The guide in the Mauritian adventure park was justly proud of the wildlife attractions her island has to offer. “Where else in the world can you swim with dolphins in the morning, ride a camel at lunchtime and walk with lions in the afternoon?” she asked. Off-hand, I couldn’t think of any.

She was referring in the first instance to one of nature’s most enchanting experiences, swimming with spinner dolphins that rest and play most mornings in the calm waters of a lagoon off the south coast. Local boat owners take small groups with masks and snorkels to join the fishy frolics as the surface breaks with flashing fins. After taking the plunge I was joined by three dolphins swimming a few feet from me, seemingly oblivious to my presence before they zoomed off.

The close encounters with camels and lions are more controlled in Casela World of Adventures, a cross between a zoo and an adventure playground where South African lions raised in captivity are deemed friendly enough to stroll with visitors. This is clearly a unique experience but I contented myself with stroking playful white lion cubs and wishing I could take them home. Until they grow up.

Wildlife conservation is a priority in Mauritius as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence from Britain. Centuries of human settlement have decimated the island’s flora and fauna, and intensive efforts are finally under way to preserve what remains.

Most of it is in the relatively undeveloped south, where a wild expanse of densely forested mountains has been declared a nature reserve. A viewpoint above the Black River Gorges National Park offers a vision of the dawn of time, a tumult of peaks and ravines where white tropic birds with long graceful tails drift silently far below and the air is filled with birdsong.

This is the last refuge of endangered species such as the Mauritian kestrel and the echo parakeet. A few years ago they were facing extinction, like the dodo wiped out by 17th-century Dutch sailors and settlers. Now there are hundreds of them flying around protected nesting sites.

Another natural haven lies offshore on the Ile aux Egrettes, a coral islet that the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation is restoring to its natural state. Among rare birds like the olive white eye, the stars of the show are the Aldabra giant tortoises introduced by Charles Darwin, lumbering through the bush as they will continue to do for the next 100 years or so.

Arguably the most innovative marine wildlife experience is in a mini-submarine that descends more than 100 feet to a shipwreck on the seabed and banks of coral that are home to shoals of tropical fish. The ten-seater Blue Safari submarine is like a mini-Nautilus from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, but instead of

sub-eating monsters we encounter only curious angelfish and parrotfish gazing through the porthole windows.

This year’s anniversary celebrations will produce a calendar of lively events, and sanctuaries from the hustle and bustle will be at a premium. Among the best is an adults-only haven on the north coast named the Indian Ocean’s leading boutique hotel 2016 in the World Travel Awards. Paradise Cove is the kind of place to celebrate, and perhaps rekindle, romance in an elegant neo-colonial complex around a sheltered cove. Guests can choose between discreet relaxation areas around a small sandy beach, an infinity pool on a clifftop overlooking a lagoon and individual thatched “love nests” on a headland. Throw in a spa, free water sports and a choice of fine dining, and guests might be excused for missing the anniversary fireworks.

For families, the all-inclusive Ravenala Attitude resort on Turtle Bay combines quality accommodation and cuisine with facilities for youngsters in land and water sports, and children’s and teenagers’ clubs.