La Réunion: From Hell to Heaven

Photo: Serge Gelabert
Half a world away and yet still part of France: the island La Réunion in the Indian Ocean. A paradise for all those who like to hike between jungle and volcanoes.

Don’t tip over the edge: just gaze in amazement at the »devil’s hole« Trou de Fer. | Photo: Serge Gelabert
Sometimes, when you are standing still and catching your breath, when you are slowly calming down, you can hear the forest. Really, the whole forest – not just the chirping and twittering birds that has accompanied the hike so far. When you stand totally still and listen, you can suddenly hear different noises. There are hums and buzzes, rustles and creakes, whirs, hisses, creaks and chuckles, and you have no idea who or what might be responsible for the sound effects. And everything appears to be getting louder. More penetrating. More compact. Just as if the rainforest is moving closer every second, about to engulf you while you are standing still – that’s how it feels. You can suddenly see more details now, details you simply had not perceived before: Like drops of water falling everywhere from the leaves. Like the plants trying to grow above the path. Like drops of water sparkling in spiders‘ webs. Moving a few steps forward, a new sound dominates: water. Rushing water. The sound of water gets louder with each step. Suddenly you are on top of a viewpoint, and in front of you: a panorama that you would normally only see from a helicopter. From a height of 300 metres, waterfalls crash straight down into the devil’s hole Trou de Fer. They drown out all the other sounds. Where are we? On the island La Réunion. In the Indian Ocean. On a hiking trip in the jungle. From the Gîte de Bélouve, we went up 500 steaming metres to the Sentier de l’École Normale, and then tramped through a swamp and further along a mountain path to get to this spot.

Perfect spot to loosen-up stiff legs. | Photo: Franz Marc Frei
Before we hit the trail again, here’s a brief overview: The full name of La Réunion is Île de la Réunion, it is a so-called French overseas department and belongs to the EU – even though it is located in the Indian Ocean. There are 800,000 locals on the island which is almost as big as Saarland with its 2,500 square kilometres. In contrast to its neighbouring island Mauritius, it remains relatively hidden from the big rush of tourists. Indeed, humans left the island on its own for quite a long time. It is located so far away from the sea currents that even sailors needed a cyclone to get there and discover it. The island was uninhabited until the 17th century. Later on, French settlers arrived bringing slaves from Madagascar, East Africa and India to work on their plantations. La Réunion remains basically unchanged, unimpressed by civilisation that arrived 400 years ago. Still untamed and somewhat wild. And that is what makes it so invitingly fascinating.

 

 

A setting for Jurassic Park

The eruption of the Piton de la Fournaise is a fiery spectacle ...
Two or three kilometres off the coast are enough and it seems like the island was the setting for Jurassic Park: heavily vegetated, dark green and steaming dampness, a country of flanks, edges and steep gorges. A country that is made for mountain biking. Or for canyoning. Rafting. Kayaking. Mostly it is a country that is criss-crossed by spectacular hiking trails. You can move along steep cliffs, such as between Anse des Cascades and Pointe Corail, cross breathtaking gorges between Bord Martin and Les Deux Bras, and walk through mystique foggy forests like the Forêt de Bélouve. And because you go constantly up and down here, there‘s always a new unexpected view: into the vastness, into the distance where the rugged mountain sides appear to march into the blue of the Indian Ocean. The mountains are a trap for the approaching clouds: often, they get caught on the mountain summits and ridges where they hover above the greenery like candy floss. Of course, birds are always chirping somewhere, and of course there is always an exotic scent of flowers drifting through the air and into your nose. And of course, you cannot do anything else at such moments than sigh.

... and at the same time a restart for nature. | Photos: Franz Marc Frei/Serge Gelabert
But up on top of Piton de la Fournaise there is no longer any scent of flowers. The Piton is one of two volcanoes that La Réunion basically consists of – the other one is the Piton of Neiges in the centre of the island. It is quite a hothead, shooting out its suppressed energy regularly. Lava then billows and spits out of every possible hole, oozing towards the ocean as a stringy, glowing syrup.
At the end of the last major eruption a few years ago, the 500,000 square meter crater collapsed and disappeared 300 metres down inside the volcano.

 

4-Seasons Info
 

Win a trip to La Réunion

In cooperation with the travel agency Brandner and Air Austral, 4-Seasons has an eleven-day hiking trip at La Réunion for two people to give away. All you have to do is to answer three questions about the island. Find the competition (submission deadline: 15 December 2012) and many more tips and information about the island on 4-seasons.de/la-reunion.

In addition, two »La Réunion evenings« will take place for GlobetrotterCard holders in the Globetrotter stores Frankfurt (19.11.) and Munich (22.11.). Not only an exciting presentation and culinary temptations are on offer, you will be     welcomed by a hiking and trekking expert who has travelled around the island intensively. The events are for free. Pre-book by calling the Frankfurt store on 069/434043 or mail at eventsfrankfurt@globetrotter.de, for Munich dial 089/44455570 or send an email to shop-muenchen@globetrotter. Mention the keyword »Réunion-Abend«. Seats are limited and are given away on a first-come first-serve basis.

 

On the dark side of the moon

It does not only look spectacular, it is: Canyoning. The island also offers easy tours for beginners. | Photo: Franz Marc Frei
Such events only happen every few years, but even on days when it is totally calm, an eerie atmosphere hangs above the landscape close to the 2,077 metre high Piton de la Fournaise. At other spots, La Réunion might look like Hawaii. But at the top, amongst the alien stone and sandy desserts of the volcano, it summons up images of the dark side of the moon – or if you happen to be a Tolkien fan – of Mordor. Every sign of life has disappeared in between the levels of lava, you hear no birds, not even mosquitoes made their way up top. Instead, the men from the geological institute were here: After each eruption they carefully renew the trails and the signposts. For example, the trail to the Cratère Dolomieu. It is not very light yet, night and day are still scuffling with each other as usual. The chill of the slowly retreating darkness causes you to shiver. It is recommended to start hikes in the area of the volcano as early as possible. At lunch time, the Passat trade wind likes to bring clouds which can make orientation difficult. Until then, the area lies beneath the torrid sun of the Indian Ocean, and after only half an hour there‘s no longer any chill in the air: On the contrary, you are already looking forward to the three bottles of water in your backpack.

Not to miss: Sunrise at the Piton des Neiges. | Photo: Serge Gelabert
Hiking near an active volcano is somehow appealing. Of course you know it is basically safe. And that geologists’ sensors would feel even the tiniest burp of the mountain resulting in the immediate closure of the trails if there was any sign danger. Still, it is a strange feeling. You are more observant than otherwise, your senses are keen, you notice noises as if something was about to change. And while walking along, step by step, metre by metre, you sort of slide into a space bubble where time stops and the world around you appears to stand still. Until you reach the destination that is. The crater is awesome! It is so huge you cannot take it all in with just one single blink of an eye. It looks like a giant ocean from another planet, but as if somebody has drained the water. The wind blows little trails of dust across the ground and smoke rises from loads of hidden cracks. One day, the volcano will erupt again and probably destroy this lofty trail. But then,   there will surely be a new one.

When the last eruption occurred, 155 million cubic metres of lava oozed into the ocean where they were of course cooled. It‘s as if an area the size of a residential neighbourhood has been added to the island. To the east, the lava stream created a new, wild and romantic coastal area: trees and bushes which had previously blocked the way to the ocean before, caught fire. When the hot lava and the cool salt water clashed, previously unknown species of fish were swirled from the depths of the ocean to the surface. La Réunion is growing. And if we give the island a few more million years, there will surely be even more beautiful trails to follow.

 

4-Seasons Info
 

Coordinates for islands bliss

 

Getting there

Air Austral has daily flights from Paris Charles de Gaulle to La Réunion, air-austral.de.

Accommodation

Hotel Tsilaosa: A popular hiking hotel in the mountain town Cilaos - well located for many hiking tracks in the three valleys around the Piton des Neiges. Big rooms and helpful staff. The owner organises wine tastings in the hotel’s own wine cellar, tsilaosa.com.

Hiking huts

The hiking huts usually have dorms as well as double rooms with their own bathroom. You can and should pre-book: insel-la-reunion.com.

Hiking

... on your own or guided with one of the several companies like Aplanes which offers hiking trips as well as canyoning: alpanes.com. Most of the trips are over one day. However, it is also possible to go on multiple-day trips like on the long-distance walking trails Grande Randonnée R1 and R2. In total, there are around 1,000 signposted hiking kilometres. The site reunion-nature.com/Etat-des-Sentiers is very good for information on the condition of most of the trails.

Canyoning

The island is simply made for canyoning with its vertical cliffs and waterfalls. Daniel Ducrots Team guides groups of max. six persons (beginners included), canyoning-cilaos-reunion.com.

General information

Highly recommended is the German travel pocket book »Réunion« (DuMont travel publishing house) and »La Réunion: Frankreichs Wander­paradies im Indischen Ozean« by the Bergverlag Rother. Get useful travel information and hiking brochures from the visitor centre of the island La Réunion, phone: 0049 069/97 59 04 94, insel-la-reunion.com.
 

 
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