Sheer wild beauty of Réunion mountains

Réunion island, a part of France in the middle of the Indian Ocean, where french nationalism joins with creole and indian cultural impact and cuisine. Even though it is an island relatively close to the equator and surounded by warm water, the main attraction here isn’t bathing and beautiful beaches. Sea swimming is even forbidden on the majority of the island due to the presence of sharks. No, the main reason to come here are its beautiful wild high mountains. So come with me on a 5-day tour of the best spots.

Cilaos is the most popular entry point, even though you can join the trails from other places too. It is a mountain and spa town right under the highest peak. Join the trail that goes right up the mountain wall and you will reach the Refuge Caverne Dufour in about 3 hours. From far it looks like it isn’t even possible for a trail to be here, it looks so steep. But once you walk there, it is much better. The refuge is situated in 2 465 m and offers simple but clean accomodation and plenty of delicious food for dinner. You can even ressuply on drinks and some simple snacks. In the deep dark of the night, the refuge wakes up and everybody sets on a 2 hour walk up to the peak of Piton des Neiges in 3077 m to assist to a spectacular sunrise.

Refuge Caverne Dufour at sunset
Refuge Caverne Dufour at sunset
Sunrise at Piton des Neiges
Sunrise at Piton des Neiges
View of Cilaos from Piton des Neiges
Cilaos from Piton des Neiges. That is what we climbed since yesterday?!

From here, the trail winds down the whole day to Hellbourg. It first starts with beautiful views, but gets among trees and bushes soon. We even got caught in a long very muddy part for several hours, it was really tiring. But at the end, the trail rewards you with beautiful views of Hellbourg and its surrounding valley from yet another steep mountain wall which promises a knee-hurting descent.

Trail with picturesque mountains in the backplan
Take me home, mountain road…
Muddy trail
Mud, mud everywhere
Stairs in the wood down under a cloud
And down to Hellbourg. It is under the cloud somewhere.

Nothing really happens in Hellbourg, at least in July, when there is winter at Réunion. But then, the calm is so recharging. The next day you first pass by the ruins of a former glorious spa and then there is a long passage on the asphalt road before reaching a nice bridge where today’s ascent starts. After few hours the terrain changes again and you find yourself on a tiny narrow trail among tall vegetation. It ends suddenly and gives way to a proper forest trail with remnants of the Grand Sable village that was wiped away in 1875 by the adjacent volcano Gros Morne. The forest is yet again swapped for the jungle when finally out of the blue you meet first houses of Grand Ilet.

Huge bamboo tree
Lots of bamboo. Bamboo everywhere 🙂
Orange trees along an asphalt road
Orange trees along an asphalt road
Bridge into the jungle with No motorcycles sign
Bridge into the jungle. No motorcycles, please.
Tiny trail in the middle of vegetation
This is also a trail. Grand Sable.

The third day starts with more than 2 hours of ascent on an asphalt road, not much interesting. So we decide to take the bus instead, which goes up to the saddle twice a day. That saves us a lot of time, so we can properly take in the sheer beauty of Cirque de Mafate, before plunching into its valleys. It is stunning really, surrounded on all sides by high vertical walls. There are a few villages in Mafate, but no roads. The only way to get there is either on foot, or by helicopter, which local children use to get to high school. Elementary school is in each village, as well as restaurants, shops and accomodation. La Nouvelle, the local capital is right in the middle of our today’s route, so we stop for some lunch and draft beer. Our host from last night told us stories from his youth, when he used to wake up at 3 am, put 30 kg of supplies on his head and take it all here. He would be back by 10 and start working on his family’s fields. The little town and its inhabitants are very interesting, but it is time to move on. The landscape changes again, from jungle to forest and a few rivers. Being to impatient to cross it I end up in the water shoes first 🙂 By late afternoon we arrive to Marla and hang out in the local pub before getting to our hut.

Beautiful mountain slopes in the sun
This is what we have not seen yesterday for a constant rain and mist
A trail in Mafate
Mafate is, yet again, completely different
La Nouvelle on a plateau, steep hills behind
La Nouvelle has the perfect location

The last day is here and with it also the highest saddle we must cross – Col du Taibit. At 2100 m the views both back to Mafate and to Cilaos are just breathtaking. Then there is a looong descent, first on rocks, then bushes, trees and finally you reach a road. After falling into the river for the second time of this trip, this time completely and with the backpack too, I decide to take the road to Cilaos rather then risk another swimming session. Michal continues the trail and we meet in Cilaos an hour after my arrival, both so very tired but happy and rich with plenty of new exciting memories.

View of Mafate from Col du Taibit
Bye, Mafate!
View of Cilaos from Col du Taibit
Hello, Cilaos! Still long way to go.

View of river crossingAbout to swim. Just don’t know it yet.

Drying things...Well, as I said…



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