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Indian Ocean / Africa

France: Reunion

23rd April 06

Reunion - the Last Bastion of the French Empire by Neil Richardson

Neil Richardson, Reunion beach


To say Reunion is a country, is wrong, to say it is one of the most actively volcanic islands in the world, is right, to say the place has a mosquito problem, is also right, to say this is the remotest part of Europe, would also be right. This small island just of Madagascar, and Mauritius is France. Its laws, its language, its passports, its rules, are French. This island is part of the EU due to some quirk and manipulation of international law by the French. So how did I end up here? Well, while touring around the Indian Ocean, in Christmas 06/7, I ended up here. I’d heard good things about the diving here, so I chose to investigate.


In summary, Reunion is to the French what New Zealand is to the Brits, it was commented by those I met on the island, that people only come to Reunion for two things, the extreme sports or to retire, and there’s certainly no shortage of either.


To get to Reunion, there are infrequent flights to France, and daily flights to Mauritius.


On the island, there is a very good, very cheap bus service, which only costs a few pounds to travel great distances around the island, in fact, I was to stay in St Giles, and it cost me 4gbp to get from the airport into town, which is a 15 minute drive, and 4gp for the 2 hour drive to St Giles.


So why did I choose St Giles, well, I’d researched the best diving on the island, and it was all to be found on the south west side of the island. Notably St Giles and St Leu. However, accommodation was easier to find in St Giles. I was to discover why when I got there.


So okay, St Giles is a very typical Reunion town, it looks like france, the restaurant are French, the style is French, and it is petit france. However, the outskirts of the town change from France, to African culture, with more slum accommodation, and casino’s, nightclubs, and bars. The beach’s themselves are long and thin, but go around pretty much the entire island, with a coral reef skirt attached. Around St Giles, the reef juts out from the beach a good 100m, before dropping off. So at low tide, you can walk over the coral, and at high tide, your still only half a meter above.


So accommodation, there is is no shortage of accommodation, but it is all relatively expensive, with basic accommodation starting from 50euros. There are many family friendly places, and in fact the island isvery family friendly, with no shortage of café’s, beach’s, and things for children to go and play on. However, relatively inexpensive accommodation tends to be outside the main town, and tends to be a good 20-25min walk. This accommodation having infrequent bus service, you end up paying what you could have paid for better accommodation, in taxi fares, as taxi’s are not cheap. That 20min walk typically costing 16-20 Euros.


So, restaurants, well, the food being French, is  very very good, and I would heartedly recommend the French fishermens co-operative restaurant, as the cook is also the fishmonger, and the fish is fantastic. Its also the only restaurant in town that is reasonable. The average cost to eat here being 12-15 Euros, in comparison to the 20Euros plus at most other restaurants.


Also, don’t expect to get an English Menu, so few English people come through here, there is no need for English to be spoken, and English menu’s to be produced. I had to rely on other patrons in most restaurants, to provide a translation service for me.


So the diving, well, in St Giles, there are circa 5 dive operators, all next door to each other down by the main docks, all equally as French, all own their own boats, all ultra modern affairs specializing in recreational diving, all barely able to speak a word of English, all top notch outfits.


In the end, I choose to dive with For no reason other then they spoke English best, and had space on their boats. I note, none of these shop’s recognized BSAC qualifications, and all asked what a Dive Leader’s depth rating was, so I found  it best to translate into CMAS equivalent. Typically, the boats depart at 8.30am, and have a second dive around 2pm. The dive site’s are either the reef surrounding the island, or deep wreck site’s ie 50m etc. I choose to do 4 dives on reef. Okay, the costs, you can see them in the link, so you will see prices are not cheap. However, the diving is worth it. The terrain surrounding the island is very rocky, and very black. So although there is plenty of soft and hard coral, its not as prolific as you think. However, it does have plenty of marine life, and a fairly high ratio of large animals, ie rays and sharks. It was really not uncommon to bounce into a 2m wide ray. Vis was typically 20m, depth was at max 35 but mostly around the 20m mark, and overall, wasn’t bad diving at all. However, some notes on diving in Reunion:


1.       I found it very very important to go over hand signals with my buddy, as it transpired on my first dive that there was many many hand signals that were different to the standard ones taught in the UK.

2.       Boats anchor, its your responsibility to get back to the boat, not the other way around….

3.       Don’t ask for a twin setup, as they’ll laugh at you. All deep diving there is done with an 18l and a twin pillar valve… Twin tank diving is laughed at as being overly precautious. However, an 18l with twin pillars and a pony, is an accepted technical setup.

4.        Water temp was late 20’s, take a wetsuit.


Ohh, and always keep an eye out for marine life. The day I was due to fly out, one of my dive buddies informed me that he’d been doing a shore dive at the mouth of the harbor, and bumped into a Bull Shark that morning.


So, lessons learnt in Reunion:


If you struggle to get anything organized, go to one of the casino’s, they’ll look after you.

Taxi’s are very very expensive (st giles to the Airport is 100 euros)

Young French visitors, take a tent and camp alongside the beach..

Practice your French before you go there

Remember, this is France……………