Reunion Island in 11 snapshots

Posted by Kati Auld on 9 July 2014 Tags:

Reunion Island is one of the most photogenic places you’ll ever see. From the mountains dense with mango trees to the streets bustling with street art, it’s a photographer’s dream. Here are just a few snapshots from one magical week.

(Reunion Island is a department of France, and it has recently opened its gates to South African visitors who no longer need a visa to visit. Find out more here.)

1. Piton de Fournaise

volcano

Reunion’s famous active volcano is best seen by microlight. Photo by Kati Auld

 

What do you like about being in nature? For me, it’s about connecting with something eternal. Mountains don’t care about the messy minutiae of being humans in a complicated world. The petrified dunes outside Sossusvlei were around way before we learnt to use fire, and will continue on a timescale too grand for our puny little minds to comprehend.

On a volcanic island, the experience is the exact opposite. The ground shifts under your feet. In 2007, an eruption caused the island to grow by about 30 hectares – 30 rugby fields – over one month. The land is fluid. You quite literally never know what will happen next.

 

2. Locals and street art

gouzou, street art

This figure, the “gouzou”, is all over Reunion Island. Photo by Kati Auld

 

One of the best things about travelling is teasing out the unique contrasts and contradictions of each destination. There’s never one experience of a place, and it’s in the tension between these different versions of the story that a place comes alive. From the beautiful street-art to the interesting people, Reunion is a story-teller’s dream.

 

3. Stray dogs

Stray dogs are all over Reunion. Bridges too. Photo by Kati Auld

Stray dogs are all over Reunion. Bridges too. Photo by Kati Auld

 

4. Macaroons

macaroon

Macaroons in all flavours and colours: the market in Saint-Pierre is heaven. Photo by Kati Auld

Even the houses in Saint-Denis are macaroon-coloured.

 

5. Carambolle

starfruit, market

Starfruit, or “carambolle”, tastes like a citrus-plum. Photo by Kati Auld

 

You’ll find all sorts of interesting things at the market: from fresh produce to arts and crafts, it’s best to go with a full wallet and an empty belly.

 

6. Dolphins

Reunion is one of the few places where dolphins are studied in the wild. Photo by Kati Auld

Reunion is one of the few places where dolphins are studied in the wild. Photo by Kati Auld

 

A treat of epic proportions: dolphins and whales are a common sight around Reunion, and they’ll happily surf the wake of nearby boats.

 

7. People of Saint-Gille

pet, yorkie, reunion

Chez Lou Lou, in Saint-Gille, stocks the most delicious pastries. Photo by Kati Auld

 

Saint-Gille is one of the most picturesque towns I’d ever visited: the colours of Bo-Kaap over a place that was more like St Tropez. You are no-one if you don’t have a big hat.

 

8. Cayenne

cayenne, mafate

The little village of Cayenne has no road access: it can be reached only by hiking or helicopter. Photo by Kati Auld

 

Only eight families live in the isolated village of Cayenne: the only way to access it is by a meandering, precipitous two-hour hike through the caldera. Oh: or helicopter.

 

9. Vanilla pods

vanilla

From pollination to market-place, producing vanilla takes almost two years. Photo by Kati Auld

 

Reunion is claimed to have the best vanilla in the world – and after hearing the story of how it’s produced, I can believe it. The bushes are hand-pollinated by a poetically-named “marrieur” (i.e. the person who officiates weddings) in the early hours of the morning. After nine months on the tree, they are soaked in water for three months, and then dry for another eight months. By the time the pods are ready to be sold, the producer has spent almost two years on them.

 

10. Churches

church, reunion

This gorgeous church in Sainte-Anne has recently been refurbished. Photo by Kati Auld

 

There’s no shortage of churches on Reunion island. Mosques and temples can also be seen jostling out over the skyline – but followers of different religions live together in peace. As our tour guide joked, “As long as you believe in God, it’s fine. The only people we have a problem with are atheists!”

 

11. Microlight

microlight

Flying over Reunion Island in a microlight is one of the best experiences it is physically possible to have. Photo by Kati Auld

 

I didn’t exactly know what a microlight was, before I flew in one. It’s kind of like a matchbox, with a desk-fan strapped to the front – except it’s all that’s standing between you and a thousand-metre drop into cavernous valleys. It was possibly the best experience I’ve ever had.