17.08.2006 28 °C
The French Island in the middle of the Indian Ocean had never really been a destination I was aware of, until the offer came about in July 2006 to spend 2 weeks during my final year at school. Once the offer was there, i eagerly snatched it up.
Totally unaware of the island's dangers/sights and surf spots i spent the first 3 days hobbling the streets of St Gille on the island west coast after a painful encounter with the reefs numerous sea urchins. It was the first day on the island and after the $180 (€100) half hour taxi ride from St Denis to our destination just south of St Gille; L'Hermitage. I dropped my gear in our hotel room, grabbed my board and boardshorts and hit the beach. Running through the toppless woman and chain smoking teenagers, i began to realise that many elements of french culture had manage to make their way across Africa to this floating volcano in the Indian Ocean.
I wasn't to sure of the exact location of surfspots along the coast but had briefly scanned, wannasurf.com before arriving and knew that if i ran along the beach in a southerly direction i should see something. It was a 28 degree day, with high humidity, a nice change from the 14 degree weather of South West Australia from where I came, and after a kilometre of running about 15 surfers on an outer reef consisting of a fairly long sucky left (L'hermitage Gauche) and an extremely sucky shorter right (L'hermitage Droit), appeared in my sights. I spent about 5 minutes trying to suss out a path to the outer breaks through the 300m of reef but no-one was coming in and no-one was going out, so did what any self respecting aussie does on a tropical island with pumping surf in front of them and ran straight across the reef. 10 minutes later I was asking my new found surf mates if they would aid in me in pulling the 30 or so sea urchin pins from my aching feet. Lets just say I learnt my first lesson of surf travel; suss it out first.
The Reunion climate is on the verge of unbelievable; even during the winter months (June/July/August) air temperature hovers around 26 degrees, with water temperatures around 24, boardshorts is the go when surfing unless the winds are strong. The closer you get St Pierre, the stronger they get. Shark attacks are common and everyone on the island knows someone who knows someone whos been attacked, but if you stick to the popularbreaks of St Leu, L'Hermitage, Trois Bassin and Roche Noir, risk is minimal.
St Leu is a long left that starts off realtivley fat and large, providing a long wall for snap after snap, the wave then does almost a 90 degree turn and grinds along a shallow inside reef which (if the winds are right) leaves you with good chances of an awesome barrel. Localism can be heavy when it's on, but mid week your gauranteed to get some good waves, the winter months provide a lot of swell but winds can often be to strong for most spots. But St Leu continues to remain fairly protected from strong southerly's because of the turn in the wave.
Local cuisine is a varied and flavoursome mix of Créol (the island's black inhabitants) and traditional french dishes. Beer is available everywhere, with variety usually limited to two local beers;
Fischer and Dodo, and the only import Heineken. From my reunion experience, Dodo usually provides a bit more taste but both are fairly average. Just across the road from St Leu is a relativley inexpensive restaraunt/cafe that serves up local dishes for around €5 each ($8), the Créol sausage dish is definatley a memorable one (but don't say yes to the optional chilli extra, unless you've got a large threshold.)
After a week or so on the island I began to realise the lack of other tourists, besides those from France. Reunion Island, being french territory, serves as the French's answer to Bali and many of those on the island have come from France relativley recently. Most speak a small amount of english, but fluent english is uncommon, unless you run into the occasional South African. The nightlife can be good, but expect to pay from around €4 ($7) for a beer on tap and anything up to €8 for a Heineken ($14), most of the local music is raggae and there are lots of live gigs. Just next to the beach in L'Hermitage is a bar called "Geulle Du Bois" (Hangover) which offers some awesome music on most Friday and Sunday nights; but again pretty expensive drinks.
Public Transport is very reliable, with the 'Car Jaune' running up and down the west coast regularly, a bus passing each stop every half an hour. It costs around €1.20 to ride from St Gille to St Leu in air conditioned comfort.
Overall the island provides many travel options, from surfing/windsurfing, to the amazing views from the 2500m high volcano. Defintaly a worthwhile travel location, with many savoured memories. And to gain the most from the trip; learn some french it is much appreciated.