Get ready to go deep down in the bowels of earth. Follow us for a speleology experience of the lava tunnels in Reunion Island.
There are not many places in the world where one can experience live natural phenomenon such as a volcano eruption. Reunion Island, a French territory situated in the Indian Ocean, is home to one of the most active volcanoes in the world, the Piton de la fournaise. From its various eruptions were born a multitude of lava tunnels. Each of them is very specific and comes with an incredible scenery.
Most of the lava tunnels of Reunion are situated in the eastern part of island, a place where no construction is allowed due to safety concerns as the volcano erupts almost every year and the latest eruption was in February 2020.
As you drive towards the lava tunnels, you soon come across dry lands formed of black volcanic rocks. This area is called the “Grand brûlé” in French (burned area). From here you can see the Piton de la Fournaise and several dry lava flows on its eastern slope. “Just try to imagine how the hot and smoky red magma made its way before dropping into the sea”, says Ludo our guide from Reunion Mer et Montagne, a local travel agency specialised in trekking and other adventure activities around the volcano.
The lava tunnels can be visited by anyone, all ages are accepted but if this is your first time, it’s better to go with a guide as it would help in understanding the history and science behind the formation of the tunnels. You also have various visit options (for beginners and experts), with more or less difficulties.
The lava tunnels should be visited with proper equipment including knee and elbow protection, gloves and a helmet with light. It’s completely dark inside!
As you get in, the walls are sometimes wet, sometimes dry, but air passes inside allowing you to breathe normally. The temperature is also neither warm nor cold. Unlike some other lava tunnels, the ones in Reunion Island are pretty recent (the one we are visiting is from the lava flow of 2004). But there are tunnels that also dates back to 22,000 years, such as the “Tunnel bleu” – blue tunnel.
Also, most of the lava tunnels have been left in their natural state, nothing has been added by man and what you see is exactly as the lava flow created. The area is also preserved and protected, it’s forbidden to modify any structure or steal a rock to take back home as a souvenir.
“These tunnels were made as the upper crust of the lava flow cooled,” explains Ludo. One can imagine various forms and faces in the shining brown and gold textures of the walls and the roof made of thousands of lava stalactites. For us, it definitely looked like chocolate!
After a little crawling, we reach a high roof area. “Let us switch off our lights”, says Ludo. In full darkness and silence, we make one with nature, forgetting for a few minutes all the sufferings and problems awaiting us outside the tunnels.