Rodrigues is an island that needs to be discovered on foot, whether it is an inland trip or a trip along the edge of the lagoon. The charms and secrets of the island will gradually unfold themselves while you roam through the numerous paths that criss-cross its lands. As the natives often use these roads, this represents a good opportunity to meet them and to know better the shy yet welcoming people of Rodrigues. Also, it is common to observe, well hidden in the vegetation, the local fauna: insects, birds, bats or simply to come across cows, goats, pigs and sheep enjoying their freedom!
The relatively small size of Rodrigues allows a complete tour of the island using the coastal paths. As such, we will accede a marvelous nature after a multitude of sharp turns and efforts as the littoral is winding and the relief quite steep, but the reward, in the form of a heavenly beach, is clearly worth the trip.
By carrying out daily 10 km stages, it is possible to tour the island of Rodrigues in 5 days (refer to map). There are some hikes, however, which will be longer. To spare some efforts, you can still skip some stages and hop into a pirogue or a bus. It is easy to track down a fisherman who is willing to carry you over a few kilometers in a pirogue or to halt down a bus along the side of the road. But, here also, you will have to put up with the sun, which beats down really hard, especially in summer.
From Port Mathurin to Pointe Coton
Port Mathurin - Anse aux Anglais - Grand Baie - Baladirou - Rivière Banane - Pointe Coton - Distance: 12 km
Port Mathurin, the capital and unique harbour of the island, is the head start of our outing. Following the road leading to the east of the island, we come across Anse aux Anglais, cherished by the grandfather of Jean-Marie Le Clézio who ceaselessly searched during 30 years the improbable treasure of the pirate, “La Buse” (cf. Le chercheur d’or, J. -M. Le Clézio). Today, the village is different, without any significant charm, we will only be passing through without stopping (besides, it is possible to make the trip Port Mathurin - Grand Baie by bus). The downhill trip to Grand-Baie is more enthralling: it unveils a beautiful cove nestled in a gully. Pirogues are abandoned on the sand, waiting for the high tide. The children are having fun in hunting down the fishes trapped in the water puddles. On the other extremity of the beach, we take a small path, which will lead us, further away from the rare habitats of Grand Baie. After 45 minutes walking under a scorching sun, we finally reach Baladirou and its big golden beach lined with casuarinas, which finally provided us with some shade. A short rest is imperative!
Leaving Baladirou and the place’s invitation to a sweet idleness, Rivière Banane welcomes us with its plantations of vegetables: eggplants, chillies, tomatoes, lettuces, pipengailles... Since dawn, people have been working laboriously, some live on the spot itself in small huts built with corrugated iron sheets. This is the case of Angélique, who welcomes us warmly in her plantation. Wearing a large hat braided with the leaves of vacoas, she is removing the weeds from her lettuce field with her hands now callous from years of labour. Angélique narrates us her daily life, the difficulties of her work, her fear of cyclones that can destroy all her efforts in a single moment. Every Saturday, she sells her vegetables at the market of Port Mathurin, and as such, the money collected allows her to live with her family at the bottom of the valley of Rivière Banane. Away from everything, forgotten by all. Thank you Angélique for having kindly shared with us this moment of your life!
We are now following a small path carved on the summit of a cliff to finally discover the welcoming bay of Pointe Coton, the goal of our outing. The surrounding hills, exposed to the winds, are strewn with dried grasses that have been yellowed from the sun. Some cows are grazing in the shade of a fine-looking tropical tree, the vacoas. Basalt lumps are scattered in the fields: a proof of some ancient volcanic activity. The scenery is harsh, plain, and not much welcoming, but nevertheless, pleasing. A strange feeling.
On the beach at Pointe Coton, the wind is blowing in the casuarinas. The roaring of the waves crashing on the coral reef is incessant, relaxing and disturbing at the same time: here, in winter, the sea is rough beyond the reef. It gets so rough that fishermen hardly ever venture out, preferring to fish sheltered from the waves and the violent currents in the vast lagoon, which is a gigantic “fish tank”.
From Pointe Coton to Anse Mourouk
Pointe Coton - Saint François - Anse Philibert - Gravier - Anse Mourouk - Distance: 9 km
The coastline from Pointe Coton to Port Sud-Est is decorated with magnificent beaches, especially the one found at St-Francois: a long desert curve shaded by a forest of casuarinas. A small road, some settlements hidden in the vegetation and a handful of pirogues by the seaside is the only vestige of the presence of Man. The southeast coast, wholly preserved, is a wild and practically uninhabited area. We walk along the seaside under the heat of the sun. The landscape is evolving as we progress: after the mildness of the beach, it is now unfolding into a jagged and desolate rocky coast. The structure of the land is very uneven; rocks are easily crumbled beneath our steps. Soil erosion and the assaults of the sea during storms and cyclones have gnawed at the rock till whole blocks of it fell in the lagoon. The south winds have moulded the vegetation, the shrubs are distorted and irreparably flattened by the harshness of Aeolus, god of the winds. The coast is arid but captivates the mind.
None of the roads lead to the numerous small creeks hidden along the length of the littoral and which are considered to be true gems of Nature. Each cove is an invitation to swimming; especially Anse Philibert (Philibert Cove), which we discovered, nestled in between two cliffs, from the top of which, we kept on admiring the sea without ever getting enough of the view. It is difficult to resist and proceed on without stopping here. Beware, however, of the treacherous currents. We find ourselves in such a recluse universe that the swirls of modern life fade away as if by magic. We would have been quite tempted to stay here, dreamy and idle, in this small heavenly cove, but there is no shade which can shelter us from the sun nor any lodging where we can grab something to eat. It is high time therefore to take to the road again to discover other similar sumptuous beaches: Trou d’Argent, Anse Bouteille, Pointe Roche Noire... Finally, we reach the area of Gravier, the beaches, still as desert as ever, are linked together, then, some habitations and shops appear, these are the first signs of “civilization”! Our hike is to end at Anse Mourouk, which looms into view after we have taken a small path overhanging the sea. In winter, this windy region is paradise for the wind-surfers. We observe them struggling with the elements against the background of the amazing Hermitage Island and its shark-shaped relief.
The hike from Pointe Coton to Anse Mourouk is undoubtedly the most spectacular one of the island. It is specially reserved for those who like solitude, and for those who wish to be in harmony with the sea and nature...
From Anse Mourouk to Petites Buttes
Anse Mourouk - Port Sud-Est - Tamarin - Rivière Coco - Petite Butte - Distance: 10 km
We reach Port Sud-Est rapidly, soon after leaving behind the beautiful beach of Anse Mourouk. On the way, we are surprised to come across a football field immersed in 30-cm-deep water. It seems that this site is practicable only at low tide, unless the people of Rodrigues use it for Water-Polo games at high tide! Afterwards, it is the turn of “Chez Pierrette”, a small beauty parlour that looked as if it can accommodate only one client at a time, provided the hairdresser stays on the threshold! The people of Rodrigues really seem to adapt to all circumstances with a good sense of humour.
The main activity of Port Sud-Est is fishing just like most of the coastal villages. When they are not seine-fishing, the fishermen, on their own, venture out to sea to settle their pots in the lagoon. For lack of a motor engine, they propel their boat forward with the help of a long stick, bringing to mind the Venetian in their gondola. This region is also the kingdom of the octopus fisherwomen. In the morning, it is common to see them getting back to the coast with their booty that they will sell directly on the beach.
From Port Sud-Est till Petites Buttes, the beaches are more sparsely scattered. The littoral is less pleasing but is not lacking in interest. Octopuses are drying on the roofs of small houses or on the beach, hanging from wooden structures, similar to suspenders at the mercy of the wind. A surprising scene.
At Petites Buttes, just at the point where the road deviates from the coastline, the first street to the left leads us towards Plaine Corail. This “plain” is really a gigantic piece of coral, which long ago, came out of the water following the tectonic tremors, a distant memory of some volcanic activity. The place leads us on the discovery of ancient coral quarries, which offer a small degree of tourist appeal since they are no longer exploited. Long ago, the people of Rodrigues used this same natural resource in the construction of their houses. Under a scorching sun, workers had to saw huge blocks before shaping out the required bricks. This activity ended due to ecological issues (soil erosion). If you still feel like it, it is better to push forward to Caverne Patate so as to explore this long cave (a prior authorisation is needed from the administration of Port Mathurin).
Petite Butte - Baie du Nord (via Plaine Mapou)
Petite Butte - La Ferme - Baie Topaze - Plaine Mapou - Ile Catherine - Pointe La Fourche - Baie Pistache - Baie du Nord - Total distance: about 20 km - Distance to walk: 10 km
The road leading to Baie Topaze is quite lengthy and rough. Our advice is to make the journey by bus. The road climbing inlands from Petite Butte offers some beautiful sceneries of the coast of Port Sud-Est. At “La Ferme”, we walk past the stadium, which welcomed in 1989 Pope Jean-Paul II and the quasi-totality of the inhabitants of the island. It’s only at Bay Topaze that we begin our hike. Here, the scenery has a peaceful country-life atmosphere about it. Farmers are working laboriously in their fields while the cows are grazing in all freedom. Further away, an impressive pig is guarding a disused house, stray dogs are fighting and above us, large yellow cobwebs seem to be fluttering in the wind... Woven in between trees or electrical wires, they shelter huge red and black spiders on the lookout of some poor insects that will get entangled in their traps!
A dirt track leads us to the end of the island: Plaine Mapou. Amidst this charming countryside, away from modern life, we are feeling as if we’ve already come to the ends of the world. Tall yellow grasses are undulating in the wind, and a few isolated houses look uninhabited, not a living soul was to be seen. An airplane flies over Frégate Island before landing on the other side of the stretch of sea, at Plaine Corail, the small and unique airport of Rodrigues. This stretch of sea water is precisely known as Baie Topaze, the namesake of the locality itself. Sheltered and protected, this bay is so calm that it looks like a lake reflecting emerald green waters.
From Plaine Mapou, it is possible to proceed further to Pointe La Fourche through the small coastal paths but the trip can turn out to be quite long. The best thing to do is to make the journey by boat and arrange for a halt on Catherine Island. By planning the trip ashore, tour-operators will be able to organize the excursion (for example, Ecotourisme offers the reverse trip from Baie du Nord to Bay Topaze including a picnic on Catherine Island).
Catherine Island has quite a lot of charms in store despite its rocky aspect. From the island’s peak, a magnificent view broadens from the lagoon till the west coast of Rodrigues. At times, seine fishermen come here to have some rest, and this is quite an opportunity to buy fresh fish and improvise a barbecue on the beach!
After a most pleasant halt on this small islet, we now land at Pointe La Fourche so as to proceed on to Baie du Nord. It’s a hike amidst an arid landscape. The vegetation has difficulty to grow; the few shrubs are distorted and stretched out of shape by the wind. At low tide, the water recedes from the bays to reveal only mud. These austere sceneries do not seem to disturb the cattle grazing peacefully, nor are they impeding upon the serenity of the many fishermen present. Gathered in the shadow of a tree, they are merrily conversing while waiting for their fish to dry up in the sun. Peace and quietness, one again, reigns over this inhospitable landscape.
Baie du Nord - Port Mathurin
Baie du Nord - Baie Malgache - Baie Diamant - Baie aux Huîtres - Port Mathurin - Distance: 9 km
The Northern coast is more densely populated and less wild. The road infrastructure is much more developed due to its proximity to the capital, Port Mathurin. The bays link up with one another: Baie Malgache, Baie Diamant, Baie aux Huîtres with each bay offering their usual view of pirogues stranded on the beach or floating in a few centimetres of water. In some of the bays, mangrove trees have been planted so as to prevent soil erosion.
At Pointe La Guele, we walk past the unique jail of the island. The building has been constructed with an all-round view of the ocean; even the prisoners have the right to escape from their reality at times!
This trip is most probably the least interesting one, most of the time, we are only following the road track. But, this is mainly an opportunity to meet the inhabitants and to immerse into their lifestyle. Walking part of the way with students returning from school, admiring the pirogues, their sails flapping in the wind, getting back to the shore, or joking with a lady who is patiently waiting for the bus... Busy talking with the inhabitants, we reached Port Mathurin and its small colourful stalls without really knowing when. And so, we have come to full circle!
Text and photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra