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The charm of Reunion Island

Anand Joseph Dec 21 2017, 21:07 IST
One of the many waterfalls as we flew over the island.

One of the many waterfalls as we flew over the island.

When I came across a news article about a part of a Boeing 737 plane that was found washed ashore on a remote island in Indian Ocean, what intrigued me the most, apart from the details of the plane, was the location - Reunion Island!

Initially, trying to get information about Reunion Island was very difficult. Everyone that we spoke to or asked for information had never even heard about the island.

We booked our flights to Reunion with the limited information that we gleaned from the web and prepared ourselves to explore the unknown.

Bourbon Island - as it was first known - is definitely an adventurer's paradise. The sun is hot, the water is warm, the food is good and it's as though the infectious Malayo music of the Creole people (locals of the island) seeps into your soul. The infrastructure of the island is something that they can really boast about when compared to all other islands on the Indian Ocean. The place is more French than what we imagined it to be.

We saw the remarkably preserved natural environment, impressive gorges, valleys, steep cliffs and magical waterfalls that form part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Not to forget the opportunity of getting up close and personal with the world's most active volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise.

Thanks to the compact size of the island, we had the liberty to plan our activities at leisure. Being adventure seekers, we took to the water, climbed Reunion's mountains and waterfalls, and sailed the blue skies over the island's stunning beaches.

We also tried our hand at the many adventurous activities that were offered there.
When it came to sightseeing, the first stop on our list was the Piton de la Fournaise volcano. It's eruptions are predictable and slow flowing as opposed to the exploding volcanoes in other parts of the world. The area around it resembled the stark landscape of the moon.
One can see how the great eruption of 2007 gained the island an additional beach, which happens to be the newest beach on the planet!

The road has been re-built and passes straight through this immense field of solidified lava. Amazingly, in some places, it is still steaming! The highest point on the island is Piton des Neiges, which soars at 3070 m and has been inactive for about 20,000 years. This is a favourite destination for hikers.

As a volcanic island, the topography of Reunion is unique and craggy, with the island's three cirques (mountains) - Salazie, Cilaos and Mafate - attracting travellers with their own distinctive natural formations. Due to the varied terrain of this fascinating island, hiking is incredibly popular. During our hikes, we encountered a lot of hikers from mainland France and Germany.

A thing that we found interesting was the presence of self-guided, well marked trails across the terrain. The walks ranged from easy to difficult and one can plan their hikes accordingly.
A guided hike to one of the villages inside the Cirque de Mafate was something that we were able to successfully complete.

The beaches are another attraction of the place. A tranquil turquoise lagoon runs for a length of 25 km from Saint-Gilles to Saint-Pierre. The colour of the beaches varies between white and black, according to their proximity to the volcanoes. Most of the beaches have well-laid-out restaurants and dedicated play areas. During our time at the beaches, watching the humpback whales was our favourite pastime. But it is recommended to only swim in the safe bathing areas as there's a high density of sharks in the surrounding waters.

A host of watersports options made our Reunion Island holiday memorable. To enjoy the sea, my wife and I joined a group of fishermen on a deep-sea fishing activity that lasted for five to six hours. Going on organised cruises on catamarans or renting yachts are ideal for spotting humpback whales and dolphins. To get up-close with the big creatures, there are guided 'Swim with the Whale' tours. The rivers in Reunion are perfect for whitewater adventures. Kayaks are used most often in the narrow upper river reaches and larger rafts are used to navigate the rapids below.

We cascaded down the Riviere de Roche on the northeast coast, near the town of St Benoit, where the river has carved into a canyon. We tried out hang gliding, skydiving and helicopter tours without having to be worried about safety. We experienced our first skydive there and it was a beautiful place to make our first jump.Novices like us could jump in tandem with an instructor, requiring a minimal amount of training before we stepped out of the airplane. Experienced sky divers will have a variety of choices for landing spots.

A helicopter flight and a microlight flight tour gave us a bird's eye view of the entire island. What started of as a random discovery of a place ended up being one of the best decisions we had ever made to explore a new place together.

(The author can be contacted at anandjoseph7@gmail.com)

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