Review: Air Austral Mauritius – Antananarivo

Normally I am the sort who wants the absolute cheapest flight from A to B and if I can’t use miles or earn miles then I don’t care which airline it is on.  But this was one time where the punctuality was crucial to our plans and we couldn’t afford for an airline to be late or even worse – cancel.  I had done my homework after reading of Air Madagascar’s reputation on Trip Advisor and tracking their on-time stats on Flightstats.  The odds were heavily against this flight being remotely on time or even arriving on the same day!  So I made a very unusual decision for me, I paid around $100 more per person to go with an airline that had 98% on-time performance on this route – Air Austral.

Flights MRU-TNRI should also point out that I had no flexibility on days.  I had moved this trip forward from 2015 to 2014 and had to cut a few things back so it was essential that we fly on Monday and have a full week in Madagascar.  We would have been happy to fly on Air Mauritius if they flew on Mondays but they didn’t.  A flight delay could mean we would lose 2 out of our 7 days in Madagascar.

The flights themselves were spot on time although we had to change planes in Reunion. Since Reunion is part of France we also had the protection afforded anyone on an European airline.

We boarded right on time and I managed to get our carry-on backpacks on board as carry ons.  They do have a weight restriction and my heavy camera gear put us over the limit but I didn’t want to check the expensive camera and lenses.

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One last look at Mauritius.  The flight time was around 1 hour on both segments.

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This is Air Austral’s business class although I can’t see why anyone would pay the extra on such a short flight.


This is the departure lounge at Reunion.  There are a couple shops and a cafe.  We had less than an hour between flights and the Madagascar flight also was right on time.

IMG_4853 IMG_4854I didn’t take photos of the 2nd flight as it was identical to the first one.  There were snacks served on board and neither flight was full so we each had an empty seat next to us and were very comfortable.  We arrived right on time at Antananarivo and were able to do our full itinerary in Madagascar and that was all that really mattered to us.  Air Austral is a good airline overall and we were happy with the service.


Birds Of The Indian Ocean Islands – Field Guide

This is where I messed up.  Since I live in Australia, I thought I could save on shipping and buy this book in South Africa or Mauritius and have it on hand for birding in Madagascar.  I couldn’t find it anywhere!  What I should have done was buy the Kindle version to save on shipping and at least have something to refer to after birding in Madagascar.  Don’t make the same mistake, if you are Madagascar bound, this is the best birding guide book available.

Conservation Of Mauritius’ Echo Parakeet – A Species Saved From Extinction

While I was in Mauritius, I was very fortunate to have been invited to visit the Echo Parakeet monitoring station in Black River Gorges National Park.  This came about when I met the program’s chief scientist Prof. Carl Jones at Loro Parque’s World Parrot Conference in Sept 2014.  Just one more good reason to attend these conferences!  I had mentioned to him that I am a travel blogger with a specialty in eco-tourism and birding and would like to see the Echo Parakeets.  He gave me his card and after some emails, he told me he had gotten permission for my husband and I to visit.

We met him at the Petrin entrance and he took us around 5 km inside the park to the gated facility where the Echo Parakeets and Pink Pigeons are given nutritional supplements and studied.  You can read the story of how Prof. Jones saved the species from extinction and brought the population of Echo Parakeets from a scant 10 to roughly 350 birds and learn more about the project here and here.

We entered the park with Prof. Jones and drove to the project grounds.

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Once there, Prof. Jones and a visiting veterinarian went for a consultation leaving us to enjoy the up close and personal views of the birds.  There are several of these feeders scattered around the grounds for the parakeets.  They have to use their beaks to lift a lid and scoop out a pellet.

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Pink Pigeons also frequent the facility and have their own food.

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This type of feeder is meant for the pigeons but the naughty parakeets come and steal their food.

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This is a close up of the pellet they are eating.  This is only a supplement to their natural food.

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This is a different feeder but basically the same principle.


I just happen to be posting this on Valentine’s Day but this is valid any time and they always need more funds.  If you would like to help Prof. Jones and his team conserve the Echo Parakeet and Pink Pigeon, they have a donation button on their website.  You can also symbolically adopt one of 5 Mauritian animals.  The Echo Parakeet isn’t one of the 5 but the Pink Pigeon is and they inhabit the same area so help one and help them all!

Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques)

The Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques), also known as Mauritius parakeet, is the only extant parrot endemic to the Mascarene Islands in the southern Indian Ocean. Its local name is katover

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In the early 1980s, this parakeet was almost extinct. The roughly 10 birds that were left had hardly ever bred successfully since the early 1970s due to lack of suitable trees, nest predation,  disturbance by humans and feral pigs and deer, and competition with more plentiful bird species including the introduced rose-ringed parakeet. The Mauritius parakeet seemed doomed to extinction.

But with the team of Carl Jones (of Mauritius kestrel and Last Chance to See fame) taking over, a dedicated research and conservation effort was launched to save the birds. By the late 1980s, the situation had stabilized – though at a precariously low level – and more young birds were being hatched. By the mid-1990s, some 50–60 individuals were known altogether (including young birds) and an intensive management of the wild population by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation could begin. These efforts paid off handsomely; by January 2000, the population had exceeded 100 birds total.  Since then, the rapid recovery has continued. The total wild population is presently some 280-300 individuals of which some 200 are adult, half of which being breeding pairs and most of the other half single males.

Echo Parakeets can only be found in Black River Gorges National Park in Mauritius.  The best place to see them is about a 5 km walk down a fairly easy trail from the eastern entrance gate.



World Parrot Trust


Mauritian Wildlife Foundation

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust



Black River Gorges National Park, Mauritius

Black River Gorges National Park is one of the highlights of Mauritius even for “normal” tourists.  So much the better for the dedicated birder who has a chance to see 3 endemic rare birds here – the Mauritian Fody, the Pink Pigeon and the Echo Parakeet.

The park is easily accessible from the main tourist enclave of Flic en Flac, for other beaches further north, simply approach via the coast.  I strongly suggest hiring a car because buses would be few and far between on this route away from the main towns.

Mauritius SightsIt covers an area of 67.54 km² including humid upland forest, drier lowland forest and marshy heathland.

The National Park provides two information centres for visitors. One can be found in Petrin (Entrance A) and one in Black River (Entrance B). There are picnic areas at both entrances.  There is no fee to enter the park.

Opening hours:
Petrin Information Centre: Monday to Friday 8:00 am to 3:15 pm and Saturday 8:00 am to 11:00 am (phone: +230 258 0058 or 507 0128)
Black River Gorges Visitor Centre: Daily 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (phone: +230 258 0057)


Look for this sign as you are driving south.


Entrance gate – only official park vehicles may enter.  Other visitors may only walk on the trails.

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Park visitors centre was closed as we were there on a Sunday.


Not sure what these birds are other than the red Madagascar Fody, but they hang around the picnic area hoping to steal food.


IMG_4651 IMG_4649 IMG_4647 IMG_4646BRGNPBear in mind that the map above is actually upside down.  The area where the Echo Parakeets and Pink Pigeons can be found is about a 5km walk down the trail past the gate.  When you see these two signposts, stop and start looking and listening for the birds.

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Beyond this fence there is a monitoring/feeding station for the birds.  Only staff and invited guests (I was lucky enough to be invited) may enter in the company of a staff member.  Normal tourists are not allowed.


However the birds are not limited by fences and with patience, good eyes and ears you may soon be seeing sightings like these!

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Some Travel Tips For Mauritius

We only had a short visit on Mauritius as our primary purpose was to see the Echo Parakeets in Black River Gorges National Park.  I do have a few suggestions that may be of help if you are planning to visit, especially if you are staying in Flic en Flac.

Driving through Flic en Flac.  There are some touristy shops if you are into that sort of thing.

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We had dinner at Zub Express in Flic en Flac which has good Indian and Chinese food at good prices.  I wish they would get a better cage for these Indian Ringnecked Parakeets though.  These are not the same as the endemic Echo Parakeets so they can’t be released here in Mauritius but they do need a better living environement.

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This shopping centre on the road between Flic en Flac and Quatre Borne (where you turn south to Casela Nature Park) is a good place to get cheap ready made sandwiches, cakes, drinks and other picnic food.


Heading south on the coastal route towards Chamarel.  You will make a turn at a sign-posted road to head up the mountain to enter the park.

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Here is where you enter the Seven Coloured Earth park.  There is a nominal fee, then you can drive around and see the coloured sand and some turtles.  There is also a waterfall, cafe and gift shop.

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There is a western entrance to Black River Gorges National Park with some hiking trails and picnic areas.  It would be too far to walk to where the Echo Parakeets are from here and you can’t drive through the park.  Coming from Chamarel, you need to go back up to Quatre Bornes, then down to the eastern entrance at Petrin.

IMG_4640 IMG_4641Mauritius Sights

Pink Pigeon (Columba mayeri)

The Pink Pigeon (Columba mayeri) is a species of Columbidae (doves and pigeons) endemic to Mauritius, and is now very rare. It is the only Mascarene pigeon that has not gone extinct.   It was on the brink of extinction in 1991 when only 10 individuals remained, but its numbers have increased due to the efforts of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust since 1977.

They even have a Mauritian locally produced rum named after them!

IMG_4682 IMG_4664 IMG_4726 IMG_4794They are endemic to the island of Mauritius.  Although they once could be found all over the island, they are now extremely rare and found only in Black River Gorges National Park and Ile aux Aigrettes, just off the eastern coast.




Mauritian Wildlife Foundation

Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust



I could only find one short video of this bird on Arkive.
ARKive video - Pink pigeon - overview

Hotel Review: Hilton Mauritius Resort & Spa

I primarily chose the Hilton Mauritius Resort & Spa because we just barely had enough points to book it!  It would have otherwise been way out of our league financially!  Mauritius is overall an expensive place to visit.  Here is an example of what it costs on the example night – May 9, 2015.

MRU HiltonThe cash & points rate wasn’t available on our date last Nov so we had to pay 40,000 points each, booking one night from both my account and my husband’s.  The location is excellent, right on the beach just outside of Flic en Flac and was the closest free-on-points hotel to our main target of the Black River Gorges National Park.

This hotel was closed for several months last year while it was being renovated.  I can’t speak to how it was before but it certainly is very impressive now!

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Lobby area


Our room had a mini bar right as you come in.


Very nice artwork and the beds were very comfortable.

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The bathroom was crisp and modern looking with really nice toiletries.

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We didn’t have much time to inspect the room as there was a Sega Show that night.  The dancers were ok.  I was expecting a longer show with costume changes but it was still good fun.

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The next morning we had a chance for quick birding around the hotel.  We had a view of the restaurant.  We could have had an ocean view but the room offered was so far away it was exhausting to walk back and forth so I asked to be closer to the main hotel facilities. I knew we wouldn’t be around much to sit and look at the ocean anyway.

IMG_4604 IMG_4605 IMG_4607 IMG_4608 IMG_4609 IMG_4611 IMG_4614After a full day out visiting Chamarel & Black River Gorges, we had time for a quick swim and to watch the sunset, which was spectacular!

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There is a list of activities near the pool.IMG_4830 IMG_4831 IMG_4832 IMG_4834I thought the hotel was stunning!  The one problem is that everything associated with it, restaurants & room service was really expensive.  There wasn’t even a happy hour so I was NOT happy!  I guess it’s just one of the hazards of “traveling above my means”.  This is a really posh hotel and we felt like we were out of our league.  The typical clientele here wouldn’t bat an eyelash at the F&B prices.  We ended up going into town for dinner the first night and bring food and drink from the supermarket home the 2nd night which we supplemented by ordering one dish from room service to share.

If you are otherwise affluent, even if you are into miles & points, you will probably love this hotel.

Using Points To Stay In Mauritius

Any way you look at it, Mauritius is not a cheap place to stay, even on points!  Only 4 hotel chains are represented here so you don’t have a lot of options.  If you have gotten hotel points via credit cards, these could be a great use of the points as cash rates are very high.  For the examples below, I did a quote for 1 night Saturday 9 May.


With Accor, every 2,000 points acquired results in €40 off your bill. If you have enough points your stay could be free, or simply pay the remaining balance using your credit card.  For the first hotel you would need 24,000 Le Club points and 12,000 points for the 2nd one.  You have to add taxes to the rates below.   MRU Sofitel


There is only one Hilton property in Mauritius and if you can snag a capacity controlled cash&points award this can be a really good deal! MRU HiltonIHG REWARDS

The Intercontinental would be an excellent use of a Chase free night certificate!  They also have a new hotel near the airport which could be a good idea if you have an early flight out.  The traffic can be horrendous!


Cash & Points looks like a pretty good deal!


If you don’t have enough hotel points or prefer to pay cash, there are lots of options on both Pointshound & Rocket Miles that allow you to earn in a wide choice of airline programs.  If you use the links I posted, you and I both get a bonus after you complete your first booking.  This is currently 1000 miles!


Mauritius Fody (Foudia rubra)

The Mauritius fody (Foudia rubra) is a rare species of bird in the weaver family. It is endemic to the island of Mauritius. It is classified by BirdLife International as being endangered.  Photo from Wikpedia.


They are confined to the south-west interior of Mauritiusin the Black River Gorges National Park.  They can be easily confused with the Madagascar Fody, I wish I had know that when I was there!  I just assumed all the cute little red and brown birds were the Mauritius one but they were probably Madagascar Fodies.





Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

Mauritian Wildlife Foundation



Great mini-doco about the Mauritius Fody.  I didn’t realize that there was a similar species called the Madagascar Fody.