I’ve been lucky enough to ride in a few helicopters in recent years. I confess that I’d become a bit blasé about it. Another exotic trip, another helicopter ride. Ho hum.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the Reunion Island helicopter ride. My previous helicopter trips were like tricycle rides in comparison.
The ride started out as I expected — we took off and skirted the ocean, with pretty views of the island’s western beaches and coastal towns. This was nice.
But then we turned eastward, toward the island’s interior. The helicopter began to climb.
Did I mention that Reunion formed over a volcanic hotspot? The island is basically a big pile of volcanic rock bubbling above the surface of the ocean. The tallest peak on the island, Piton des Nieges, is a dormant volcano more than 3000 meters (9842 feet) tall. Piton des Neiges is surrounded by three massive calderas, or cirques — giant, lush-green craters surrounded by soaring waterfalls and dotted with quaint villages accessible only by foot.
On the other side of the island is Piton de la Fournaise, an active volcano that has erupted more than 100 times in the last 400 years. Piton de la Fournaise has been erupting on and off this whole year. It was in rare form during our visit.
I’m doing my best to describe Reunion’s geography, but I’m no geographer and it’s a useless endeavor anyway. People had told me all of this before, too, but I didn’t get it until that helicopter crested the edge of the cirque. Below there was nothing but green. Above was nothing but blue. Ahead was a rocky precipice, and beyond that, white clouds.
The pilot was speaking into my headphones but I couldn’t understand a word — his French accent was strong and the background noise was loud. The copter’s engine revved. Then we made a little hop, my stomach lurched, and we dropped over the precipice into the Cirque de Mafat. Everyone in the helicopter screamed, literally, with delight.
We flew over emerald green mountainsides, cliffs, and magical waterfalls. We circled the Trou de Fer, or Iron Hole: six waterfalls dumping water about 200 meters down. We took several flips through this canyon so everyone got a good view.
Then we flew across the island to the active volcano. I could barely breathe when we flew over the volcano. But there was more magnificence to come – yawning rover valleys, tiny villages nestled into the Cirque de Salazie, the spectacular western coast and its turquoise coral reef.
And then we landed.
The Reunion Island helicopter ride ranks firmly in the top five most incredible experiences of my life, hands down.
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Heather Mason is a blogger at 2summer.net.