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La Réunion – a four day walk in the Cirque de Mafate

Day 2 - La Nouvelle --> Roche Plate

Fuelled by a hearty Continental breakfast and refreshed after a good night's sleep, it was time to head towards the ravine of the Riviere des Galets to the west of La Nouvelle, which very quickly began to assume somewhat larger proportions. Far in the distance, and across said ravine, we could just make out the isolated village of Roche Plate, our next overnight stop. No problem, we said, it's only a few km as the crow flies .......

A red-legged golden orb-web spider and its web guard the precipitous path down the Grand Galets ravine, La Reunion, September 2009

A red-legged golden orb-web spider and its web guard the precipitous path down the Grand Galets ravine
(c) Mat & Niki Adlam-Stiles

Don’t let that fool you. Day 2 is truly hard on one's knees, and you definitely need a head for heights. That said, it is absolutely worth every step. Leaving La Nouvelle, you quickly start to descend into the ravine, which at first is lushly vegetated with all sorts of wondrous plants. Be aware that the lush vegetation also means there are plenty of convenient anchorage points for the local spiders' webs. If you marvel at the beauty of spiders (as I do) you cannot fail to admire the handsome, plush, velvety black beasts with orange-and-black striped legs that you'll encounter dozens of along this path. Rest assured that these are the most likely spiders you'll see – they’re a variety of golden orb-web spider, which although quite big, are pretty harmless. We found it intriguing that the "guy lines" for their webs seemed always to be strung right across the path, but reassuring that at the same time they seemed always to be just above head height!

Now, the descent of the ravine requires care and caution. The path is good, but narrow and at some points quite steep, and at the start of it you're not far off 1000m vertically above the river bed. Keep an eye out for spiders and loose rocks, make use of your walking poles, and stop to enjoy the views every so often. You'll cross a couple of streams, and see a rather nice waterfall during the descent, but it's hard to take a photo that conveys the scale of this vertiginous climb.

Roughly 200m above the river bed, the path has become badly eroded in places but there's a long section that's been equipped with traverse lines (fixed wires) to aid the climb down. Some of the anchor points are better than others, so use common sense and check each section of wire before putting weight on it; a few of the wires are best treated as psychological rather than physical aids! That said the path's not too tricky to negotiate, it would just be bad to have a fall here.

At last, an amusing climb down a fixed ladder will bring you to the river where you'll have no difficulty in finding a pleasantly shady spot for lunch and a quick swim. You'll need to cross the river a couple of times as the path meanders before reaching the track on the opposite bank, and the start of the (very!) long haul up Le Bronchard to Roche Plate.

As you gain height, you'll also gain spectacular views of the path by which you descended this amazing ravine. The path is always straightforward to follow (there is nowhere else you can go but up!) and fortunately seems not as steep as the descent.

Sunset colours from Roche Plate, Cirque de Mafate, Ile de la Reunion, September 2009

Amazing sunset colours from Roche Plate, Cirque de Mafate, Ile de la Reunion
(c) Mat & Niki Adlam-Stiles

The Gite de Roche Plate and its stunning backdrop, Cirque de Mafate, Ile de la Reunion, September 2009

The Gite de Roche Plate and its stunning backdrop, Cirque de Mafate, Ile de la Reunion
(c) Mat & Niki Adlam-Stiles

Finally you'll climb out of the ravine to a level area, with an opportunity to savour the views knowing there's not much more altitude to gain before you reach Roche Plate, a small but straggly cluster of houses perched on one of the few flat areas of land within the cirque. On reaching Roche Plate, you may then have the entertainment of finding your gite for the night, which ought to be easy but isn't. We'd booked in to the Gite de Roche Plate, but nowhere in Roche Plate is there a single sign for it. Now if someone had explained we should be looking for a sign that said "Mme V Thiburce" we’d have been OK. The gite is very basic and a bit run-down, with functional 8-bedded bunkrooms, but is in a wonderful spot – and there's a handy shop just behind it too.

Worthy of note is that the Gite de Roche Plate is a good five to ten minutes' walk from the owners' house where meals are served, the latter being reached by an extremely picturesque wander across burbling streams and through flower-filled woodland – very entertaining returning at night in the pitch dark when fully-fuelled with red wine and home-made rhum arrangé! The hosts at the Gite de Roche Plate are delightful. Stay there! (And meet the beautiful friendly cats at the gite too, they are real softies.)

Now for day 3 of the walk in the Cirque de Mafate - Roche Plate to Marla.