This volcano is the star of Reunion Island. Among all the touristic sites, the Piton de la Fournaise is the most visited on the island. The Cité du Volcan at the Plaine des Cafres has been revealing the secrets of the 2,631m giant since August 2014. The volcano’s silhouette is always to be seen, even when angry white and black clouds ring its head. The Piton de la Fournaise erupts around once every nine months, making it one of the most active volcanoes in the world. This colossus is around 500,000 years old, and has been classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for its exceptional universal value. It shares this title with the other reunionese volcano, the Piton des Neiges, as well as the natural cirques (valley-heads) and slopes on the island. They all belong to the Reunion Island National Park, an extraordinary natural reserve whose amazing biodiversity is protected and studied. 

When Nature fights back

The sides of the Piton de la Fournaise, whose mountains cover almost a third of the island’s surface, are not sterile lava fields! Vegetation quickly grows back after a lava flow, and white moss takes hold first, giving a clear colour in certain places much like the flows of the Grandes Pentes. Afterwards, other plant species grow in the cracks of this fertile soil: ferns and shrubs follow, and the forest slowly takes back its territory. To understand this fascinating phenomenon, you should follow the educational path in the Enclos Fouqué, an area which surrounds the Dolomieu crater, which appeared in 1791. This is the volcano’s largest crater, and its shape has changed over the course of the eruptions. Those in 2006 almost filled it up, while the eruption of April 2007 caused it to collapse, transforming it into a deep and unstable abyss of more than 300 metres. Visitors can no longer walk all the way around it because of the many cracks, but a marked-out path enables access to an extraordinary elevated observation point on the north side.


A natural enclosure

The lunar landscape stretches as far as the eye can see, just like the Plaine de Sables, which visitors used to cross to reach the volcano’s summit. All of this seemingly extra-terrestrial scenery is inhabited. Eruptions and lava flows come from within the enclosure and on the bare slopes of the south east, so there is no real danger for the local population, even if the flows can sometimes reach them, causing the evacuation of houses and even villages (Le Tremblet, Bois-Blanc). In 1977 a lava flow swallowed up several building in Sainte-Rose, and miraculously stopped at the doorway to the Notre Dame des Laves church! Following on from this event, the volcanology observatory was created to monitor volcanic activity and predict eruptions.
 

A history of eruptions

These eruptions do not just change the shape of the volcano, but also the island! The lava flows which reach the ocean can increase the surface area of Reunion Island by becoming solid. After the eruption of April 2007, 45 hectares of new land were gained on the water, near Le Tremblet. The disadvantage is that the lava flowed over the main road which runs along the coast, throwing it into the water! The road was rebuilt afterwards. Off the coast of Saint-Phillipe, new species were even discovered! Yet another proof of Reunion Island’s rich natural heritage.