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.
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?
12 days maximum
160 km (excluding variants)
10,000 d+ and d-
Piton des Neiges - 3070m
Best time of year for this trek
All year round, excluding January to April (hurricane season)
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
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.
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!
19.5KM // 2000 D+ / 900 D- // 7.5 HRS
It was going to be a long day, so we ate breakfast quickly. The disadvantage of staying in a gîte here is that breakfast is served quite late (usually around 7am) which makes leaving at sunrise difficult...
Time to head for Roche Plate! Things didn't start quite as planned: we took the wrong path - there were several signposted in the village - we were headed towards Roche Plate but not via the GR R2. It was another marked trail which was more direct but (spoiler) just as tough. As self-confessed sticklers - but you knew that already - we were a little disappointed that we hadn't followed the "official" trail but - too bad - we didn't have time to turn around. And anyway we were too busy walking down a long, particularly steep path leading to the river... to hike back up again. And that just about sums up Mafate for you! But the scenery was still stunning which made everything seem easier. Because the steps leading to Roche Plate were a real pain and we climbed a lot of them. 3 hours and 900 d+ later, we arrived and hooked up again with the GR R2. We filled up our water bottles and set off towards La Nouvelle.
Another lovely technical descent down to the same river. This time, we had a proper break; we bathed in the cool water of the natural ponds, and snacked on sausage and cheese that we'd had the foresight to bring. It was a magnificent spot. Despite the fact that ahead of us we could see the winding path we'd need to climb to reach the village. And it was a tough ascent under a scorching sun. En route, we encountered an enormous yellow and black spider, seemingly happily sunning itself, while we counted the endless twists and turns on the trail...
Finally, we reached La Nouvelle, Mafate's largest village. We were shattered. We needed another, longer break and headed to the local snack bar where they had...chips! I couldn't have dreamt up a better meal!
Once again, it was all really charming, starting with the colourful houses, flower-filled gardens and small chapel. It looked like a film set.
Finally, for the last stage of the day: Marla; and it was starting to cloud over. We walked through a lovely pine forest although by then I was exhausted and I just had one wish: to get there. A last lot of steps to reach 1,600 m and a few natural pools before the lovely Marla.
We were at the extreme south of the cirque and felt completely cut off, as if we were at the end of the earth (to tell the truth, I was also at the end of my tether). It was so, so ,SO beautiful!
When we arrived we found a small bar where we had a drink before heading to our gîte. We spent that night in a tent set up by the gîte. And not just any tent: they'd provided a real mattress and duvet - fantastic! The water was hot, the food delicious (even though we had rice again, just like every other evening), the company was good and the surrounding view completely insane. And I won't even mention the starlit sky...
The Piton des Neiges summit
Continuing on the GR trail: Bourg-Murat, here we come! The great weather stayed with us. The itinerary for this stage had recently changed and wasn't shown in our guide; so we set out on a genuine adventure.
We were a little disillusioned when we started the descent as the trail was super technical: pebbles, rocks, roots etc; we were constantly tripping over and making poor progress. Particularly as there was nothing special to look at (I know, I'm being very demanding). We suddenly started cursing and that went on for 2 hours. Eventually, we passed over a ridge and the path became easier, gently sloping down through a small forest. It was interminable.
We finally reached la Plaine des Cafres and, at last, a sign! What an anticlimax! It was another 2.5 hours to Bourg-Murat and we'd thought we were almost there. I tried to cheer up Seb who was as knackered as me. We had no alternative but to keep going; there was absolutely nothing there to stop for.
We crossed the plain and the landscape surprised us again; we could have been in the Limousin region or in the middle of the Normandy countryside. Fields, meadows, cows, hills and bales of hay. What were we doing there? And then another forest where we suddenly encountered a family of tenrecs, a type of hedgehog. They were so cute! That made us feel a little better.
We were completely knackered, my feet were hurting, I was totally fed up and we'd spent the last hour walking 5km along a main road with nothing to see and still no town in sight. We'd run out of water; it felt as if everything was falling apart. And suddenly, it appeared before our eyes: Bourg-Murat stood right in front of us. We dashed into the first shop we saw to buy a drink. As our walk still wasn't over; it was another 1 km to the gîte. It was uphill but no fun. The longest kilometre in the world. Quite a day! With the early morning climb, we'd done close to 26 km.
Our reward? A super comfortable gîte with lovely owners and a great meal (chayote gratin <3). The guests were all really nice and we had one of the best evenings of our trek.
20KM // 1000 D+ / 400 D- // 5 HRS 25
Result: we had no desire to set off again so we abandoned the trek.
I'm joking. However, we took our time as today, we only had the one stage which would lead us to the Piton de la Fournaise. We really hoped it would be better than the day before! Before setting off, we did some shopping as we were spending another night in a bivouac.
The route started with a slight climb, through pastures, hills and past cows. This time, it felt like we were in the Alps. Later on, it felt like the Jura with a lovely pine forest. Not such a bad place to be.
If you've been following us, don't worry, we're still in Reunion and we reaped the rewards of our island adventure when we emerged from the forest: a stunning view of an amazing valley and a cloudless sky. And there, in the distance ... the famous, majestic Fournaise.
We finally reached the road leading to the volcano, covered in dried lava and pebbles. The scenery resembled a lunar landscape and, I have to admit, it was a bit boring. We were completely and utterly alone. We arrived at Ste Thérèse oratory which had a superb view of the Plaine des Sables: an expanse of rock and lava stretching as far as the eye could see.
We walked for another 1.5 hours across the plain on a relatively flat trail.
After nearly 5.5 hours of walking, we found ourselves opposite the Piton de la Fournaise, an enormous volcano which erupts almost every year. The entrance to the volcano is via a natural enclosure which is closed during periods of eruption. Here you can see the lava flows and the vast grey plain that surrounds it. I wouldn't say that it's beautiful (I'm more of a jungle person, to tell the truth) but it was super impressive.
We went as far as the Pas de Bellecombe car park. Luckily for us, there was a snack bar on site where we had some "gratinés aux bouchons" (a sort of meat ravioli) sandwiches. and we feasted facing the volcano.
We pitched our tent behind the snack bar, where there were toilets and a delightful sewage smell. Obviously, we could have gone further away but actually it was a superb spot (and there was no smell): a stunning view of the Piton. What's more, we were the only ones there to enjoy the spectacle. The sunset over the volcano was fantastic; the sky was streaked in blues, violets and pinks and - what luck! - there was a full moon which also lit up the volcano. Bliss!
We enjoyed a leisurely start to the day. As we left the gîte, we couldn't help feeling a twinge of sadness as we knew that we'd soon be back in the real world and an altogether less gentle pace. So we took our time to complete our descent to Basse Vallée.
We walked through a dense forest; the trail ended without event, under blazing sun. 1.5 hours later we arrived at Basse Vallée and the village church which marks the end of the GR; but there was no end sign, no fanfare, nothing. Never mind; we got our "happy trekker by the sea," photo. Stars in our eyes and a head full of memories. Wow! It was amazing and instilled a real sense of pride.
If I were to give you once piece of advice: if you want to trek and stay in a gîte, book several months in advance. They are often full and they are few and far between, particularly in the two Pitons. In short, you need to plan ahead as much as possible. Otherwise, bivouacking is permitted - provided of course that you leave no trace behind you - and occasionally there are campsites en route, even in Mafate.
Finally, start walking early; sun is almost always guaranteed!
If you've read everything, you might guess: the amazing Mafate. And particularly our arrival in Aurère which was such a gorgeous village. What's more, there were mini bananas available at the entrance to the village - delicious! And our departure via the col de Taïbit pass; that's when we really started to appreciate what we'd hiked across and the extraordinary beauty of the landscapes.
I'll also remember our last meal at the gîte in Basse Vallée. There was a great atmosphere and we were all delighted to have finished the trek.
I'm cheating - I've got two. First of all, a good feather sleeping bag, that's key. Because some nights it's freezing, particularly at altitude. I can't stress enough how important sleep is when trekking.
The second: blister plasters. And no other brand will do. I am very susceptible to blisters, so they saved me a lot of pain. What's more, they stay on for days, they're really well made.
"To infinity and beyond.”