Hiking the Cryptomeria forest in Reunion Island
January 1, 1970
by Fadi Fakhoury
Hiking to “Îlet Alcide” through the Cryptomeria forest
To arrive at the departure parking, from the city of Saint-paul we started our ascent by car until the entrance of the forest road n68. This road goes through a forest of huge Cryptomeria trees. I browsed the internet about Cryptomeria, it is a “monotypic genus of conifer in the cypress family”, indeed, we started our walk between those huge “Christmas trees like” trees.
Drive slowly on the forest road n68, early in the morning the sun is in front of you and even with good sunglass, the visibility is very low. Cryptomeria trees were introduced in La Reunion Island in the 19th century to be used for construction and wood for furniture. On the road you could encounter wood cutting machines and loggers, so depart early and take your time driving through the forest.
Continue driving until you arrive at the end of the forest road and park in the parking. After 5 minutes walking on a large path, you will arrive at the entrance of the “Foret de Sans-Soucis”, this can be translated “No problems forest”.
Basic rules when hiking in Reunion Island
Indeed there are “no problems” hiking this forest if you respect some basic rules:
- Arrive early. Passing mid-day thunder storms could appear.
- Do not try to enter this forest after heavy rain or during a rainy day. During your walk, you will pass in small rivers beds that could be flooded very quickly. So the best time to walk in this forest is during winter from June to October.
- Take with you walking sticks as you could pass through muddy areas and slippery paths.
- Add extra time to the given hiking times. For example, the board at the entrance (see image 2) gives 1h30 minutes following Cambour Path one way, we did it in 2 hours.
- Take with you warm cloth and rain coats. Remember you are entering a rain and humid forest at 1500 meters high.
- Take with you water and something to make a small pic-nic once you arrive at the “Ilet Alcide”
The start of the hike
The hike using Cambour path is not very difficult, we did it with our 5 years old child but it will seem very long as it goes up and down and especially at the start. The path is cleaned and regular maintenance is done. There are a lot of indications boards all the way long.
You will immediately start climbing using man made steps (woods and rocks…) or natural made steps (rocks, tree roots …) for 3 kilometers. This is definitely a difficult way to start a hiking especially if it’s humid or after a rainy day. At some parts of this climb, you will walk of apparent root trees and pass under or over broken trees. This climb will bring you from 1300 meters to 1500 meters altitude.
The fauna and the flora
Your walk will take you through a thick forest of Jurassic like bracken trees, thick bushes of spiny trees, Cryptomeria and tamarind trees. Some of those trees have been broken by hurricanes and lies near of the walking paths and sometimes cuts the paths. You will also encounter guava trees and depend on the season some guava, a small but tasty red fruit.
Don’t forget that you are passing through a biological reserve, if you look very closely (and read this article before going there!!) you could find some endemic trees and plants species like the “Gros Bois d’Oiseau” (Claoxylon Glandulosum) and the “Bois de Corail” (Chassalia Corallioides).
During our walk, we spotted and heard a couple of the famous “Papangue” (Circus Maillardi), an endemic bird of prey, probably hunting. This kind of encounter isn’t rare in La Reunion Island’s forests. During your walk, you may hear and encounter other kinds of birds. Most of those birds are endemic like the small Tec-tec (Saxicola Tectes), the Mascarene paradise flycatcher (Terpsiphone Bourbonnensis) and the reunion Black bulbul (Hypsipetes Borbonicus).
The king of Tamarind trees
After a 45min to 60min walk inside a thick forest, you will arrive at a huge tree called “Le Roi des Tamarins” – “the king of tamarind trees”. On the small board attached to the tree, you can read the following: this 19 meters high tamarind tree is 400 years old. Its trunk is 9 meters high and its circumference is 4 meters. This tree survived several tropical hurricanes. The first settlers and probably slaves that came to hide in this forest have probably passed in front of it.
Starting this point, your walk is less difficult as you will start to go down to the panoramic views area. After an extra of 45 to 60 minutes, you will arrive at a panoramic view of Mafate’s circus and la Pocession’s Bay.
At this point you can follow two paths, one will take you straight to the “Ilet Alcide” and the other one will take you to other viewpoints where you could see the Mafate circus.
We have decided to take the short cut to “Ilet Alcide” and we started our descent. The path is a little bit tricky as it becomes slippery at a given moment, but still no major difficulties. After 10 minutes walk, we arrived at the “Ilet Alcide”. Trees in this area have been cut by a gentleman called Vincent Clain Alcide that have settled with his family in this spot at the beginning of the 20th century until 1944. Nowadays it is a small picnic area where you could rest and admire the scenery before continuing your journey. In this picnic area, we found lots of guava trees.
From this spot, several paths will lead you either to the Maido, to the village of Sans-Soucis or back to the parking. We have chosen to come back to the parking by the same path as black and thick clouds appeared.
The walk back to the parking is quicker but not less difficult. On your way back you will have more descents than ascents, be careful especially if the final part where you have to walk on root trees, in this area use your walking sticks.
A very nice walk that could be done in 5 hours round trip including a relaxed and nice picnic. You could even make it with your children but make sure that they want to walk in a forest first.