Reunion for South Africans, same same but so different.
Google says that 82% of South Africans like to go somewhere new, the most popular holidays are family ones, food is important, and we like to do stuff. The latest buzz word for that is “active relaxation” and it does not include lying on a beach for 7 days.
So, I have to tell you about Reunion Island.
Forget everything you thought you knew about an Indian Ocean Island because Reunion is going to blow your mind.
Firstly, it is VISA free for South Africans and is only a four hour flight from Joburg.
Secondly, although it is actually part of France and has an active but safe volcano, parts of it look like home. Think the Garden Route, the Drakensberg, parts of the Karoo and warm beaches like Durbs.
Other parts are absolutely nothing like home, there are towns that will make you sure you are in the Swiss Alps, volcanic landscapes like the set of Jurassic Park, and forests, rivers and ravines like somewhere in the Amazon.
It’s the perfect balance of familiar and foreign with enough variety to keep everyone entertained.
1. We love places where they talk foreign.
Afrikaans might have been rated as the sexiest accent ever, but English spoken with a French / Creole accent is so divine that even directions to the toilet will leave you weak at the knees.
French is the official language and Creole is widely spoken. In the touristy areas you can usually get by with English, everywhere else, use gestures, signs and facial expressions and if that fails, try Google translate.
2. We are always keen for a unique adventure.
Reunion has some pretty wild or unusual activities that you certainly won’t find at home. If you are not claustrophobic, spend a few hours underground in the lava tunnels. These are underground tubes in the lava that stretch for miles, best explored with a guide. Spend close to an hour in a helicopter flying over the volcano, along the coast, around the mountains and cirques, over multiple waterfalls and through narrow canyons that seem barely wide enough to contain the copter. Go canyoning where the start involves a climb and an abseil down a sheer cliff before the need for a wetsuit becomes apparent and you leap into pools, climb up waterfalls and see pristine, natural beauty inaccessible to most visitors.
Try Aqua Hiking, similar to canyoning but without the abseiling. A zipline into a river, then navigating a fairly fast flow past boulders and gentle rapids using your arms and feet as a rudder. Dive through gaps in the rocks, leap off a cliff into the water 8 meters below. Slide down a waterfall, stand behind a waterfall and finally dive through a waterfall.
Do yoga or a meditation on the edge of a volcano. This landscape is extreme. Barren, otherworldly and believed to hold a healing energy from the volcano. Walking with your eyes closed, listening to the sounds of the earth and tuning in to nature here is a powerful experience.
3. We love to play in nature.
There are over 1000 km of hiking and running trails catering to all levels of difficulty and ranging from short walks to multi day expeditions and serious rock climbing. Any keen hiker or trail runner will be thrilled and challenged by the opportunities here.
There are watersports galore from white water rafting, diving and kayaking to deep sea fishing, SUP, sailing, swimming in the lagoon or taking a sunset cruise on a catamaran.
Paragliding, horse riding, micro light trips, 4 x 4 adventures, take your pick.
4. We love a road trip.
Although the island is only about 55km in length and width, it has 200km of outstanding, mostly single carriageway roads following the coast and some impressive passes and climbs up into the mountains which reach well over 2000 meters above sea level. The average speed on the roads is about 50km p/h so it takes time to get around, but every few kilometers there is something worthy of a stop.
Hiring a car and exploring at your own pace is definitely an option, and a must do road is the 35 km trip from the coast to Cilaos. The road has over 200 hairpin bends and another 200 twists and turns. The trip will take about an hour and a half but the scenery is totally worth it.
5. We love to compete.
I did not see evidence of soccer or rugby, but extreme sports, mountain biking, trail running and cycling are perfect for this terrain and for the competitive types there are some serious events on this awesome island. The Bassin Vital Race The Pic Adam Race, St Paul Half-Marathon Tram-Train Marathon Raid 974 .
The CIMASALAZIENNE is a 53km run in the UNESCO World Heritage Site
LE GRAND RAID is a 150km trail run race, also known as the Madmans Diagonal
The MEGAVALANCHE is a downhill MTB race of 15 -25 km, and a vertical drop of 2 -3000 meters. www.avalanchecup.com
Plan your holiday around one of these events.
6. Cultural Festivals.
Here in S.A we celebrate many cultures and we love a good festival. From street art to slavery, Reunion has a number of events that will tempt the culture vultures.
January: Chinese New Year (parades and shows mainly around the temples in St Denis and St Pierre). April: Tamil New Year. Processions and ceremonies
June: Grand Boucan in St Gilles-les-Bains (Reunion’s very own Carnaval)
July : Fire walking Bastille Day (the 14th) The “Sak nou fé” (Grand Bois – St Pierre)
August: Fire walking Cavadee – St Denis Festi’plantes (in St André)
August: Guan-Di Festival (traditional Chinese celebration)
November: Dipavali (Hindu Festival of Light). Ceremonies and Parades in several towns across the island.
November: Street art Leu Tempo Festival of Street Arts in St Leu Bras-Panon is the oldest and largest performance arts festival in Reunion, combining circus acts, street theatre and puppet shows.
20th December: Anniversary of the abolition of slavery. Its party-time all over the island for this fine moment of conviviality to the rhythmic sounds of maloya music.
7. Music festivals.
If Rocking the Daisies, Oppi Koppi, Splashy Fen and Innibos are your thing, then take a look at the dates for these music festivals on the island.
August: Sakifo (St Pierre) International and local artists perform at the biggest festival on the island.
September: Kaloo Bang Festival in Saint-Denis reflects the multi-cultural image of the capital. www.kaloobang.re
I hope I have convinced you to visit Reunion Island, it really is lekker.
For more info and inspiration, visit the Reunion Island website
For more information on the landscapes and a helicopter flight read: https://theroaminggiraffe.co.za/the-landscapes-of-reunion-island/htseeing.
For a detailed account of a visit to a traditional farm for a tour and a meal, read: https://theroaminggiraffe.co.za/a-taste-of-reunion/
For everything you want to know about Aqua hiking, read here: https://theroaminggiraffe.co.za/aqua-hiking-the-ultimate-experience-on-reunion-island/
My visits to Reunion Island have been hosted by the Reunion Tourism board.