Situation: Réunion Island is situated in the Indian Ocean, approximately 22 degrees South, 55 degrees East, between Mauritius and Madagascar. The flight to Mauritius takes about 8 hours with a further 45 minutes to La Réunion.
Geography: The total area of la Réunion is 2512km2 (The Perth metropolitan area covers 5386.4km2). Volcanic in origin, it boasts an extinct volcano, Piton des Neiges, and an active one, Piton de la Fournaise. Three natural amphitheaters, formed from volcanic activity, provide a mountainous and varied topography in the northern half of the island. Cilaos and Salazie are accessible by road but Mafate can only be reached by hiking. There are spa baths at Cilaos. The capital, Saint Denis, is in the north of the island.
History: Discovered in the sixteenth century, the uninhabited island of La Réunion was claimed by France in 1642. The first inhabitants were 12 mutineers who arrived in 1646. Several years later it was colonised by the French with people also arriving from India, Africa and China, initially as slaves from Africa. Slavery was banned in 1830 and the last ones freed on 20 December 1848, a date still celebrated today. Réunion became an overseas département of France in 1946 and the people hold French passports. The official language is French although Créole is widely spoken. The Tricolore flies on flagpoles and the words République Française are seen everywhere. The inhabitants of Réunion refer to mainland France as la Métropole and fly there frequently for visits. They use the Euro and drive on the right.
Religion: Réunion has a variety of religions and places of worship. Christians, Muslims, Tamils and Hindus exist side by side and the various celebrations of these heritages make for an interesting series of events spread throughout the year.
Population: About 840,000 people of European, African, Indian and Chinese descent live quite harmoniously. The population density is 330/km2.
Climate: There are two seasons in La Réunion – the wet summer (November to May) and the dry winter (May to November). There are many micro-climates on the island, although in general the West Coast (la côte sous le vent) is quite dry while the East Coast (la côte au vent) receives a much higher rainfall, even in winter. In July, the coastal areas where most of the towns are situated are quite pleasant with the maximum reaching 25°C. However, inland in the mountains it can get very cold, as low as 0°C.
Industries: Sugarcane is an important crop, along with its by-product rum. Vanilla is also grown, most of it being sold to Coca Cola! There is a high unemployment rate in Reunion Island.
Beaches: The main bathing beaches are on the West Coast. Some have black volcanic sand (St Paul, Etang Salé) and some are ‘golden’ (la Saline, St Gilles, St Leu). The latter two are well-known for surfing.
Money: The French currency is the ‘Euro’. Please check the current exchange rate on websites such as http://www.exchangerates.net.au/ or with your bank.
Electricity: Voltage is 220 volts and the power points have two circular prongs