Blog Entry #28: 5 Days on the South Indian Ocean: The Wild Coast, Reunion Island, and Mauritius
Monday, October 3, 2011
|Pilot Boat guides the MV Explorer out of Capetown Harbor|
We left Capetown, South Africa the evening of Wednesday, September 28th, and spent the next 5 days crossing the South Indian Ocean to the small island nation of Mauritius. We woke up Thursday morning having rounded the Cape of Good Hope the night before to a significant change in our ocean environment: the cool temperatures and rough seas of the South Atlantic had been replaced by the warm breezes and much calmer seas of the South Indian Ocean, whose currents bring warm waters past the southeastern coast of South Africa.
It took us two full days to traverse South Africa’s Indian Ocean coastline, demonstrating vividly what a large country it is, spanning the length of Africa’s southern edge. But more surprises and delights awaited us! We awoke our second day out from Capetown to find ourselves just off South Africa’s “Wild Coast” – a spectacular and largely undeveloped section of coastline between Port Elizabeth and Durban. To avoid rougher seas to the south, our captain chose to hug the shoreline, affording us one stunning view after another.
|Albatrosses off the ship|
|Waterfall along the Wild Coast|
A day after leaving South African waters and passing south of Madagascar, we learned we had a “non-life threatening medical emergency” on the ship: one of the “Life Long Learners” on board had developed a detached retina which would require medical attention soon. The ship captain revved our engines up to 25 knots (25 nautical miles per hour), and we aimed to arrive at Mauritius 15 hours ahead of our scheduled 6:00 am Tuesday arrival. One fortunate benefit of us in this unfortunate medical emergency is that it took us by Reunion Island, Mauritius’s larger western island companion lying 120 miles SW of Mauritius, during the daytime – we were scheduled to pass it in the wee hours of the night. Instead by lunchtime on Tuesday a large, cloud-shrouded island with forested mountain slopes loomed off the north side of the ship.
South Coast of Reunion Island
First discovered by Arab sailors, the Portuguese in 1507 were the first European sailors to land on Reunion and Mauritius – at that point the largest territories in the world uninhabited by humans outside Antarctica. While Mauritius gained its independence from England in 1968, Reunion remains under French control and makes up one of 27 regions in France. Geologically Reunion is volcanic and appears to be formed by a “hot spot” – a deep-seated source of magma that rises through the ocean crust of the plates that move over it, much as the Hawaiian Islands have formed. The same hotspot formed now dormant Mauritius to the east over the past 10 million years. Like the big island of Hawaii, Reunion is still volcanically very active, with its Piton de la Fournaise volcano erupting most recently in January, 2010. We could see deep canyons incising its flanks above sheer cliffs plunging into the sea – a thrilling site as we moved by.
Piton de la Fournaise Volcano, Reunion Island
|Port Louis Harbor at night|
|Dolphins off of Mauritius|