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the must-do hike in Reunion Island!

With 3 extraordinary cirques, incredible vegetation, stunning peaks and ocean as far as the eye can see, Reunion Island is the ultimate hiker's paradise.

GR R2: the must-do hike in Reunion Island!

I dreamt of walking across the island from north to south, following the trek called "GR R2", and I did it! And as I explored it, I began to understand why it was called the "intense island." Shall I tell you about it?

some information about this trek in Reunion island

my route along the reunion island

Trek undertaken from 12th to 20th November 2021

Day 1 > Stage 1: St-Denis - Roche Écrite refuge
Day 2 > Roche Écrite summit (variant) and stage 2: gîte de la Roche Écrite refuge - Dos d’ ne
Day 3 > Stages 3 and 4: Dos d’ ne - Aurère - Grand Place
Day 4 > stages 5 and 6: Grand Place - Roche Plate - Marla
Day 5 > Stages 7 and 8: Marla - Cilaos - gîte de la Caverne Dufour refuge
Day 6 > Piton des Neiges summit (variant) and stage 9: Caverne Dufour - Bourg-Murat
Day 7 > Stage 10: Bourg-Murat - gîte du Volcan refuge
Day 8 > Stage 11: gîte du Volcan - gîte de Basse Vallée refuge
Day 9 > Stage 12: gîte de Basse Vallée refuge- Basse Vallée

The "GR R2" trek: Who's it for? What's special about it?

If you like the great outdoors and unspoilt countryside, this trek is for you! Spoiler alert: I was amazed by the magnificence of the scenery and variety of landscapes. Jungles with lush vegetation, volcanic and lunar landscapes, dense pine forests, lush plains, dozens of streams and waterfalls, all on an amazing scale. In a word, awesome!
And is it hard? Well, it's roughly a 160 km trek - not counting possible variants - with 10,000 m of cumulative ascents and descents, so it's a test of endurance. The challenge lies in the number of steps (by which I mean thousands), typical of Reunion trails. And they're all different sizes which made it more fun. I'll tell you more about it later...
There were also huge numbers of roots and stones, and cliff paths so you had to be constantly vigilant about where to put your feet. People say that some sections are very muddy but it was very dry when we were there so I can't confirm that.
But unlike the GR20, to cite just one example, there were fewer vertiginous sections where you had to use your hands or climb with a rope. Which, in my opinion, made it less difficult.
Another thing to be aware of: the altitude, particularly if you do the variants (up to 3,000 m+), so you'll need to take nice, warm clothes.
Finally, the Reunion weather can come as a surprise. We were extremely lucky in this regard but it can quickly become overcast, sometimes as early as 10 or 11 am. So one word of advice: start walking early! The good news is that the sun rises at roughly 5.30 am.
So there you have it; you've been warned.

GR R2: the must-do hike in Reunion Island!

STAGE 1 > hike from SAINT-DENIS to GÎTE DE LA ROCHE ÉCRITE REFUGE

16KM // 1800 D+ // 5.5 HRS

Let's go! After a good night's sleep - essential after our previous night in the airplane - we were now at the start of the GR R2. I'd dreamt about it and I was there! Today was all about climbing: 1800d+ awaited us. The start of the trail took us seamlessly from the town to the forest. The incline was quite gentle, nothing too difficult. We already found ourselves surrounded by vegetation ...and steps. We also got to enjoy some superb views of the ocean.
After 2 hours of walking we arrived at Le Brûlé, an unassuming little village. Lots of hikers start their trek here but we're purists. We filled up our water bladders and set off for a hour of climbing along tarmacked road - not the best part of the day...The best part was yet to come: we entered the Roche Écrite Nature Reserve, following a small trail that alternated between dense jungle and bamboo forests. The sound of tweeting birds added to this moment of bliss, particularly the Tuit-tuit (Reunion cuckooshrike), an extremely rare bird that you only find on the island. We felt great, even high up in the clouds!
We walked briskly until we reached the gîte de la Roche Écrite refuge, the end of the first stage which set the tone for this adventure. It was a quiet, rural gîte, surrounded by vegetation. It would have been perfect if there'd been hot water but we had to make do with a cold shower. The evening meal - beef curry - was very good, as was the bed that awaited us.

Guesthouse in reunion island

Roche Écrite variant and stage 2 > from Roche Écrite to Dos d’Âne

10KM // 200 D+ / 900 D- // 2 HRS 45

And yet, it wasn't one of the best nights. We woke up very early so we could reach the Roche Écrite summit - a stage not included in the GR trail but which is well worth the trip - before breakfast. The good thing is that we could leave our bags at the gîte and walk unencumbered. 5.30 am, we climbed for a good hour through a vast, rocky, surprisingly arid plain. You really need to pay attention to spot the trail which is marked in white. Throughout the climb, we had a fantastic, clear view of the sea with a few clouds in the distance.
The summit, some 2,200 metres above sea level, left us speechless. There, stretching out before us was the Cirque de Salazie, with not a cloud on the horizon. In the background, we could see part of the Mafate Cirque and the 2 pitons - Piton des Neiges and the Piton de la Fournaise. It was spectacular, the steep green peaks and villages below. We spent a while admiring the amazing view and then walked back down. At 8 am sharp, we sat down for our breakfast which we devoured without even saying grace!

In the meantime, everyone had left the gîte and it was our turn to hit the road and follow the GR towards Dos d’Âne, one of the entry points to the Mafate Cirque. A short stage but what a stage! Certainly one of the most beautiful. First, we again walked through a dense forest, regularly lowering our heads to avoid branches and tree trunks. Soon, through the vegetation, we could make out the Cirque de Mafate on our left. It was a stunning view which remained visible as we walked all along the ridge trail. A feast for the eyes...and a workout for the legs. The guide promised us a stage that was all downhill. It lied: It was all raised mounds which we climbed up and then immediately down - a special treat.
After a final superb, but steep, ridge, we reached the village of Dos d’Âne, high up in the clouds. We came across the only restaurant in the area where we feasted on "rougail saucisses," a spicy sausage stew. When we reached the refuge, we spent a while chatting to other hikers. The evening was fun and, our host had lots of advice to share about the next day.

hike to mafate in reunion island

Mafate is superb; you feel tiny when facing the vastness of nature.

Stages 3 and 4 > hike from Dos d’Âne to Aurère and Grand-Place

22.5KM // 1200 D+ / 1300 D- // 7 HRS 15

I slept better and at 7.15 am, we set off on our way, ready to do battle with Mafate. As it was the big day: the day of our long awaited encounter with the famous cirque. And also a day of aches and pains.
At the start of the trail, we came face to face with dozens of trail runners, competing in a race. It was nice (we were happy to encourage them) but also a bit annoying as the path descended sharply along a narrow, quite steep trail with a few "ladders" or stairs so we had to let them pass as they made their way up. That made us lose a bit of time.
Eventually, after a 2 hour descent, we reached Mafate. We stood on a plateau, surrounded by impressive mountains and traversed by the Rivière des Galets. It was superb; we felt tiny when faced with the vastness of nature. I apologize but it's difficult to describe just how beautiful it was. We crossed the river several times, taking the opportunity to cool down - which felt great in the heat of the blazing sun.
Further along we reached a forest; we were very grateful for the shade so we could tackle the challenging and impressive flight of steps that would eventually - after some 15 km and 800 d+ elevation gain - lead us to Aurère. But the reward was worth it: Aurère is cuteness personified. A tiny village, in the depths of the mountains, with a grass path running through it, colourful, well-maintained houses and a lovely bar (well, ok, it was closed but it was Sunday) where we stopped off and had a sandwich. An oasis of calm that cast its spell over us.

trek from aurere to mafate

The day wasn't over yet; we carried on, completing a double shift, making for Grand-Place les Hauts. We walked through îlet à Malheur and îlet à Bourse, two charming villages. There was even a café in the second where we indulged in a nice cold drink. But I'm forgetting the most important thing: the trail itself which was really rather difficult, a constant up and down with (would you believe) endless steps. Fortunately the scenery was breath-taking and the sun stayed with us all day. We came across some super impressive giant bamboo.
3 hours later and we arrived at our destination. Another lovely place; the gîte was extremely quiet, surrounded by lush vegetation. We shared our dorm with 5 really friendly hikers who we spent a great evening with.
And it wouldn't be a proper night in a dorm without a snorer!