Orson’s Travel Blog

Moto-travels

Reunion Island

with 4 comments

Recently, a co-worker of mine had talked about living on Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean. Intrigued, I decided to do some research on the subject. I googled a map of Mauritius, when I noticed another island nearby. I discovered that it was Reunion Island. Why hadn’t I noticed it before? I had read vague references to Reunion, but had never paid it close attention. Why was Mauritius relatively well-known and Reunion under a veil? The reason is that it is a French possession. It is a French overseas Department just like French Surinam in South America.

Reunion is a volcanic island that has been compared to the big island of Hawaii. Apparently, the French don’t appear too keen on sharing their version of Hawaii with the English speaking world, thus they have thrown a cloaking device over the island. I’ve always been impressed by the quality of French road system and a Hawaiian-like island with French maintained roads seemed too good to pass up.

I set out to try to organize an expedition. It proved to be harder than I thought. The only direct flights to Reunion come from Paris or South Africa. Any other flights had to be made to nearby Mauritius, where a puddle jumper could fly you over to Reunion. They weren’t going to make it easy for me. Hotel reservations sent via the hotel’s web page went unaknowledged. The same with any bike rental web sites. Not to be deterred, I finally found e-mail addresses and sorted a room and a motorbike, and everything was arranged.

A six hour flight south out of Dubai got me to Mauritius, where I boarded a small prop plane to Reunion. Arriving in the capital city of Saint Dennis around noon, I made my way to my hotel and rested until the following day when I would pick up the bike. I had arranged to rent a BMW GS 650, the same type of bike I had used on Madeira a few years ago. Herve was the owner’s name who ran a one man operation out of his house. Why people would want to rent out bikes to people who are going to thrash them is beyond me, but I’m thankful for them 🙂

While Reunion has some nice beaches, it’s the island’s interior that stand out. The island’s geography is dominated by three calderas, created when an ancient volcano collapsed. The collapse left huge natural ampitheaters with stunning scenery. I made my way south along the west coast of the island towards the first caldera known as the Cirque de Cilaos where I had booked my hotel for the night.

Tropical cyclone Lola was close enough to the island to lash her with scattered showers, so under the threat of rain, I found a suitably twisty line on the map and headed south along the west coast of the island.

Heading south:

The main road around the island hugs the coastline and is fairly crowded, but I used it for a bit in order to make some time.

At the town of Saint Louis, I turned inland and started to make the climb towards the town of Cilaos. You masochists who love switchbacks would love this road as it was packed with them.

Looking back down at where I’d been:

Continuing the climb to Cilaos, I was impressed by the island’s mountainous terrain

The little beemer proved to be well suited for these roads. My impressions of the GS are the same as the ones I had from my previous rental. The single cylinder engine could use a few more ponies, but the wide bars and the comfy saddle make for a good combination of a touring motard, nice and light to flick thru the tight stuff.

I found my hotel and settled in for the night. Sugar is one of the island’s biggest crops and with that comes rum. One of the favored spirits on Reunion is rhum arrangé. This is rum that is left to soak in a variety of fruits. Every establishment seems to have their own concoction which they insist is the best and you feel obligated to try some, which is served straight up like a brandy. In the interest of impartiality, this reporter took it upon himself to sample some at every occassion and was particularly in favor of the orange-pineapple blend 🙂

The following day, I set about exploring the narrow roads inside the Cilaos caldera

By noonish, the clouds had descended again, and I began to feel rain drops. In the interest of staying dry, I cut short the explorations and made my way back to the hotel for more rhum. While reading my guide book, I noticed a section that mentioned,”Avoid travelling to the cirques during times of typhoons, as frequent landslides occur from the excessive rainfalls, causing the towns to be sealed off for days.” A little too late for that now! Reunion Island is known for its prodigious amounts of rainfall, holding world records for 12 hours, 24 hours, 1 week, 1 month, and 1 year totals.

The morning of the third day, I awoke to the sound of the pitter patter of raindrops on my window. I decided to tough it out and head for the coast, hoping to find better weather. It was a 1 hour slog thru a misting rain back down to the coast, but fortunately, the weather began to improve.

I headed south along the shore towards the island’s remaining active volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise.

Unfortunately, team orson’s photographer decided to store his camera in the front pocket of his jacket during the rain, and the camera started to malfunction. I honestly don’t know why we keep the idiot around. So, there are no pictures of steam arising from the lava fields on the south coast of the island.

Instead, here is an artist’s depiction of the road cutting along the coast thru the laval fields with steam rising

Fortunately for team orson’s photographer, the sun began to work its charms and the camera began working again. Banana trees and mountains. Typical Reunion island scenery.

Heading up the eastern coast to the town Saint Andre, I hung a left and made my way up into the hills to the second caldera known as Cirque de Salazie. The word awesome has been severely overused in today’s lexicon, but the road heading up to the town of Hell-Bourg is truely awesome.

This was a truely amazing road reminiscent of the Norweigian fjords or Yosemite. While the road itself wasn’t the best, the scenery more than made up for it. It may not a match for Norway or Yosemite, but it was purdy darn close.

Waterfalls dotted the landscape:

and sprinkled the roadway

Looking up towards the Piton des Neiges, the extinct volcano that is the island’s highest peak at 10,069 feet.

Looking back towards the coast. The road to Hell-Bourg comes up the canyon and around the bend

After securing a room in Hell-Bourg, I took advantage of the clearing skies to take some more photographs during the golden hour. This would be my best day on the road as I rode all the way til sundown enjoying the spectacular views.

Another look at the Piton des Neiges.

Hell-Bourg isn’t named after hell itself, but rather Monsieur Hell, who was a French government official overlooking the island during the 1800s. On the morning of Day 4, the skies were clear and I took a look around the town. The Creole architecture of main street with the Piton des Neiges in the background.

Hell-Bourg has been called one of the most scenic French villages and rightly so.

Many of the homes were designed in what is known as Creole style. Notice the huge ferns in the front yard.

Heading back towards the coast…yet another waterfall

Ok ok ok…another waterfall…we get the idea…sheesh

Many of the peaks would be veiled in clouds by midday, as if to say,”Foolish mortals, do not tread here, for here lies the lair of the skid demon”

All that rum has to come from somewhere. Sugar cane fields stretched for miles and miles, resembling Hawaii.

All the signs in towns were in French and few people spoke any English, putting my high school French to the test. In the town of saint Andre, I came upon a Hindu temple and my brain did a backflip. It had to take a few seconds to figure out where I was. The South Pacific? India? France?…oh right, I’m on Reunion Island. It was a strange place in that way. The people were a mixture of French, African, Indian, Malaysian and Chinese. I have to say, I never encountered any of the French gruffness that sometimes seems prevalent on the continent. Everyone I came across was pleasant and smiling.

Perhaps due to the copious amounts of rainfall, almost all the secondary roads had big water channels along side them with no guardrails. Woe unto the motorist who loses his concentration for a moment.

Clip that apex, just don’t clip it too close!

There is only one road across the center of the island, and a great riding road it is! In the highlands, the temperature dropped into the high sixties and the terrain began to look a lot like the north of England. Again, my mind had to stop for a moment and remind me that I was on an island in the Indian Ocean.

Now that the weather had turned to mostly sunny skies, I decided to return to the Cirque de Cilaos to get some more pictures.

The road heading up to Cilaos:

Inside the Cirque de Cilaos

Morning dawns in the town of Cilaos on Day 5:

Heading back down towards the coast:

Approaching the coast, the terrain turned to gentle hills dotted with palm trees and sugar cane fields.

I headed back up the east coast back towards the capital of Saint Dennis

Stopping for a plate of Creole barbeque. No I didn’t finish it all, but I tried!

The food was a mixture of French, Indian and Malaysian. Boy, did I eat on this trip! Some of the meals had 6 courses. Only the French could invent a mini dessert placed between the apperitif and the main course. A small portion of coconut ice cream swimming in a bath of…you guessed it…more rum.

On the sixth and last day, I would return the bike to Herve, but not before checking out some of the Creole architecture in Saint Dennis:

I had a great time riding through some amazing scenery. While the roads may not have been up to the standards of the French roads on the continent, the scenery more than made up for any deficiencies. The little beemer again proved to be a perfect bike for riding tight island roads. Hopefully I’ll be able to test the new BMW 800 GS soon. I would have to grade Reunion as a solid A as a touring destination. Friendly people, challenging roads, good food, and stunning scenery.

Recap:

Time: 6 days
Distance: approximately 1000 km
Gendarme sightings: 2 (both times on motorbikes, both times going faster than me.
Puckers: 0
Bee stings: 1

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4 Responses

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  1. it’s a very very good presentation !! happy to see it !
    and you a hade very… nice motorbike ! ;0)

    Jayce

    April 1, 2009 at 9:46 am

  2. hey, i was trying to get some info on Réunion because i am studying for homework, this was really helpful. (it’s sounds like a pretty cool place too!)

    Rosie

    April 11, 2010 at 5:21 pm

  3. Hi there!! how cool is this – i have had this passion of touring Reunion for years now – but as a women rider it seems impossible to get someone to go with me – as you rightly said – people just dont know about this island. Anyway this is on my wishlist to do and i want to thank you for “taking me on this trip” via internet!! i have a BMW F650GS myself and hope to get there on day!!So if there is anyone out there!! happitimes, anni, Port Elizabeth
    South Africa x

    anni

    September 4, 2010 at 6:03 am

  4. Hello, wanted to let you know I used one of your pictures for a FB post and added a link to your blog as Photo credits. If you don’t approve let me know and I’ll take it down, great photos. thanks a lot!.

    Jessica

    May 15, 2014 at 2:58 pm


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