Home Eco Inspiration Reunion: going off the beaten track into lava plains, volcanic craters & wild terrain ~ by Allison Foat

Reunion: going off the beaten track into lava plains, volcanic craters & wild terrain ~ by Allison Foat

by capetowndiva

Reunion- an island extraordinaire.

If you’ve been following my posts about Reunion (here & here), you’ll know that as island destinations go, the French overseas region in the South-West Indian Ocean took me by surprise, in all the best ways. My Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives FAM trips leaned towards eco resorts, nature conservation, and ocean time. Reunion, was different, more of an immersive experience into natural phenomena like volcanoes, black beaches, subterranean caves, lava plains, lunar landscapes and geology and it was, in a word, mesmeric.

While factoring urban time (see my post on Saint-Denis into your travel itinerary is essential, experiencing Reunionese nature in all its representations will give you a comprehensive island overview and the rugged Wild South or Sud Sauvage is an excellent place to unpack your wilderness experience.

Take a road trip (with a guide, for a superior experience)

Reunion is 63 kilometres long and 45 kilometres wide and circumnavigating the elliptical île is a breeze since the entire island can be covered in four hours sans any stops. But stop you will as mile for mile delivers on extraordinary visuals that demand a photo opp and will ramp up your Insta gallery and motivate your Followers to waste no time in booking an island vacay.

1. The lava fields of Le Grand Brûlé

new shoots germinating in the lava swirls

As the name suggests, the Wild South (Sud Sauvage) is that part of the island that feels untamed, a region of dissimilar terrain that extends from the coastal town of Petite Île right through to Saint-Philippe according to our accredited tour guide Sully Chaffre of Ethnix Tours. (Sully has vast guiding experience and I highly recommend his services. He is able to tailor-make your itinerary,  can accompany you on your adventure or advise you ahead of your visit once he knows your particular interests and the amount of time you’ll have on the island.)

Our first stop was the lava fields in Le Grand Brûlé where magma rivulets have cooled into charcoal streaks poured across the broad shield slopes and the road is flanked by hardened lava swirls and lush green growth.

2. Alpine meadows, Plaine des Sables & Formica Leo

From Saint Benoît on the coast, we drove inland along the routes des plaines through small towns like Bourg-Murat on the Plaines des Cafres, encountering  unexpected Alpine-like territories complete with lush meadows, cows and crypotomeria forests. The lush scenery gave way to rugged environments with shrubbery not unlike what you might find in the Karoo or Cederberg, and epic landmarks like the gaping Commerson Crater, a 200m in diameter by 120m deep explosion crater complete with clouds rising like smoke from its depths.

Standing on the edge of the Commerson Crater- quite a creepy sensation- as clouds churned upwards from the depths below. Pic: Peter Frost

After driving for about an hour and a half, the pièce de la resistance materialised, the Plaines des Sables (below).

Plaine des Sables lies across the Plateau des Hauts, boundaried by sandy ramparts and the Bellecombe Pass, where you’ll find an excellent viewing site.  The Plaine is an expanse of barren volcanic slag, russet flatlands that are an absolute marvel. A single road snakes down the mountain before cutting a dusty line towards the Pas de Bellecombe-*Jacob parking area that also overlooks the Enclos Fouqué and a diminutive ejection cone called Formica Leo that was formed during the eruption of 1753. Leo was our destination that day since we weren’t going to be walking as far as the hyper-active Piton de la Fournaise. (*Jacob was an 18th century slave who actually discovered the pass).

Formica Leo is a diminutive crater so named for its resemblance to the excavation mound made by an antlion. Access is via 600 steps – yes, really – and once you’ve reached the bottom follow the white markers (do not deviate from the marked paths) that are dotted across the Enclos Fouqué that will guide you all the way up Formica Leo. The walk up to the crater rim is totally manageable and the views across the enclosure and up towards plateau are the payoff.

Another important thing to remember is to plan your Formica Leo visit so that you’re at the crater before 11h30 when a mist rolls in, pretty much on cue.

This shows people walking up to and on the crater rim, plus you can see the mist starting to roll in (taker a warm jacket)

3. Cap Méchant in Saint-Philippe

This part of the coastline has all the wild feels and is a classic example of basaltic architecture with crusty crags up top and the black cliffs below, pummelled smooth by eons of relentless wave action.

You’ll walk through an avenue of peculiar palms (above) to get to the rocky spur that overlooks the rough seas below and, in the distance, the Manapany ocean Pool.

The rough side of Reunion is a joy. For adventure travellers, nature lovers and photographers it’s a dream destination, truly living up to its moniker: #theultimateisland.


🇷🇪 Disclaimer: This blog post is the final one in a three-part series I have done as part of a paid partnership between Cape Town Diva and the Reunion Island Tourism Board.(RITB)

🇷🇪 Borders are opening across the world so keep an eye on the RITB 👆website for updates!  Hopefully not long now!

🇷🇪 Accredited tour guide/company in Reunion:  Sully Chaffre of  Ethnix Tours

🇷🇪 Getting there: Air Austral 

🇷🇪 Currency: The Euro

🇷🇪 Weather info

🇷🇪 Read more about the island via the RITB blog

🇷🇪 For France-SA diplomatic info, please click this link

🇷🇪 Visa: not required for south African citizens

France in general is gearing up for 2021 with tons of exciting projects on the go in the City of Lights and suburbs both nearby and easily accessed. After seeing 👉 this video of what lies ahead for locals and travellers in Paris and beyond, I cannot wait to get back there! May this restrictive time pass toute suite!

Bon voyage!

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