginning, we gaze at the waves heighted more than 1 m, the adventure starts the closer we get to the island Coin de Mire. As here outside, the sea tears the waves to a height of up to 3-4 m and a funny swing trip begins. I was not informed until afterwards that the smaller catamarans did not navigate this day due to the sea disturbance, only our one and the bigger cataran Harris Wilson were on the way.
What was fascinating is that the catamaran could handle these huge waves. It went up and down and everything that was not firmly fixed was moving in the ship. Now it also became clear to me why we had to take opur rucksacks downwards; Now, coming back to our seats at the very front of the ship: while at the beginning they were only some little splashes, in the course of the trip some complete water fountains were approaching us; the seats at the background were spared from that. I soon noticed that t-shirt and shorts became needless, so that the fun continued in bathing trunks. Very important: to apply sun lotion, as the sun extraordinarily burns down to one, and one does not notice it as one is permanently cooled by the wind blast.
The navigation up to the Ilot Gabriel takes approximately 1,5 hours and, to be honest, we are a little relieved after the end of this wave spectacle and we land on calmed waters. We circumnavigate the island Coin de Mire and enjoy, in spite of the waves, the view to the spectacular rock face. Then we come increasingly closer to the two islands Ile Plate and Ilot Gabriel. The crew has a lot of trouble in maneuvering the wide catamaran through the breaking waves at the edge of the reef between both islands, but they excellent cope with the task.
What we see then can be hardly described with words. We are situated between two small islands, dream beaches at the right and the left side, in between on a few hundred metres shallow and crystal clear water with some big coral reef communities, and in front of us as also behind us some waves of a height of several metres overturn at the reef edge. We really navigated into a small piece of paradise and we hardly can believe what we see there. While we enjoy the good sound of the stereo of our catamaran and help ourselves at the board bar, we look around full of fascination and are simply amazed.
The crew gives us some details concerning the circumstances of the currents and the wind, then we get into the fins, put the diving goggles on and get into the water. Already in the normal waters with sand ground we see more coloured fishes as I saw until then in other beaches. But there are only a few metres until we are situated above the corals heighted several metres. There, we find an underwater world that cannot be expressed in words: gorgeos corals, sometimes mushroom-shaped, sometimes cabbage-shaped, sometimes stick-shaped, sometimes fan-shaped; colourful fishes as they were painted with fluorescent colours, whole flocks of fishes swimming around one, simply a dream.
We stay for a good hour in the water in order to sunbath afterwards on the beach. Then we swim back to our catamaran where the lunch is waiting for us. By the way, those who want to go straight to the beach are taken by the crew in a rubber boat, thus there is no need to swim over. Around 01.30 p.m. we get our lunch in form of a buffet in the catamaran. There are 5 different salads and freshly made barbecued fish and chicken. In addition, of course, beer, wine and drinks as much as wanted. Unfortunately, the fish and the chicken were already cold, as one was not served right from the barbecue but the crew previously made the barbecue while we were still in the water. But the food was still good and abundant; Everybody get stuffed and nobody wanted to eat too much as we still has the trip back through these heavy waters before us...
After eating we listened to some live-music from the crew, it was very funny and entertaining, but when the passengers were asked to dance, the majority let on about the heaviness and dullness of the food. After that, we snorkeled, swam and went to the beach for another round before we started to return. This time, we sat at the very back of the ship where we did not get one splash, other guests lied straight in the big meshes in order to get as much sun and water as possible.
On the trip back, we enjoy the view backwards to the two dream islands, gaze at the high sea with its waves of a height of several metres and look with a high respect to the rock face heighted 163 m of the island Coin de Mire. Some of the passengers apparently misunderstood the crew insofar that the house bar had to be completely emptied. Thus, the crew served cold beer and drinks until shortly before the port entrance in Grand Baie. A dream day is ending. The trip with the catamaran was a spectacular adventure, the stay on the island Gabriel equaled a visit to an island paradise, I will never forget the underwater world that we admired, the atmosphere on board was good, the crew was extremely friendly and we say good-bye by throwing a generous tip into the crew cash.
But on the trip back there was a small disappointment that was that the many pictures that a crew member took during the trip could be purchased for approximately 40 €. For most of the passengers, this was too heavy and disappointing insofar that many did not take some own pictures by thinking that everything was included. Here, some admeasurement would have been adequate.
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Copyright: Patrick Wagner, www.tourist-guide.biz