This whole massif, containing the highest point on the island, was gouged out in the middle by a series of short rivers that had created the gorges. Most people visiting Black River Gorges will enter through this valley, driving up a narrow road from the coast at Grand Riviere Noire. After a mile or two of agricultural land which seems to be made up mainly of cane and horse paddocks, you enter the forest and head deeper into the gorges themselves. As ever with Mauritian tourism facilities, the main car park is an overkill of concrete picnic sites, vast toilets and shower buildings but fortunately when you start walking, the natural world takes over very quickly. The main path follows along the wide Black River itself, which bubbles over huge boulders and gravel beds. You have to cross it at one point, but the ford and stepping stones are not primed for humans and you are likely to end up getting wet feet. The walk starts on the level but quickly becomes very steep. Martin and I had vowed to walk on weekend mornings and decided one day to do the full circuit round Black River Gorges. We had got up very early and travelled the hour or so from our homes in the north. The dawn was just beginning to take shape as we got out the car. As we tromped along the path next to the river, we saw giant fruit bats lazily fly back to their roosts. Their huge size and the slow flapping of their wings made me wonder how they stayed in the sky, but they looked supremely at ease in their environments as they navigated through the top canopy. The pathway splits at the head of the deep valley – this is the confluence of several large streams which form the Grand Rivier Noire or Big Black River. Our initial route was up the north side which proved to be a long series of hairpins on a narrow path. We rose nearly 400m over a punishing half hour’s walking, but the rewards were great. The pathway opens up from the guava thicket to a forest track, and on a steep grassy bank you turn around and are given the widest vista. The forest clothed valleys of the Black River Gorges both descend into the deeps below you, and rise up to the plateau above. Those rivulets that I had seen at the weather post formed waterfalls which toppled over the plateau edge and although not powerful, the sheer drop of a couple of hundred metres was impressive. They came from all angles and you could see that in a short distance, the gorges formed a large catchment that gathered a sizeable volume of water to push on down to the sea at Grand Rivier Noire.
And if we looked the other way you saw most of the west coast of Mauritius. Most impressive in front of us was Le Morne, possibly the most iconic tourist vista in the island; adorning every travel brochure, website, or information leaflet you could find. It is a massive solid block of granite, but from up here it was dwarfed. The vast bay to the north was visible with the wispy filao tree-covered Ile Au Benetiers. And then a series of bays, bluffs and mountains, including the Tamarin Mountain sticking out into the sea, all the way up to Flic-en-Flac and the north. and like the best of views there was constant activity. We could see a swarm of kite surfers off one of the points, the wakes of small pleasure boats played around the lagoon, and there were cars on the road, tractors in the fields. And yet up here we felt detached from the rest of Mauritius – a mountain high paradise of the natural world.