How Mauritius is changing holidays for the better
The race for environmentally friendly travel is on. And while British Airways moves forward with its Better World programme, we can all do our bit to make more eco-friendly choices when it comes to where – and how – we holiday. Here’s how reducing your carbon footprint doesn’t mean sacrificing luxurious days on the beach. Ally Wybrew reports
If you’re after a tropical island paradise with mineral blue seas, burnished sunsets and decadent luxury, you can have it all – and guilt-free – thanks to that other Indian Ocean gem: Mauritius. Not only does the island nation have top-tier holiday desirables in spades but, thanks to recent government directives, they come in a planet-friendly form.
Creating an (almost) carbon-free stay
In 2019, the Mauritian government launched a green initiative aimed at reducing the island’s carbon usage, make the country plastic free (by 2030), growing three of its endemic forests by 200-300 hectares each and achieving 35 per cent of its energy from renewable sources (by 2025) – and that’s just for starters. Not only is Mauritius a dream holiday destination, but many of its hotels, resorts and relaxation spots are the greenest ones around. On Mauritius’ south coast, the Heritage Le Telfair is everything you could look for in a luxury escape: five-star accommodation, superior service, four on-site restaurants (Asian-fusion Gin’ja is a highlight) – and it aims to deliver everything with as little impact on the planet as possible. Guests are offered a ‘carbon-neutral’ stay, meaning that, in theory, once you arrive, your carbon emissions are offset for the duration of your visit.
How are they doing it? The majority of the offset is achieved through carbon credits: working with AERA (Africa’s largest carbon credit scheme), the resort’s sustainability team calculates the average emissions per resident per year and purchases the equivalent in carbon credits. These go towards replanting trees in Mauritius and South Africa as well as other community-minded projects. In addition to this, the hotel has introduced a number of practices to ensure real-time emission reductions, including solar panelled water heating, stringent food waste practices and the repurposing of waste water to irrigate local gardens. Future plans include an all-electric vehicle fleet, self-sufficient energy and site-grown fruit and vegetables to supply all its restaurants. It’s on the way to becoming a self-sustainable hotel that offers all the comforts and amenities of a five-star getaway but with a far smaller carbon footprint.
Nature, wildlife and regeneration
A vast ecosystem exists across the 2000sqkm volcanic mass of Mauritius. In the north, beaches, agriculture and residences rule, while in the south, the mountain of La Morne, Black River Gorges National Park and the breezy coastline of Bel Ombre create a topography akin to Jurassic Park meets The Beach. The island remains abundant in flora (more than 200 types of palm tree and the rare ebony call it home), despite many species falling extinct due to over-farming in the last few centuries. Plans to restore some of this land by protecting what’s there and replanting lost endemic species are underway.
So far it seems to be working. Take a look at the 1,300-hectare Heritage Nature Reserve. The team here is transforming acres of dilapidated sugar cane fields into indigenous forest, replanting more than 30 species including mangroves, Ficus species and various palms, with an end game of linking the south coast and Black River Gorges National Park with native greenery, recreating the area as it would have been centuries ago. Dedicated locals help – tree trunks and branches throughout the reserve sport the tell-tale piping of termites doing their part by devouring the soft wood of non-indigenous trees and leaving endemic hardwood species to thrive. A carefully controlled herd of deer keeps the undergrowth in check while also supplying venison to local hotels and restaurants, while wild pigs, mongooses, fruit bats and various brightly coloured birds (including the rare echo parakeet) complete an eclectic ecosystem. Rangers here are keen to talk about their work, which visitors can absorb between waterfall bathing and woodland picnics, both part of guided quad bike, 4x4 or walking tours.
Intrepid explorers can head further along the coast to Black River Gorges National Park, where substantial hiking opportunities abound – including a trail through the last remaining portion of ebony forest on the island, as well as up to Mauritius’ highest point: Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire. Covering three per cent of the whole country and home to more than 300 species of flower, the park is laced with breathtaking viewpoints that reward determined hikers, whether they’re on half-hour jaunts or day-long trails.
Flavours of the Indian Ocean
Blending Indian, French and Creole cuisine, Mauritian food is often a delightful surprise for unassuming visitors. Palm-heart curry, meatball boulettes (dumplings), vegetable fried noodles and seafood straight from the ocean are just the tip of this flavour cornucopia, but creating taste-bud-blowing menus sustainably has its challenges. Chef Ravi Kanhye at Heritage Awali Hotel and Golf Resort is on a mission to make his menus as sustainable as possible. The hotel has signed a pledge to reduce food waste and begun a pilot process to maximise efficiency in the kitchen. Plate waste is being minimised by cooking as much to order as possible, reducing buffet plate sizes and using offcuts of fruit and vegetables to create foodstuffs such as syrup and jams. Non-edible food debris goes to pig farmers, while edible overmatter is delivered to local communities via a partnership with not-for-profit company Foodwise.
One of the biggest challenges with food sustainability is transportation, so sourcing ingredients locally is a high priority. Kanhye plans to source all his produce from the Indian Ocean soon, so certain foods such as salmon may be swapped for local options such as marlin, which helps to promote local cuisine, supports local businesses and reduces the food’s carbon footprint.
Further to go
While there’s a powerful drive to make Mauritius’ hospitality sector more sustainable, there’s still work to do, and, on the surface, popular activities such as golf may seem not to be on board. Yet things are looking up. A new golf course at Heritage Le Telfair aims to be GEO certified and sustained from waste water from the hotels’ villas (as well as 16 rainwater lakes), while courses everywhere are looking to improve their sustainability credentials in line with the government’s recommendations. And other eco-friendly activities are plentiful, including sunset yoga, e-bike exploration (try Explore Nou Zil) and snorkelling.
A fully sustainable Mauritius is a work in progress, but it is in progress (which isn’t a given when it comes to many popular holiday destinations). So, whatever you’re planning – a family trip, adventure break or romantic escape – chances are that Mauritius has it covered from every angle.
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