April 1, 2024 | Allison Robertson

The Mauritius Underwater Waterfall


Here’s Everything You Need to Know

There are several impressive waterfalls around the world, but this one takes the cake.

The island of Mauritius is home to one of the world’s most intriguing natural phenomena known as the underwater waterfall—but this beautiful site holds some serious risks that is often overlooked by visitors.

island and woman split image

Where is it?

This stunning underwater waterfall is located on the south west coast of the island of Mauritius, which is part of a chain of islands about 2,000 miles off the eastern coast of Africa.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulapietro lambert, Flickr

What is Mauritius known for?

Aside from the underwater waterfall, the south coast of the island is known for being the most luxurious part of Mauritius because of its stunning white beaches, majestic mountain landscape, and world-class hotels.

Aerial view of the Le Morne Brabant peninsula, MauritiusSofitel So Mauritius, Flickr

How many people live on the island?

Mauritius is the largest of the chain of islands, and is home to over 1.2 million people.

It is also home to an enormous series of coral reefs, and a unique flora and fauna, as well as the beautiful natural phenomenon—the underwater waterfall.

Aerial view of beach with palm trees in the Indian Ocean island of MauritiusVaughan McShane, Flickr

Is the underwater waterfall real?

The underwater waterfall is definitely real—but it is an optical illusion.

The waterfall appearance deceives the eye into thinking the water is actually falling, but it’s actually something quite different.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaMyroslava Bozhko, Shutterstock

How was it created?

The underwater waterfall is not a waterfall at all, it’s actually the sand shifting off the shelf of the ocean by the force of the current.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaLobachad, Shutterstock

How is the illusion created?

The illusion is created from the variation of different colored sands and reflections of light—but what created this deep shelf?

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaKhoroshunova Olga, Shutterstock

How was the island created?

Most of the land masses on Earth are present in the well-known form of continents, but there are a few exceptions to that rule—including the island of Mauritius.

Aerial view of the Indian Ocean island of MauritiusSofitel So Mauritius, Flickr

Volcanic Forces

Some land masses emerge by eruptive volcanic forces that compel upwards, creating oceanic islands, or chains of islands.

And beneath the ocean’s surface, something called a submarine plateau is formed.

Landscape view of the Le Morne Brabant peninsulaSaïda, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

What is a submarine plateau?

A submarine plateau is an area of flat ocean floor that is raised above the level of surrounding seafloor, delimited by a steep slope.

The one we are referring to here is known as the Mascarene Plateau.

Aerial view of The Thirteen Islands of St. Brandon Cargados CarajosMauriceBer, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

How is this relevant?

A submarine plateau differs from a usual continent in the sense that, instead of going from dry land into shallow waters that slowly wade deeper, it suddenly drops down to a depth of thousands of meters.

Thus, creating the depth—and illusion—of the underwater waterfall.

Aerial view of Mauritius island panorama and famous Le Morne Brabant mountain, beautiful blue lagoon and underwater waterfallMyroslava Bozhko, Shutterstock

The Mascarene Plateau

The Mascarene Plateau is one the newest major features on Earth, having only been created over the most recent few million years during the eruption of the Réunion hotspot—which created all of the Mascarene Islands in the geological blink-of-an-eye.

Piton de la Fournaise, an active shield volcano formed by the Réunion hotspotB.navez, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

How deep is the underwater waterfall?

At first glance, it doesn’t appear very deep at all. The shelf of the Indian Ocean is no deeper than 150 meters below sea level.

But there’s another section that does get deep.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaIhor Pokryshchenko, Shutterstock

The Drop-Off

The drop-off goes beyond the shelf’s edge and plunges to an incredible 4,000 meters into the Indian Ocean into an unknown abyss.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaDaniel Harwardt, Shutterstock

How can we see the drop-off?

The underwater waterfall-look is created by the sand that is moved back-and-forth over the shallow shelves by the ocean currents.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaalexrus2004, Shutterstock

Sinking Sands

As the sand is pushed over the edge of the submarine plateau, it gives the illusion of the underwater waterfall. The sands sink through the deep water down to the bottom of the ocean.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaohrim, Shutterstock

Can you swim in the underwater waterfall?

Swimming is very popular at the underwater waterfall. The island boasts dazzling blue waters that are warm and inviting. And that’s not all you can do there.

Incredible view of the ocean in Mauritius, le Morne beachohrim, Shutterstock

Scuba Diving

The underwater waterfall is such an intriguing wonder that it attracts professional scuba divers from all over the globe. The island also offers diving tours.

Scuba Diver in Mauritius lagoon surrounded by corals and colorful fish...your local connection, Flickr

Surfing

Surfing is another popular activity that visitors enjoy doing over top of the underwater waterfall. Thought when it comes to safety, there is one small concern.

Surfers at the Le Morne beach in the Indian Ocean island of MauritiusSvein-Magne Tunli, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Will the currents pull you down?

It is always suggested to exercise caution while swimming in the underwater waterfall, due to strong ocean currents.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaohrim, Shutterstock

What can happen?

On particularly wavey days, the currents can rapidly move a person away from the edge of the waterfall and down into the deep water—causing a risk of drowning.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall near the island of MauritiusZNATHAN DRONE, Shutterstock

Has anyone been hurt at the underwater waterfall?

Unfortunately, yes. In 2014, seventeen-year-old, Callum Howkins was snorkeling from a tourism boat over top of the underwater waterfall when the strong undercurrent took him away “in seconds.”

Sadly, he’s not the only person to lose his life.

Diver in the underwater waterfall at the Indian Ocean island of Mauritiusulric francois, Shutterstock

Other Drownings

Apparently, Howkins was fourteenth person to have drowned that year in the same bay. Only two days earlier, a dolphin conservationist also drowned because of the strong undercurrents.

Diver in the underwater waterfall at the Indian Ocean island of Mauritiusulric francois, Shutterstock

Popularity & Procedures

The family of Howkins said there was little to no procedures in place for when accidents like this occur.

In fact, there were so many boats and people around that apparently no one had even noticed when they were screaming for help—including the boat operator.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaohrim, Shutterstock

No Warning Signs

Apparently, Howkins’s family had said there were no warning signs about the undercurrent, and that the boat tours and activities did not prepare visitors for emergencies like this.

Perhaps we’ll stick to other ways of seeing this impressive phenomenon.

Diver in the underwater waterfall at the Indian Ocean island of Mauritiusulric francois, Shutterstock

How else can you experience the underwater waterfall?

The only way to see this natural phenomenon in all of its glory is from above, by sea plane or helicopter. The nation’s airline, Air Mauritius offers year-round flight tours that offer the best view of the waterfall.

You can partially see it from a mountain top as well.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaMyroslava Bozhko, Shutterstock

Can you see the waterfall from Le Morne Brabant Mountain?

Yes, you can see a glimpse of the shape of the island’s underwater waterfall by hiking up to the 500-meter peak of the island’s beautiful mount Le Morne Brabant.

Aerial view of Le Morne Brabant mountainSerenity-H, Shutterstock

When is the best time to see it?

The winter months, between November and December, offer the best visibility.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaWonderful Nature, Shutterstock

What are the seaplane tours like?

Seaplane tours can be organized through your hotel or with Air Mauritius. The tours last around 40 minutes, and you’re given a brief explanation of its history.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaLobachad, Shutterstock

What are the helicopter tours like?

The helicopter tours last about an hour, and give you a picturesque panoramic view of the mountain, the Indian Ocean and the stunning underwater waterfall.

These helicopter tours can seat 4 people.

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaLobachad, Shutterstock

What are the beaches like?

The beaches on Mauritius are known as some of the best beaches in the world. The west coast offers calm, quiet and warm beaches that are safe and peaceful.

Landscape view of a beautiful beach on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritiusbrando, Flickr

Where else can you snorkel?

If you’re not comfortable swimming over top of the underwater waterfall, there are several other areas around the island that are safe to do so—and these beautiful lagoons are swimming with some of the world’s most stunning marine life.

Person snorkeling in Mauritius lagoon surrounded by colorful fishSofitel So Mauritius, Flickr

Marine Life

Mauritius is full of beautiful marine life, such as dolphins, clownfish, moray eels, sea turtles, and several spark species.

Close-up Photo of Mauritian two Anemonefish - Amphiprion chrysogasterFrançois Libert, Flickr

Final Thoughts

The beautiful island of Mauritius offers stunning views, from colorful fish and pristine beaches, to the natural phenomenon known as the underwater waterfall.

Although it is beautiful, it has a dangerous risk for drowning that is often overlooked by both visitors and tour operators.

If you plan to visit, take necessary precautions—and lots of photos!

Aerial view of the underwater waterfall and Le Morne Brabant peninsulaFrancisco Somborn, Shutterstock

Sources: 1, 2


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