“Stand up, lean backwards, rope between your legs, and put both of your hands on the rope. Good. Smile for the camera! And off you go!” I force a little smile towards Olivier’s GoPro before I look down upon one of the many magnificent natural pools of the Reunion Island 35 meters below. Around me bright green and lush vegetation covering the 80-meter high volcanic cliffs contrasts greatly with the deep blue sky. Swallows are flying low below me as they hunt for mosquitos in their acrobatic flights just above the water basin. The only sound I hear is the roaring waterfall to my left of which I feel the splashes on my wetsuit. It is just loud enough to cover up for the sounds of my heartbeat in this adrenalin-packed adventure on which Olivier is taking us in order to uncover the rugged beauty of this lost island in the Indian Ocean.
The tropical French Reunion Island, about 800 kilometers east of Madagascar rises fiercely out of the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. It hosts one of world’s most active volcanoes: the Piton de la Fournaise, regularly adding a few square kilometers to the island. The fairly young island – forged only 3 million years ago – showcases an intense landscape with pointy peaks reaching up to just above 3,000 meters, sharp ridge lines, deep canyons, and never-ending waterfalls. This makes it one of the most well-known canyoning hotspots with roughly 300 different canyons to explore.
In the rainy season (between January and April), the choice is more restricted: from the 25 to 30 canyons usually explored with outfitters (including the world famous Trou de Fer), about 3 to 4 are feasible given water levels, flow rates, and risks of flash floods.
Today, after his thorough weather and water level check as an experienced mountain guide and former military rescue professional, Olivier is taking us through Sainte Suzanne Intégral. Very varied and spectacular, the Sainte Suzanne canyoning adventure starts slightly downstream of the popular swimming spot of Bassin Boeuf and continues into the river for roughly 2 kilometers of exhilarating fun.
We descend through a jungle of strangler figs, wild passion fruit lianas and other exotic greeneries before we reach the top of our first abseil. Olivier sets up the ropes in full confidence and gives us clear instructions to descend safely along a 20-meter high waterfall using the gear attached to our canyoning harness. “It is a good warming up”, Olivier states. “The technical difficulty of this canyon increases bits by bits”.
As we start swimming across the waterhole, we feel the enjoyable and warm waters. Still, as we will be exposed to the water for about four hours, we are wearing 5-millimeter thick wetsuits.
We boulder hop, wade and swim between fun jumps and slides. Soon, we reach a natural tunnel that has been dug out by water. Safely secured on two lines we follow the river through the tunnel. “Just stay here”, Olivier commands while abseiling down the slippery cliff covered in soft green moss in no time. Agile he jumps from one rock to the next around the basin before attaching a long rope on the opposite side of the waterhole roughly 25 meters below us. He climbs back up along the waterfall to explain: the first rope he set up is to abseil down before zip lining into the natural pool using the second rope. The jumar and pulley allow him to tighten the rope attached to the rock far below to give it the appropriate tension. I start on the first rope. My heart skips a beat when I see its end approaching not even halfway down the waterfall. With quite a few more vertical meters to cover, I take a deep breath before I rotate 180 degrees and let go of the first rope to transfer onto the zipline. I pick up speed fast and enjoy a smooth slide before dipping into the water. As I surface, I cannot suppress a yell of excitement!
The variety of the canyon keeps surprising us with its fun jumps, natural slides and more abseils and zip lines. The setting is simply paradise-like. Surrounded by nature, in absence of any other human beings but for our small group we make our way through the stunning landscape observing bright yellow weaver birds and their spherical woven nests above the river. “Try this!”, Olivier points to fruits the size of a ping-pong ball. “They taste like roses”. They do, and happy with a quick sugar boost for a round of flips and dives from the next rock I pick some more as they are abundant all along the river.
“Anyone for a 9-meter jump?” Olivier asks above the next water hole. As I am about to freak out by the height of the jump, he points to another spot: “You can also zip line down from 12 meters, or I can lower you with ropes in case you really don’t feel comfortable”. He describes to a few brave ones how to keep balance in high jumps by spinning one’s arms. “The impact on the surface can damage your lower spine seriously”, he explains. “Make sure to enter the water in a straight line with your arms parallel to your body and the palms of your hands along your thighs.”
Soon, he sets up the zip line for the rest of us, a bit scared of the high jump and thrilled about another fun ride down. So thrilled that we actually all climb back up to just do it again!
Digging into the dry bags for some food and drinks, we are taking a break and some strength before the highlight of Sainte Suzanne Intégral. As I sit by the river bank, my eyes follow the seemingly calm stream towards a drop I can only imagine being massive. Olivier disappears for a good 20 minutes and he returns with a big smile on his face: “OK, let’s go for the big one!” We follow him towards the ledge where the river drops 35 meters below. We hook ourselves up to the safety line he has just installed and listen to his instructions carefully.
“Stand up, lean backwards, rope between your legs, and put both of your hands on the rope. Good. Smile for the camera! And off you go!” I force a little smile towards Olivier’s GoPro before I abseil the first 10 meters down. I rotate myself 180 degrees, turning my back to the cliff and facing the drop, take a deep breath, and let go off my hands. Yelling in exhilaration I take in this last and impressive 25-meter high slide into the canyon wishing for it to not end quite yet… As I surface and signal that I am all OK, I can only think about all the other canyons to explore on this intense island and cannot repress a huge smile…
Claire & Marcella
- To live this adventure, get in touch with Adventures Reunion. They will also advise you in the best possible way to adapt to your wishes and skills so that you get the most of your outing with them whether it is canyoning or rock climbing and mountaineering.
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.
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What esle to do in Reunion Island: just click on the inspiring images: