Sunday, 10 March 2013

Hiking the 3 cirques



The beginning of this month saw us hiking Reunion's three cirques (Salazie, Mafate, Cilaos) over a period of several days.

Col des Boeufs

To be honest we didn't really hike in the cirque of Salazie (this time) ;-) , we only set off from there, from the Col des Boeufs (2011 m) to be precise. From there we hiked to the hamlet of Marla (1600 m), where we spent the night in a gîte, before hiking up the Col du Taïbit the next day.

Marla church (and church bell) 

This was the first time I'd been back to Marla since 2007 or 2008. There are now at least nine gîtes, two  chambres d'hôtes (guest houses) and three épiceries (grocery / convenience stores)! As recently as 2003 there was only one gîte!

view of Marla from the Col du Taïbit

After a good night's sleep we set off to ascend the Col du Taïbit (2090m), which is the gateway to the cirque of Cilaos from Mafate (col means 'mountain pass'). 

Col du Taïbit seen from Marla

The climb from Marla takes an hour or less; the descent on the other side about 2 hours.

Piton des Neiges (3070m, Reunion's highest peak)
seen from the Col du Taïbit

To the left the Gros Morne (3019m, Reunion's 2nd highest peak)
seen from the Col du Taïbit

Tree dripping with beard lichen, Cilaos side of Col du Taïbit

road leading to Ilet à Cordes, seen from Col du Taïbit hiking path

One of the more pleasant stops when you're hiking this path is the herbal tea stand that's been set up by the Trois Salazes Association. They sell 'uphill' (ascenseur) and 'downhill' (descendant) herbal teas for €1; the ingredients depend on, and are adapted to, whether you're climbing or heading down the path! The ascenseur is made from lemon grass, marjoram and St John's wort; the descendant contains mint, cinnamon, geranium, heliotrope and St John's wort.

herbal tea stand, Trois Salazes Association

After this halt it's only about 20 or so minutes down to the Cilaos <>Ilet à Cordes road (known as CD242) which is at an altitude of 1260 m.


We then spent the next two nights at Gîte Grondin (more of a guest house really), the same gîte where we'd stayed on our two previous trips to Ilet à Cordes (see here and here).

sign outside our accommodation, Gîte Grondin

On the following day we did a short hike to picnic at the Bras de St Paul, which I visited last year (see here).

Bras de St Paul

The next morning we had an early start as we were going to be hiking in one day what we'd done leisurely over two days in the other direction (Cilaos>Col du Taïbit>Marla>Col des Boeufs).

sign at the bottom of the Col du Taïbit hike, Cilaos side

Needless to say we stopped off for an ascenseur herbal tea on the way up! Further uphill we had good views of the Trois Salazes (2132 m), three rocky pointed outcrops perched on the ridge separating Cilaos from Mafate. These geological curiosities gave their name to the îlet (hamlet) where the Trois Salazes Association is based.

the Trois Salazes

After an uphill climb of 830 metres we were back at the Col du Taïbit for our last views of Cilaos before heading back down into Mafate.

small shrine near the summit of the Col du Taïbit 

view of Cilaos town from the Col du Taïbit

looking towards the Dimitile & St Pierre (from Col du Taïbit)

Looking Mafate side we had a clear view of La Nouvelle (1400 m), the largest and only village  of Mafate (other places are hamlets), and the easiest to hike to from the Col des Boeufs.

La Nouvelle seen from the Col du Taïbit

We had a 470 metre descent down to Marla, where we had our picnic lunch next to the school.

crossing Marla

After Marla we still had this ahead of us (see photo below)! Marla is separated from the plain area of Plaine des Tamarins by a river valley, which means a steep climb (or descent, depending on which direction you're coming from) of about 400 metres.

Col des Boeufs from Marla

Once at the Plaine des Tamarins we could look back and see Marla. Unfortunately by this time of day the Col du Taïbit was shrouded in clouds.

Marla from Plaine des Tamarins, Maison Laclos in the foreground

Plaine des Tamarins

After the Plaine des Tamarins there remained a final climb of 250 metres up to the Col des Boeufs, followed by a 15 minute walk to the car park and our hike was finished ... until next time!

Our final destination, Col des Boeufs

Altitude and distance of our final day's hike


Useful maps:
  • Saint Denis, Cirques de Mafate et de Salazie IGN 1:25,000 topographic map 4402 RT
  • St Pierre & Cirque de Cilaos IGN 1:25,000 topographic map 4405 RT

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