The highlight for this trip to Reunion Island was definitely the helicopter ride we took one morning.
There are a couple of operators offering helicopter rides to discover the island, we chose Corail Helicopter – there is also Helilagon. They both depart from Saint-Denis airport, in the North and Pierrefonds airport, in the South, Helilagon also flies from Saint-Giles in the north west.
We took our time to book because the weather was very unstable and well you need nice weather to go ahead with the flight… So I kept checking the weather forecast for a couple of days and we took the plunge and booked a 7am slot. Reunion Island is full of mountains and volcanoes: the Piton de Neiges, the island’s oldest volcano (has not been active for the past 12000 yrs) culminates at 3070,50m and is the highest point on our side of the Indian Ocean. Because of the topography the weather changes very fast with clouds and often rain settling in after 11am at higher altitude.
When I got up at the crack of dawn, it was very cloudy and it started to rain, a lot. I still got the kiddos ready and they kept asking me why they were up – we had booked it as a surprise for them. Kiddos 2 has asked for a long time for a helicopter ride – a bit jealous maybe that Kiddos 1 had already tried when we lived in Bali. We drove to the airport in torrential rain, seriously there was next to no visibility on the road. We arrived to check in – they have their offices in the main terminal building. To our surprise they got us ready: i.e got us on the scales to check the weight of each passenger and we were asked to wait for 15 minutes to the next weather check at 6:50am. We were in fact extremely lucky: the clouds had decided to stay super low, and all the cirques, mountains and volcanoes were completely free and had sun!
There was just us and one other lady as passengers (the helicopter can fit 6 pax) and the kids sat in front – not because they particularly asked for it, but because they were the lightest. They had a full view as the front is completely see through and it was spectacular!
We decided that it most probably was going to be a once in a lifetime experience and we chose the longest package: a 55 minute flight over the most beautiful parts of Reunion Island: Piton des Neiges, the different cirques (plateaux hidden in between in the mountains where people actually live): the cirques of Mafate, Cilaos and Salazie. The most amazing waterfalls and on the way back the whole reason why we did this: the still active volcano, the Piton de la Fournaise.
Such a tour does come with a price tag though: at €320 per adult and €270 per kiddo. They have many different options of tours: departure from Pierrefonds, where we left from, they start at €95 for 15min to €320 for 55min. They also offer special tours, combined with hiking or flyovers when the volcano is erupting… exciting stuff.
The views were absolutely amazing! It was actually quite hard to take pictures up there. The light changes constantly and so does the reflection of the light on the windows.
The Cirque de Cilaos is accessible by car – up a very very windy road with over 400 bends! The Cirque de Mafate is accessible only by foot or by helicopter – it is the heart of a collapsed volcano and hikers paradise. The Cirque de Salazie is accessible by road.
Another amazing sight were the many many waterfalls! We were flying so close to them it was incredible. Some were hidden in small valleys, others we got a look from literally above the waterfall.
We overflew the completely untouched forest of Bébour and arrived to Plaine des sables. There is an almost lunar feel to this area – next to no vegetation. This is one of the favourite hiking areas not far from the Piton de la Fournaise.
Finally, what the kiddos had been waiting for – and their parents too actually: the Piton de la Fournaise. The active volcano culminates at 2’632m – it erupted a few times last year and it is said to be a very pretty sight. Last year we discovered the inside of the lava tunnels – you can read about that in my post – Getaway to Reunion Island, Part 5: discovering the lava tunnels – it was quite an awesome experience, and this time her from above. Like, I guess most children, mine are fascinated by volcanic activity – and see her so close from the air was excellent!
I would love to hike the Piton de la Fournaise. The most extraordinary should be the sunrise hike – departure is from the only lodge in the area and the hike up takes 2-3hours. I think however I need to wait a few years so I can get kiddos 1 on board that one.
Unfortunately it was time to fly back to the airport – well the kiddos had had enough after 50minutes but I could have stayed up there for ages. We flew back by the coast – am sure on a sunny day the lagoon must beautiful, but hey! you can’t have everything and it was still very overcast on the coast.
The whole family really enjoyed this trip! Our pilot was very professional and knowledgeable about Reunion island and told us lots of things as we were flying over. No bags allowed so leave everything at home – we were just allowed our camera and phones. We had headphones obviously but there is no chatting to each other – of there would just be too much happening I guess. I remember when we flew in Bali it was too loud, even with the headphones on – this time I didn’t find it too bad (maybe the headphones were better quality!) – the kiddos did find them heavy on their small heads though. They do not film individual flights, but they have a DVD that you can buy after the flight (€35). Now we need to try to fly over Mauritius! There are some pretty awesome sights to see from the sky as well.