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La Réunion – a four day walk in the Cirque de Mafate

Day 1 - Col des Boeufs --> La Nouvelle

The walk starts from the Petit Col secure (24-hour surveillance) car park, way above Grand Ilet and Le Belier. In September 2009, the charges for the secure parking were EUR10 per night for a car. There's free parking a short way back down the road if you prefer, but we didn't want to chance it. The Petit Col car park (which also has a small bar/cafe) is in itself a quite exceptional viewpoint and you will want to savour the awesome views over the sharks-fin profile of Morne de Fourche before heading off along the forestry track towards La Nouvelle.

Rainforest and cloud on the descent from the Col des Boeufs towards La Nouvelle, Ile de la Reunion

Rainforest and cloud on the descent from the Col des Boeufs towards La Nouvelle, Reunion
(c) Mat & Niki Adlam-Stiles


At first this may seem a little uninspiring given the views you've just left behind, because if the cloud is low as it was when we set off, there's nothing really to look at to your left and only a very steep cliff to your right!

Shortly however you reach the Col des Boeufs from where helicopters ply to and from La Nouvelle, carrying in essential supplies and taking out domestic refuse. Perhaps not quite what you expect to see on a paradise island, but thought-provoking as to how the island and its resources (and waste) are managed.

From here you may just get a first glimpse of the colossal caldera walls of the Cirque de Mafate (if you’re lucky and the clouds aren't obscuring it). Now the view ahead starts to improve dramatically as you descend gently into the Réunionnais rainforest amongst tree ferns and the twisted, lichen-draped branches of tamarind trees. The path is always easily visible, but at the same time carefully maintained with minimalist impact on the surrounding environment. After a while, you'll pass a junction with a signpost to Marla, on a grassy plain strewn with incredibly old tamarind trees, from which you'll return on Day 4. In a couple of places you may be fortunate enough to spot exquisite wild passion flowers growing amongst the trees.

First views of the Cirque de Mafate, looking towards La Nouvelle and Roche Plate, Ile de la Reunion, September 2009

First views of the Cirque de Mafate, looking towards La Nouvelle and Roche Plate
(c) Mat & Niki Adlam-Stiles

We don't want to give away too much of the sheer pleasure of discovering a new and scenic viewpoint around every corner, so suffice to say you are now well and truly on the way to La Nouvelle, which, even if you've been stopping to take photos and gasp at the scenery every few minutes, you should manage to reach within a couple of hours or so of leaving the Col des Boeufs. If you started reasonably early in the morning as we did, this means you'll be in La Nouvelle in time for lunch! La Nouvelle, a cluster of pretty houses roughly strewn at the foot of enormous jagged peaks, is a sizeable village in comparison with the others you'll be staying in on this walk. With a school, a church, a couple of bars and a fair number of inhabitants, it's a thriving little place and a veritable metropolis compared with Roche Plate and Marla.

The Relais du Mafate in La Nouvelle, Cirque Mafate, Reunion, September 2009

The Relais du Mafate in La Nouvelle, Cirque Mafate, Reunion
(c) Mat & Niki Adlam-Stiles

Our accommodation in La Nouvelle was at the Relais du Mafate, and we thought it was pretty 'upmarket' for a mountain village, a comfortable and clean double bed in a spacious room with a sink and hot water (but no showers). We'd not sussed the "confirm-your-veggie-meal" bit at this stage, so in the evening sat down with around 20 other guests at refectory tables in an adjoining building to eat our meal.

Thank heaven for chouchou, which must be the most versatile vegetable in the world – veggies take note, the starters (especially the chouchou au gratin) are usually safe!

Unfortunately the hearty black bean curry had been cooked with meat stock but there was plenty of rice and rougail (a kind of fiery, chilli relish – wickedly good) to carb up on, plus dessert to follow. We felt that some of the staff at the Relais de Mafate weren't as friendly as they could be, but that said, it was very busy there and they had a lot of people to cater for.

Other options for Day 1:

It would be perfectly feasible to combine days 1 and 2 to enable the walk to be completed in 3 days rather than 4. This would make for a longish day, with a big climb up Le Bronchard to Roche Plate to achieve in the afternoon, so you'd need to make an early start.

Or – you could do as we did and naively think "that was easy", then add-on a further circular walk out past La Plaine aux Sables towards the Maison Laclos, taking the lower route out and returning to La Nouvelle via the rather interesting higher-level "route vertigineux". A tremendous hike with a couple of truly worthwhile viewpoints which shows another face of the Cirque Mafate, but which uses up energy you could do well to save for day 2!

Now for day 2 of the walk in the Cirque de Mafate - La Nouvelle to Roche Plate.