La Reunione lé la! It’s a Creole phrase meaning ‘Reunion is here’.
I was surprised and overwhelmed by my trip through Reunion last week. Though we were there for only a week, it just whizzed by. I felt I could stay at least another week and still not have got enough of this island. Yes, Reunion is rather small (2512 sq km) but what it lacks for in size, it makes up for in surreal landscapes, diversity of cultures and adventure activities galore.
In just a week, I explored lava tunnels; jumped on a volcano; jumped down cliffs into clear blue rock pools; went canyoning with a drop down a 6m waterfall; rode in a helicopter, a microlight and an old Norwegian whaling boat; had dozens of dolphins swim beneath me as I lay on a hammock suspended from a ship; and ate the most divine food and drink – from buttery croissants and samoosas to spicy rums and exotic fresh fruit cocktails.
I really have been amazed by how much this little island has to offer and am excited to share my discoveries with you. Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my Reunion stories in more detail. For now here are the few highlights of my trip via Instagram…
We boarded our 11h30am Air Austral flight from Johannesburg direct to Reunion where I managed to score myself not only an exit row, but 3 seats to myself! (Why doesn’t this happen to me on long flights?) I also ate best (and biggest) economy class airline meal I’ve had – seared salmon, potato and sundried tomato salad for starters followed by lamb, couscos and veggies for mains, and a little creme pastry for dessert. After all that food, a deep sleep followed and before I knew it we were landing. Yup, it’s just a 4 hour direct flight away – just like flying to Mauritius. I soon discovered that Reunion was very different to my Mauritius experience – in a good way.
The first thing that I noticed on landing is that eveything was in French. I knew that I was technically in France in the Indian Ocean, but just a short flight from SA and I already felt like I was a world away. It started to get dark by the time we drove to the hotel. So we headed straight to dinner where I was to sample my first taste of Reunion – grilled swordfish with vanilla cream sauce and asparagus – decadent and delicious. I was falling in love with the island already, and I hadn’t even seen anything yet.
The next day was all about the island’s most famous attraction – volcanoes. We visited the Piton de la Fournaise (Peak of the Furnace) – one of the world’s most active volcanoes – which had erupted just a week before we arrived. The landscapes were stark and surreal – just out of this world. Of course I had to jump, it felt like I was jumping on Mars!
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see lava flows, though I did get to jump on a volcano and walk on lava rocks with otherworldly patterns. I think I need to start a volcano savings account so I can buy a ticket when it erupts again! We also did tour of the lava tunnels where saw fascinating lava rock formations and learnt all about lava flows!
The next day we visited the busy Saturday market at St Pierre, where we shopped for artisanal crafts and foods, vanilla and gorgeous handmade baskets. I also saw this amazing meringue dance performance – it’s a local martial art, similar to capoeria. So elegant and beautiful to watch.
After stuffing our faces with street-food at the market, we visited the Pointe Au Sel where volcanic rocks create natural rock pools perfect for a dip. Blogger Natalie Roos, from Tails of a Mermaid , went for a little swim in the clear blue waters – no filter here!
All over the island we spotted Gouzou, the street art character above, that has become a pseudo-celebrity on the island. His creator, street artist Jace, has painted him in various scenes all over the island (and the world!). Really, Reunion island is one big Gouzou street museum.
Next was a visit to the black sand beach of L’etange Sale where we played in the warm waters and watched skim-boarders catch some waves. The sands are black due to the volcanic rocks (not because the beach is dirty!)
A highlight of my trip was getting to sail on the Hnoss, an 80 year old Norwegian whaling boat. I even got to help hoist the large sail, which was hard work! Pretty soon we were out to sea in search of dolphins and whales…
Luckily my sea legs are strong, and I got to enjoy the stunning scenery from the hammock suspended from the front of the boat. It was a little scary but oh so much fun!
Then the BEST thing happened… dozens of dolphins were around us, I had the best vantage point as they played in the swell below me. Of course I was too excited to take pictures, so thanks to Matt Karstens from Expert Vagabond for this one.
After a hecticly active few days we finally had afternoon on the beach. I got to SUP on the lagoon at L’ermitage while others snorkeled in the clear waters of the lagoon. I loved the active lifestyle of the island. It seemed everyone was on the beach, picnicking, swimming, kayaking, slack-lining, playing beach volleyball and a host of other games as the sun set in the background.
Our Reunion trip felt like a non-stop highlight real. One of the most special for me was our hike through Mafate cirque, a natural amphitheatre surrounded by the peaks of a sunken volcano. Mafate is inaccessible by road, so we were dropped off in a 4×4 taxi to the end of the road from which we hiked for 3 hours until we reached the picture-perfect village of Cayenne (pop. 40). Too much pretty!
The icy cold Dodo beer drunk in the splendour of the mountain valley was the best I’d had on the island. Jeff, the owner at the home-restaurant in Cayenne, treated us to a feast of local sausage cari (Reunionaise curry), delicious duck cari and the best rhum arrangé (rum flavoured and steeped in spices and/ or fruit) we’d tasted. It was flavoured with fham – a local orchid. Bellies full, we were whisked away by a helicopter taxi – another first for me!
I fell in love with the rich street art and graffiti culture of the island. You can barely drive a block without seeing graffiti, tags, or murals. I was hohnoured to meet street art duo – Kid Kreol and Boogie, pictured above. We got to visit their studio, learn about their work and see some of their art onthe streets of the capital, St Denis.
Another reason to love Reunion is it’s rich culture, the best part being that it’s all very authentic. We visited a Creole home-restaurant – Chez Aliette et Paris where we were treated to a fabulous Indian-Creole meal and performance by gorgeous sega dancers and meringue artists. Click play on the vid above to see some sexy sega swag.
Our week was filled with early morning starts, all worth it. For a microlight tour of the island, it was best to leave early to avoid weather changes. It was my first time in a microlight, and I couldn’t have picked a better location. Experiencing the diverse landscapes of the island that we had been seeing all week was just epic. This island is best viewed from the sky – its magnificent sceneries left me grinning from ear to ear, with windswept hair and butterflies in my tummy.
I was impressed by all the Reunionaise food I ate – spicy, flavourful and a medley of cultures and tastes. Besides the home-made spicy pimenté (chilli) that accompanied every meal, my favourite foodie discovery was tamarind ice-cream. Tangy and tart, it was the perfect refreshing antidote to the island heat. Now if only I can find someone in Jozi to make me some!
Note: The #GoToReunion campaign was a hosted media trip by Réunion Tourism Board and Air Austral. All opinions expressed on this blog are mine!