From Cooking to Kite Surfing – Top things to do on the Island of Rodrigues:
There were blank faces all round when I started to tell friends I was planning to visit Rodrigues Island. About the same size as Jersey CI at just 108 km sq, I was promised a tropical island set in the Indian Ocean with sandy beaches, coral reefs and crystal blue seas. It’s 560 kilometres east of its nearest neighbour, Mauritius and has much in common with its better-known cousin. It is part of the Mascarene Islands which include Mauritius Island and Réunion – formed from underwater volcanic eruptions some eight million years ago. And, although it is part of the Republic of Mauritius, it gained autonomous status in 2002, and it is governed by the Rodrigues Regional Assembly. Yet, there was little to read about Rodrigues – no resort reviews and just 6 hotels and 43 bed and breakfasts listed on Trip Advisor. And, a few people I knew who had visited Mauritius were dubious. What was there to do on Rodrigues? Would there be a catch I wondered, to what sounded like the ultimate island paradise?
After a long journey via Mauritius, I arrived at Plaine Corail airport in Rodrigues in the early evening to large signs reminding me that plastic bags were banned on the island.
Driving across the island in the half-light we learnt a little more. Rodrigues Island is self-sustaining, the people grow everything from spices to coffee and from vegetables to small green lemons which are unique to the island and which are widely used in cooking, to make a non-alcoholic lemonade and, I quickly discovered, to make a delicious rum punch called Ti’Punch – made on the island with lemons, not lime.
Rodrigues even exports meat to Mauritius. And, the island is very eco-conscious – the plastic bag ban will be followed by plastic bottles and straws. There are signs reminding everyone that the island can suffer from water shortages too – large concrete storage tanks outside the houses are used to hold water when necessary and most public venues ask you to be careful when bathing.
But, when we visited there had been plenty of rain and the island was green and verdant. On the first morning, I woke to discover the crystal clear seas that surround the island. My hotel was, literally, on the beach and morning alarm call for me was hungry and noisy sea birds exploring my balcony and interrupting the gentle lapping of the waves some 200 yards from the window.
Unlike sister island Mauritius, hospitality in Rodrigues is predominately home-grown. There are no large resorts and no chain hotels and there is a wealth of accommodation categorised as Bed and Breakfast or Self Catering. What’s more, restaurants are generally small, intimate affairs or if you really want to get under the skin of Rodrigues, an option for Table D’Hote dining, where you can eat in the homes of local families. WiFi works intermittently, it’s dependent on a satellite service and anyone aiming to stream movies or play online games may be disappointed. In short, this is somewhere to come and detox from 21st Century living. If you prefer, doing nothing in particular is an attractive option here. It’s the kind of island paradise where time stops still and you could just sit on the beach with a book, undisturbed for a few days.
But, despite the digital detox if you want to explore you really will struggle to get bored here. The island has a wealth of activities – whether you want to relax or have a more active stay. And, there’s an endearing honesty about the people of Rodrigues that makes it hard to miss the wifi or complain about the lack of flat screen TVs.
What would you like to try? For those of a gentle disposition, you can learn to cook and bake Rodrigues style. The women of the island have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and you’ll find people like Mrs Manan who will take you into their home kitchens and show you how they bake the island’s signature pain d’epices (a kind of gingerbread) and various pastries which are sold in the airport and across the island.
Interested in ornithology zoology or botany? Take a trip out to Ile aux Cocos or to the southern islets for a wealth of plant species and, on Ile Aux Cocos a remarkable insight into the life of the four birds species who ‘own’ this island and are protected by human guardians who stay in a beach chalet to make sure no-one disturbs the habitat of the birds.
Or visit the Francois Leguat giant tortoise reserve. I’ll be writing more about our own experiences and the background to these and more places to explore in detail in a later post.
There are also some great hikes around the island – we all enjoyed walking around the crics (creeks surrounded by craggy cliffs and sandy beaches) at Trou d’Argent but had there been more time, I’d have gone exploring the honey cultivation as part of the treck from Baie Topaze to Cascade Jean Louis and Piment. There are hikes from 5k up to 14k, taking you right across the island
For those looking for an adrenaline buzz, you can zip line on the 4th longest zipline in the world – 400 metres across three lush green valleys at Tyrodrig Montagne Charlot. Or take a dive from the rope bridge at Cascade Pistache where, if you think walking across the rope bridge is a piece of cake and want more, you can literally jump straight down.
Want to learn to kite surf, snorkel or scuba dive? there are dive centres and watersports schools across Rodrigues – and the quiet lagoon and coral reef surrounding the island provide the perfect place for beginners through to more experienced divers to explore. For those snorkelling, the reefs are a shallow haven for fish and living corals, while divers can head for the deeper waters of the lagoon.
The waters are generally warm falling no lower than 22c in August and rising to 29 or 30c in March. Whether you just want to paddle along the shoreline or go in search of some of the plentiful marine life and corals, it’s hard to avoid some kind of sea adventure when you visit Rodrigues. You may initially wonder why the hotel pools are so empty. But after a day or two, it’s easy enough to understand – the sea is clean and safe for swimming and the sandy beaches are generally deserted. Nature’s own swimming pool seems a lot more pleasant when it is not overpopulated by humans or polluted by their plastics.
Tempted? I’ll be telling you more about our unique experiences on Rodrigues in later posts – and giving you ideas about where to stay and how to reach this secret paradise.
Right now, I’m focussing on how I can possibly find an excuse to go back because Rodrigues is somewhere I’d like to get to know a lot, lot better and I am sure will feature on one of our top places to visit for 2018
Thinking of visiting yourself? Why not pin this post for later
I was a guest of Tourism Rodrigues on this trip.
I flew to Rodrigues Island via Mauritius with Air Mauritius. There are direct flights from London to Mauritius with Air Mauritius four times a week and further daily flights from London via Paris or Amsterdam. Connecting flights from Mauritius to Rodrigues depart three times a day.