I wonder how many of the locals have really considered visiting this off-the-beaten nature reserve located on the northeastern side of Mauritius. Well, it’s not like a hassle to reach this sombre forested area, cause it’s practically located smack on the main road, but very few, probably do not realize its rich biodiversity, which plays a significant role in regard to the fragile ecosystem of Mauritius. Bras d’Eau National Park actually forms part of the only 2 % of native forests that remain across the island, including the surrounding islets like Ile aux Aigrettes.
Besides being a wonderful nature retreat for nature lovers, the park is also home to the Mauritius Radio Telescope, which transforms radio wave signals to form digitized images of the Southern Celestial Hemisphere. Very few actually take advantage of the location (nearby beaches) to contemplate the Milky Way at night.
For sure attracting hordes of visitors over here might to some extent disrupt the environment, which of course we don’t really want that to happen. But it can, in turn, encourage nature lovers to become aware of the precious environmental resources. This green sanctuary is home to rare flora and fauna such as the orchid Oenellia polystachys, and the endemic Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher, also known as Coq de Bois (which the hiking trail is named after). Those who wish to learn more about these endemic species can take a tour at the visitor’s center.
A few meters away from the center lies the sprawling ancient remnants of the once colonial French settlement. Old remains of a railway track and a 19th-century sugar mill factory are things you don’t really get to see every day. This very place was once owned by Dr. Clément Ulcoq in 1840 and was later bought by the colonial government in 1901 in view to introduce alien tree species such as Eucalyptus, Tecoma, and Mahogany for commercial plantations. And in 2011 Bras d’Eau was designated as a National Park, where endemic species could be preserved. As per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Mauritius is ‘the third most threatened island flora in the world’, and 89% of the Mauritian flora is featured in the endangered list.
And there is no better way to understand the vital role of nature reserves like Bras d’Eau, than by hiking through the park and getting close to nature. It took us approximately 3 hours to enjoy the 5 km Coq des Bois Trail, which can be started right from the visitor’s center. Though there was limited information about the trail at the center, but thanks to the signposts along the way made tracking easier.
Before we headed to the other side of the road, we first scrutinized the map-board at the entrance to get a whole picture of the trail, but I must admit that Google Map came in handy. We began at the old stone-clad well marked as ‘Puit Francais’, where we took beautiful shots of the roofless circular wall decked by verdant ferns. After our short ‘snap session’ we passed through the picnic area and noticed the wooden signpost marked ‘Nature Trail’, which meant the beginning of the Coq des Bois Trail.
The next 30 minutes (up till a junction) promises us a therapeutic journey composed of a fusion of aromatic scents of Eucalyptus leaves, Pine trees, and musty smell from the moist wood and soil. We trod slowly through the forest while appreciating the rustic nature, though mosquito repellent could have helped to keep us away from the obnoxious mosquito bites. At this point I was thinking about the Wabi-Sabi philosophy, that is-learn to enjoy the imperfect nature.
Sometimes the hiking track was flat and grassy, while the other time it was rugged, the six of us walked abreast along the wide path which led us to a junction. There was an elevated signpost detailing the extended trail named ‘Coq de Bois Loop’. We took the extended trail in the hope to see the gorgeous endemic bird- Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher (which is about 40 in the area).
We kept on hiking along the way and saw the white helical antennas (radio telescope). And some few meters further we made it to the Mare Chevrettes-a place for a well-deserved break and to completely switch off from the frenetic routine life. After the break, we continued hiking until we found ourselves on a dirt path with a sign on a rock indicating the direction to Poste LaFayette Public Beach. As we walked forward, we could feel the light swishing air currents from the nearby sea, giving us a refreshing kind of sensation to our sweaty body. It was a good feeling indeed.
We spent a couple of minutes at the beach and returned on the same route. We hiked until we saw a signpost marked Visitor’s Center, we didn’t take that path, instead, we took the opposite path and followed the track to the main road, where lies a small Hindu temple. We took the left side and walked until we reached the Visitor’s Center.
Bras d’Eau National Park: Practical Information
Area of the National Park: 497.2 hectares (1,229 acres)
Starting point: Bras D’eau Visitor Center
Distance: 5 km (round trip)
Duration: Minimum of 2.5 hours
- You can visit the Sarcelle wetland which is outside the hiking trail.
- To encourage biodiversity, a plant nursery has been set up for the propagation of indigenous plants, whereby locals can purchase them.