Clovis, known as the scout of the West, will be waiting for you early in the morning with his cheeky smile and smiling eyes, at the 4×4 car park near the Rivière des Galets church in La Possession.
We are meeting him today for a hiking expedition in the Cirque de Mafate. A getaway for a few hours to the heart of the king of the calderas.
The perfect opportunity to find out more about this magical place, the history and locals, who, by the way will be waiting for us for lunch: let’s go!
An accessible hike with spectacular views.
There are several different trails to reach the Cirque de Mafate. For this Zarlor Rando hiking expedition in Mafate, our discovery of the Cirque begins alongside the Rivière des Galets river. We hop into a 4×4 and the adventure begins! The rain over the last few days means that the water level of the river has risen, but our vehicle is still moving forwards, slowly but surely.
It’s quite bumpy in the back: a great way to get to know each other better.
Some are exploring the Cirque for the first time, for others it’s their third hiking trip in Mafate. Everyone wonders at this magnificent entrance to the area.
Slowly, we can see the tall cliffs appearing all around us as we move forwards. The sky is a perfect blue, the surrounding vegetation is blooming and we can hear the running waters of the river. Under the watchful eye of a Reunion Harrier who seems to be following us closely since we left, we enter slowly into the heart of Reunion Island, to unveil its true nature.
After about thirty minutes on the trail and several river crossings, we arrive in Deux Bras: the end of our 4×4 ride and the beginning of our hike.
Today we are going to the Grand Place small village, called an îlet, a few kilometres away (and a few
steps away too…) and we’ll be passing over the Bras d’Oussy walkway. From the river that we managed to cross quite easily, the high peaks and sheer cliffs make us feel so tiny facing the magnificent natural surroundings all around us. And so begins the climb. The footpaths are pretty good ones and we get to the Bras d’Oussy walkway without any major difficulties. From here we can see the beautiful pool that we will pass through on the way back.
Clovis tells us about the history of the ruins and plants along the way.
It’s a welcome opportunity for the group to rest for a moment and to learn about the surroundings. We learn all about the former Mafate-les-eaux, the spa village which was once at the bottom of Bronchard peak, but was destroyed when a part of the mountainside collapsed in 1913. While we’re here, he tells us about the weaving technique using choka leaves, a plant with bright green leaves that we’ve seen all along the footpath since we left.
Along our way we pass under the shade of various native or indigenous species. Clovis regularly stops to tell us about the health benefits of the plants that we pass by, such as the Lantana Camara, which is used for migraines or the Benjoin, a native tree of the Mascarene Islands, under threat of extinction on Reunion Island due to the medicinal qualities of its bark.
Discovery of the Grand Place îlet, the historical centre of the Cirque de Mafate
After walking for around 3 hours, down a footpath which winds along the cliff, we start to see the canvas roofing and colourful walls of the Grand Place – Cayenne îlet. The îlets, these small villages found at the heart of the Cirque are like birds’ nests, isolated and seemingly timeless. Each one bears the name of a period in the history of the “marrons” (runaway slaves) who were in fact the very first inhabitants of Mafate, finding refuge at the heart of these sheer cliffs.
The Grand Place îlet in particular is the historical heart and soul of the Cirque de Mafate and probably the biggest since it covers 3 of the “plateaux”: Grand Place les Hauts, Grand–Place Ecole and Cayenne. This is the perfect place to stop off for a well-deserved break (and for lunch)…
When we arrive, we discover the Chapel and a few traditional Créole houses with blooming gardens. At this point in the season, the red Flamboyant trees are blooming, filling the place with colour, along with the lychee trees bursting with the little sweet fruit and the many fruit trees found along the plateau.
It is here, or more specifically at the Gite de Cayenne, that Sandrine is waiting for us for lunch. Her children are running around the garden, the crow of the rooster leads the way and we can hear the sound of the crackling fire where our lunch is bubbling away in a large pot. We all share a traditional Créole meal in a very pleasant atmosphere. We bombard Clovis with questions about the daily life of the people of Mafate that he knows like the back of his hand.
Before leaving, we taste the delicious Péi lemon cake out on the terrace from a recipe that only Sandrine holds the secret to. What really makes this adventure to the heart of the Cirque de Mafate truly exceptional, is that we are only here for a short while and we are very reluctant to leave, but that’s all part of the game!
We get back down to the river and appreciate the freshness of the crystal-clear waters, hidden pools and river crossings we have to take, venturing in and out of the water much to our great pleasure. At the foot of these cliffs, we follow the river until we reach our 4×4 that’s waiting to take us back to civilisation, as the sun is slowly starting to set.
At the end of the day, we leave the Cirque de Mafate and everything within it. The silence that reins inside the 4×4 as we drive away, is probably due to the sheer magic of the time spent here, after an intense and highly enjoyable day.