Many years ago, what is now Reunion Island was a little volcano under the Indian Ocean. It continued to build on itself until it surfaced as a wildly beautiful and green island. It is part of a fault that runs from Mauritius to Africa.
Piton de la Fournaise is one of the world's most active and accessible volcanoes. Known locally as "Le Volcan" it regularly spews red lava and is wonderfully spectacular. In 2007 is erupted 3 million cubic metres of lava which flowed for seven months. At the southern end of the island is a 10km path created by the eruption.
Ben Dark took the 11.5 hour flight from Sydney to explore the 63km-long island which rises to 3070m high. The little slice of France is not as well known as its neighbours, Mauritius and Madagascar, but has the same status as the French mainland. Same laws, same currency and people you could well meet in Paris. The language is French Creole and visitors from the mother country flock there for holidays. They love the tropical beaches, alpine climbs, ancient forests and breathtaking canyons.
Ben was keen to see the volcano from a helicopter, which is really the best way to do it. It's best to go early in the day before clouds appear and you can appreciate the full beauty of the island's interior. If you choose you can land in one of the otherwise inaccessible cirques. Cirques of Cilaos, Salazie and Mafate were created when an ancient volcano collapsed and left large valleys surrounded by mountains and creating a natural amphitheatre. The cirques hold the world record for rainfall 180cm in a day.
There are plenty of mountain towns and Hell-Bourg was voted as one of the prettiest villages in French territory. Located on the edge of the Cirque de Salazie, it is a jewel in the island's crown. Its 1850s Creole architecture is stunning and until 1948 when a landslide blocked the spring, it was a hugely popular thermal spa destination.
It's a very pretty town with buildings in bright pastels and gingerbread house decorations complemented by beautiful coloured gardens. Even the cemetery is pretty. Hell-Bourg is a good base for hikers crossing Les Cirques.
One of the loveliest of Hell-Bourg's Creole houses is Maison Folio, a typical 19th-century bourgeois villa almost swallowed by its densely planted garden. The owners have a passion for architecture and open their home to the public. There is a great variety of aromatic, edible, medicinal and decorative plants, and if your French isn't all that great you might consider taking a guide.
Eating on Reunion
With its plethora of races and nationalities and eating being a favourite activity of Reunionese, dining is something to look forward to. Helped by the cuisines of France, India, China, Madagascar and Africa, you're in for an amazing treat of delights found nowhere else.
The dining options are interesting and exotic and you will be tempted by local curry, meat, seafood and poultry spiced up with tomatoes, turmeric, chilli, cloves and ginger. Vegetables and tropical fruits are plentiful. Rice is popular and if you choose one of the hot curries it will help soothe the fieriness.
Reunion Island off the coast of eastern Africa.
Air Austral has return flights to Reunion Island starting at $1200 from Sydney. For the first 100 people to book, Reunion and Beyond has a special deal of $926 from Sydney including airfares and up to 55 percent off accommodation. On sale until 5pm AEST April 19, 2010, and for travel until October 31, 2010. Contact them via Air Austral.
Corail Helicopteres' 45-minute flights operate every day and cost around $345 for adults and $273 for children. They depart from Pierrefonds Airport.
Prices correct at April 15, 2010.
For further information
Ph: 1300 895 203
Aéroport de Pierrefonds
97451 Saint Pierre Cedex
Ph: +262 2 6222 2266
20 rue Amiral Lacaze
Ph: +262 2 6247 8098
Visas: Not required, but passport and return ticket are.
Electricity: 230V at 50Hz using plugs with two round pins.
Time zone: GMT +4.
Currency: The euro.
International dialling code: +262.
It is recommended travellers to Reunion Island see their doctor at least six weeks before departure. Travellers should be "in date" with vaccinations listed on the Australian Immunisation Schedule including hepatitis A, hepatitis B and tetanus. Travellers may also be at risk of malaria depending on the time of year of travel. For further information, visit www.smartraveller.gov.au.
To find out more about the hot deals mentioned on the show, check out Holidays for Sale.