Sunday, 30 November 2014

Reflections on our week on Réunion Island

Ten hours at Johannesburg airport would not have been a natural choice to spend my 69th birthday, but here we are anyway, after a 4 hour flight from Réunion this morning. We now await this evening's flight to Heathrow, but the BA lounge has given me the opportunity of catching up with a little work, and reflecting on our week at Réunion after the previous week's Process Mineralogy '14 in Cape Town:

Réunion is a French island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, and about 200 kilometres southwest of Mauritius. It is the largest of the three Mascarene Islands the other two being Mauritius, the nearest island, and Rodrigues.

The island is 63 kilometres long and 45 kilometres wide and is located above a hotspot in the Earth's crust, being created within the last 3 million years. Mauritius, formed between 7 and 10 millions years ago, is the oldest of the existing volcanic islands.

It is hard to believe that such a remote island is an outermost region of the European Union and, as an overseas department of France, is part of the Eurozone.

The airport is located in the capital, Saint-Denis in the north of the island. The landscape of the south-east is dominated by lava fields from many eruptions, some very recent, from the highly active volcano Piton de la Fournaise, which is over 530,000 years old. It is one of the world's most active volcanoes, with over 150 recorded eruptions since the 17th century, the most recent being only 5 months ago.

The N1 highway cutting through the lava fields

Notre-Dame des Laves
We drove through the village of Piton-Sainte-Rose, which was evacuated in 1977 before it was inundated by a lava flow which destroyed several buildings. The lava flow crossed the highway and surrounded the local church, entered the front door, then stopped without destroying the building. The front entrance was later cleared, and the church was brought back into service under the name of Notre-Dame des Laves ("Our Lady of the Lavas").

For our first 2 days we stayed in the island's main tourist area, in the north-west, with its lagoon and white coral beaches, similar to those on Mauritius, where we stayed 21 years ago after Minerals Engineering '93 in Cape Town. After a day lazing by the beach and hotel pool extreme boredom set in, so we checked out earlier than planned and headed inland to the much more interesting and cooler interior.
The coral beach at St.-Gilles des Bains
At 3069m the towering volcano Piton de Neiges dominates the interior of the island. It is the highest point on Réunion and is considered to be the highest point in the Indian Ocean. The volcano was formed by the Réunion hotspot and emerged from the sea about two million years ago. Now deeply eroded, the volcano has been inactive for 20,000 years and erosion has formed three huge calderas, natural amphitheatres known as the Cirques. An incredibly winding road, which our underpowered rented Peugeot 208 only barely negotiated, took us through spectacular volcanic gorges to the attractive town of Cilaos, situated at an altitude of 1214m in one of these calderas.

The road to Cilaos

Cilaos: the town in a volcanic caldera

The Piton de Neiges dominates the town at dusk
The Cirques attract hikers to the island, and with very good reason, as the numerous challenging trails wind their way through rugged scenery as good as we have seen anywhere. But you need to set off very early to enjoy the panoramas, as the clouds gather and descend down the caldera rim in the late morning.


At the base of the caldera
So how do we rate Réunion? For those who like to sizzle in a hot tropical sun, then neighbouring Mauritius might be the better place for you, with its superior beaches, food and water sports facilities. But if hard hiking is your thing, then Réunion could well be added to your list of places to visit. The massive Piton de Neiges forms two thirds of the island and there are very many hiking trails within its three Cirques. We visited only one of these, and only scratched the surface of the hiking available, so it is not surprising that many people repeatedly return to this fascinating volcanic island.

1 comment:

  1. Your pictures bring back good memories of a terrific MINSA field excursion back when...... what a place!


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