Mauritius Vacation GuideWritten by Andrew Muigai
Mauritius has successfully managed to position itself as an exotic beach destination. With beach destinations so plentiful, this has been sustained not by mere hype, but by substance there is to this claim. Visitors are drawn to Mauritius by reputation of its 140 km of white sand beaches, and superb opportunities for water sports. Swimming, beach combing, sailing, surfing, kayaking, diving and deep-sea fishing - there is a sport for almost everyone.
Arab traders discovered then uninhabited island in 10th century. But they were not charmed sufficiently to consider permanent settlement. The Portuguese early in sixteenth century landed, but they too passed over chance to lay claim for their king. But in 1598 Dutch finally seized opportunity. The island was grabbed for and named after Maurice, Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau -then ruler of Netherlands.
In century that followed, Dutch established settlements and devised means to live off land. They introduced sugar and tobacco, which they farmed using African slave labour. Sugar is today still an important part of economy. The Dutch were insensitive to extremely fragile ecosystem that makes up an isolated island such as Mauritius. On their watch, most of islands' indigenous forests were felled, and lost. The bird known as dodo was also shot to extinction. Thus did trigger-happy Dutch give life to expression "as dead as a dodo".
The Dutch courage that had made them pioneers was however not to last. They were subjected to many trials by forces of nature - cyclones, droughts and floods. And also by forces of man, for pirates were a constant headache. In 1710, they fled to more hospitable Cape of Good Hope, at Africa's southern tip. A short five years after Dutch left, French claimed island, and renamed it Isle de France.
The French were much more successful than Dutch in harnessing potential of island. They maintained law and order and laid foundations for administration of society. Under celebrated French Governor, Mahé de Labourdonnais, real nation building began. The French brought in more African slaves and expanded further sugar farming. They also laid out some social and economic infrastructure to support settlers. Port Louis, named after King Louis XV, and today capital of Mauritius, dates back to this period.
Though French had introduced systems of law and order, Port Louis turned out to be a favourite of corsairs. Corsairs were mercenary marine who specialised in plunder of ships on behalf of a client country. The British, a great sea power at time, had a vested interest in terminating power of these mercenaries. And that is how Mauritius, so far away from Europe, got involved in Napoleonic wars. In 1810, British backed by superior force of arms, persuaded French to leave island.
In 1814 Treaty of Paris, British - magnanimous victors indeed, allowed French settlers to remain in Mauritius. They too were allowed to retain their property, language, religion and legal system. The British reverted to name Dutch had given island, but Port Louis retained its name. But in century and a half that British ruled, they were never really as grounded as French had been.
Franco-Mauritians prospered on an agrarian economy based on slave labour. But in 1835, they felt capricious hand of a great power when slavery was abolished. This is perhaps single most important measure carried out under British rule, and consequences had a far-reaching effect on evolving demographics of nation. India, a British colony greatly abundant in human resources was answer to labour problem that arose. In years that followed, descendants of Indian labourers who came to work sugar fields greatly multiplied. The Chinese also came -as labourers and traders.
Today, Indo-Mauritians constitute close to 70% of population. As in other colonies in that historic period, and upto 1930's in Mauritius, non-whites had very limited say in running of country. And that is why Gandhi - that great liberator of men's minds, came to Mauritius in 1901, in particular to give heart to Indo-Mauritians. After years of protracted concessions to democratic rule, British finally bowed out in 1968, when finally granted independence.
The events we talk about above are however very recent. About eight million years ago, island emerged from depths of sea as result of volcanic activity. Occupying 1860 sq km, it is situated just above Tropic of Capricorn, 890 km to east of Madagascar. Rising from sea, central plateau formation is about 400 m above sea level. There are mountains scattered in island, and a few peaks, highest of which reaches 820 m.
As a country, Mauritius includes islands of Rodrigues and Agalega, Cargados Carajos Shoals and a few smaller mostly uninhabited islands. Mauritius is almost wholly ringed by a coral reef that is reputed to be worlds third largest. Both Dutch and French were extremely reckless in allowing uncontrolled invasion of indigenous forests. Today, less than 2% of these forests remain. Many of nearly 700 species of indigenous plants are threatened with extinction. Starting from late 1970's, a belated but systematic effort has been underway to conserve unique flora of island.
The wildlife faces similar dangers. In first place, animal migration to this isolated island was by air or sea only, greatly limiting diversity of species. The animals Dutch found included out-of-size reptiles and flightless birds. But except for bats, there were no mammals and no amphibians at all. The animals brought aboard ships by man include monkeys and rats - thanks to Portuguese, while Dutch take credit for deer and wild boar. Some of these animals threaten to choke life out of indigenous species - they eat their eggs, and even their young.
Mauritius is not all bad news for nature lovers' -there are plenty of birds and marine life is abundant. However, some of endemic bird species, such as Mauritius kestrel, echo parakeet and pink pigeon number not more than a few hundred. Such are now under some form of captive breeding program, with hope of raising their numbers.
KwaZulu-Natal- Shaka's Heaven on Earth Written by Andrew Muigai
The remarkable diversity of attractions of KwaZulu-Natal region is unsurpassed in South Africa. It encompasses splendid Drakensburg Mountains, sublime subtropical beaches, top rated nature and game reserves, historic battlefields, rolling green hills of Natal Midlands and city of Durban. The range of activities possible is a challenge even for those with most eclectic of tastes: swimming, fishing, boating, scuba diving, hiking, abseiling, game viewing, cultural and historical touring, whale and bird watching and golfing.
Warmer and more authentic South Africa than Cape Region, KwaZulu-Natal is favourite holiday destination for locals. The region lies between Drakensberg Mountains and Swaziland to west; Indian Ocean to east stretching from Port Edward in south to Mozambique border in north. As you transition from a subtropical to tropical environment, you encounter cool mountain ranges, savannah grassland, coral reefs, indigenous coastal forest and dunes, lakes and lagoons and papyrus wetlands. Here 9 million people occupy 92,000 sq km of some fairest and best-watered lands in South Africa.
Little wonder that Zulu, or "people of heaven" considered area a heaven on earth indeed, and were extremely jealous of late comers who sought a share of it. And yet Zulu people themselves had arrived only in 16th century. Their ancestors, Nguni, had been pushing southwards from Great Lakes region for at least three thousand years. The land was inhabited- if you could use term- by San Bushmen. This hunter-gatherer society was very sparing in its demands on land. The arrival of Nguni, a people with numerous cattle herds and great thirst for land, put Bushman under great stress and severe disadvantage.
The Zulu derive directly from a clan head of Nguni named "Heaven" or Zulu, who established a territory bearing his own name or KwaZulu in Umfolozi valley. The Zulu was a fairly insignificant power, even among Nguni, until arrival of Shaka Zulu. Shaka, born in 1787, was first-born son to Chief Senzangakhona, but was considered illegitimate on account of a technicality. Shaka eventually corrected this injustice by plotting death of his younger brother - legitimate heir. He thus rose to be chief of his people when his father died in 1816.
Shaka was a man gifted with great daring, cunning and imagination. He repulsed numerous attacks by Ndwandwe- a rival and more militarily superior Nguni people, eventually forcing enemy to flee northwards. Shaka appreciated that Ndwandwe would be back unless he created conditions to make it impossible. Above all else a military leader, he devised such weaponry, battle tactics and training methods that resulted in an unbeatable army among known enemies of day. By numerous treacherous devices -war, assassination, deceit and intimidation - he subdued smaller and larger clans, and gathered all to his realm.
Within three years to 1819, Zulu nation emerged as largest and most feared in whole of southeastern Africa. And Shaka, now King Shaka, was sitting pretty as its head. His success had however caused unprecedented mayhem in region, and aroused bitter jealousy amongst his ambitious compatriots. He also ruled with an iron fist and was such a tyrant as had never risen before among Zulu. Shaka was speared to death by Dingane -his half brother, in 1824. The Zulu kingdom survived him, but his legacy was to be severely tested, later n century in conflicts with new rivals - British and Boers.
The British had approached Shaka, shortly before his death, for trading rights in ivory and animal skins. Shaka signed a document granting them chieftaincy of Port Natal, their small base on east coast. In a very liberal and rather dishonest interpretation of Shaka's intentions, they claimed Port Natal area in name of King of England. Port Natal is today known to most as Durban -and to locals as "Durbs". The city is gateway and business hub of KwaZulu-Natal, and logical starting point for exploring region.Its port ranks among world's top 10, and is busiest on African continent. To discover KwaZulu-Natal, rent a car at Durban or take a South Africa tour or safari that covers region.
Durban's weather is mild and pleasant - temperatures average 17 degrees C in winter (June-August) and 27 degrees C in summer (December to February). Holidaymakers are favoured with sea temperatures averaging 24 degrees C in summer rarely falling below 19 degrees C in winter. This coastal playground enjoys at least a good 320 days of sunshine every year. The rains come over summer months, when it can get quite hot and humid, with temperatures reaching for 33 degrees C. Long before everybody else, San Bushmen wintered in Durban, taking advantage of excellent climate relative to their inland domains.
"The Golden Mile" is a 6 km long waterfront lined with some of Durban's top rated hotels. The city has some of finest beaches in country. Good beaches for swimming and surfing can be found to south of city- Ansteys, Brighton, Cave Rock, and Garvies. To north- Country Club, Tekwini, and Laguna beaches are more exclusive and less crowded. Within city, you can visit museums and art galleries and shop for crafts. The Kwa-Muhle museum will educate you about Apartheid, which is important if you want to understand South African society.
There are numerous restaurants- Indian, African and Western - in this cosmopolitan city. The Indians started coming here in 1860 as indentured labour for sugar plantations. Today, Durban metro area has largest Indian population outside India. Durban stands between North and South Coast of South Africa's eastern seaboard. The North Coast beaches include Umhlanga Rocks, Ballito, Shaka's Rock and Shelley Beach. Here you find good accommodation and myriad opportunities for swimming and surfing. Around Ballito is great for watching ever-fascinating dolphins.
The South Coast stretches from Durban to Port Edward and covers Hibberdene, Port Shepstone, Margate and Southbroom. The region has fantastic beaches and matching amenities. Between Port Edward and Hibberdene is scene of sardine run. This most spectacular display of natural world occurs around June and July. It is triggered by a 4-5 degrees C drop in sea temperature that prompts millions of sardines in great shoals to head northwards. On this dash, game fish, dolphins, sharks, whales and others of their mortal enemies follow. This unforgettable experience appears to be marine world's answer to annual wildebeest migration on Kenya-Tanzania border.