Travelogue Reunion 5: Le Volcano & Saint Rose

LE VOLCAN & SAINT ROSE

04-05 January 2019

We’d left our last full day to Réunion’s biggest tourist attraction – Piton de la Fournaise (“Peak of the Furnace”) or Le Volcan as the local volcano is known.

In the bottom half of the island, the volcano dominates the better part of the South East quadrant with the craters and caldera inland and the lava flow aftermath that flows all the way down and into the sea, as we had seen on the Routes des Laves the day before.

We left Saint Pierre early (well, holiday-early anyway, at about 08h30) based on all the online advice to get ahead of the people and the clouds. Had we been planning on hiking the volcano – no less than a 5 hour round trip – we’d have had to leave hours earlier. But that idea was pure madness when you can just as easily sleep in and drive.

We jumped on the trusty N3 that cut across the island’s belly, and that ebbed and troughed seamlessly from efficient double lane highway to dawdling single lane country road through the little towns.

The Google Maps lady was quiet a lot of the way. This sort of adventure was not a big job for her, based on the single road, short distances and the requirement for her to say “keep going straight” intermittently. What she couldn’t see along the winding Route du Volcan was the spectacular views and panoramas around each bend as we climbed up toward the Piton de la Fournaise.

The first viewpoint stops were at Riviere Des Remparts, a massive canyon 1000m deep, and Commerson Crater (200m wide by 235m deep), both of which allowed for amazing views and photographs that will never do it justice.

The drive thus far had been dominated by vistas of lush greenery in great magnitude but then, all of a sudden, we rounded another of the many bends and there it was…

… Mars.

This was the Plaine de Sables, a volcanic plateau that’s covered with ash and rocks from eruptions of the nearby Piton de la Fournaise. Gone were the trees and colourful shrubs. On the Plaine des Sables, there was nothing but reddish-brown dirt and rocks. As barren as the grainy pics you see of far-off planets.

The road snaked down into the desert and we were able to walk around on the plains. Nothing but sand and volcanic gravel. Very sterile. And eerily quiet.

Back in the car, we pressed on the Pas de Bellecombe, which is the viewpoint for the volcano itself, across the 8km wide caldera that had formed from massive collapses 4700 years before.

We got more than we bargained for when we realised we were able to do a short hike from the viewpoint into the caldera to the Formica Leo, a circular mound that looked like an oversized anthill. 20 minutes or so had us into the crater and able to walk around this magnificent feat of nature. The volcano is still very active – one of the most active in the world – so often emits plumes of smoke and vapour. But we got it on a quiet day so were able to move around quite freely.

It was a sweaty business, up and down the crater and in the unprotected sun while in the caldera. Cannot imagine what a schlep the full scale hike must be!

We had booked our last night on the Eastern side of the island to complete the (sort of, piecemeal) circumnavigation, so instead of retracing our footsteps we got to see the other half of the N3, all the way to Sainte Rose (there seemed to be a lot more female Saints on the Eastern side of the island).

Initially intending to go straight to our hotel to check in, again we were caught by surprise by the short distances between places of interest so decided to drive straight past and complete our sight seeing for the day while we were out.

It was pretty easy going with the farthest point, Anse Falls, only 9km away.

Set in a wonderfully wild forest, the Cascades down a length of rock cliff-face such you can stand under the falls and swim in the pools and river at the bottom. Very peaceful and refreshing in the unrelenting heat. Hardly surprisingly a favourite with the locals, who seem to love a good picnic – and had populated rest stops in the most arbitrary places along our travels.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the famous Catholic Church in Saint Rose that had been miraculously spared from the 1977 eruption, where lava had flooded down the hillside toward it but then split past it on either side leaving the church unharmed in the middle.

All these memorable moments gave us lots to talk about when we got to our hotel and partook in the primary reason we’d chosen this property – the massive pool overlooking the ocean. It was sad that our holiday was coming to a close, but great to have nothing on the itinerary left to do!!

We chose dinner by proximity, which was a pizza place down the hill at the marina. We ordered 2 pizzas – by now the list of toppings were equal parts familiar and guesswork – and were shocked when we received two MASSIVE pizzas. Easily 40cm each. They were very thin crust and light so we managed to make a good dent (and took the leftovers home for breakfast).

Our last morning was a suitably leisurely one since even though we had a quarter of an island to drive to the airport, it was an hour or so on the highway.

We googled to make sure we hadn’t missed anything out in our planning and, since we had the time anyway, drove through all the Saints (Benoit, Andre, Suzanne, Marie and Clotilde) on our way back to the airport for good measure, so we really could say we’d seen ALL of Reunion.

Returning with some time in hand, we ended the journey as it had begun, with lunch at Le P’tit Gillot – the same restaurant right next to the airport that we’d visited when we waited for our rental car on the first day – and feasted on all new delights.

Recommendations:

  • If your hair has any independent tendencies, bring a leave-in conditioner or gel
  • Bring a beach towel; they’re not provided anywhere
  • Get a rental car – a little hatchback automatic is optimal
  • There are few national roads and lots of free WiFi so you can get by without a local SIM card if you download Google Maps for offline use
  • Be adventurous with food orders. Even if you’re not quite sure what it is, everything is fantastic!
  • Try all the local beers; avoid the local wine
  • Be prepared to spend a small fortune on water. Buy water whenever you can at Price Leader stores because it’s more than half the price of anywhere else
  • Bring good sunscreen and aftersun. The sun is unrelenting but surprisingly forgiving so you’re bound to get a golden tan, no matter what you do
  • Reunion is wonderfully French so do a French course before your trip. Even a short, free online one will help bridge the language gap.