Cirque de Mafate

Cirque de Mafate

CIRQUE de MAFATE is a caldera on Reunion Island.  The Reunion Island sits in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mauritius.  It was formed from the collapse of the large shield volcano ——- the PITON des NEIGES.

The very remote and inaccessible CIRQUE was settled in the 18th century by “maroon slaves” ( i.e. slaves who had escaped from their masters), then later by poor white labourers.  It owes its name to one “maroon” leader.

Cirque de Mafate_2

The Cirque is entirely enclosed by mountains, especially tall cliffs, known as REMPARTS, save for the sole river exiting, the RIVIERE des GALETS (river of the pebbles).  Inside the Cirque, there are considerable DECLIVITIES.  The ILETS are pieces of more-or-less flat lands, on which the hamlets are located.  The name MAFATE comes from the MALAGASY word MAHAFATY, which means LETHAL, an allusion to the difficulty for accessing the Cirque.

The Cirque has one village, LA NOUVELLE, and several hamlets :  Marla, Roche-Plate, ILET-aux-ORANGERS.  The cirque is entirely public property managed by the Forestry Service, from which the inhabitants rent inexpensive concessions.  There is no main electrical supply.  Inhabitants thus produce their own electricity using solar panels (with battery storage), and occasionally, diesel generators.  However, fuel for the latter must be brought by helicopter at high cost.  Because of the reduced available power supply, inhabitants systematically use low-consumption (fluorescent) light bulbs.  Similarly, all inhabitants use solar water heaters.  These can be supplemented by gas-powered heaters  ——- but gas canisters must also be brought by helicopter.

Cirque de Mafate

LA NOUVELLE and the hamlets have grocery stores where staples can be bought from.  Typically, these stores also provide some limited bar and restaurant services (hot coffee and local fast food, such as samosas).  Many inhabitants have opened GITES (dormitories, WC and showers) where hikers can stay for the night and often dine, for a fee.  La Nouvelle and several of the hamlets have elementary schools.  In 2005, the school at Marla reopened with 6 students, after being closed for an insufficient number of school children.  There are no secondary nor higher education facilities.
There are several dispensaries between which a few nurses rotate, as well as scheduled visits of a physician, but no permanent health care facilities.  All emergencies have to be evacuated by helicopter.  There is no GENDARMERIE (police station).
One originality of MAFATE is that there are no roads.  Because of this, it is a major attraction for hikers willing to experience some unspoiled nature, while still benefiting from grocery stores and other amenities.  For this reason, with the impending creation of a national park on the heights of Reunion, it seems very unlikely that roads would be ever built.  All access, including for supplies, is by foot or helicopter.

Cirque de Mafate

There are a number of footpaths for accessing the Cirque, among which :

** By the COL des BOEUFS (pass of the oxen), from the CIRQUE de SALAZIE, leading to La Nouvelle.  This way is the easiest, since there is a forestry road leading to parking lots at the pass.
** By the COL du TAIBIT from the CIRQUE de CILAOS.
** By the CANALISATION des ORANGERS on the heights of Saint Paul (Reunion).
Christopher F. Schuetze (10th of February, 2016) wrote : Today, Mafate’s roughly 800 inhabitants, known as MAFATAIS, live in tiny villages called ILETS ( a local word that evokes the French word for ‘tiny islands’ (ILOTS).
In 2010, MAFATE was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, a move that has brought in a recent influx of travellers.  For now, those who visit this “lost Garden of Eden”, are treated to breath-taking vistas, deep lush forests, wide plains, wild rivers and a rich local culture  ——- but that might not always be the case.
The reunion is home to a number of endemic birds, insects and plants, not found anywhere else in the world.  Mafate is one of the few places left in the world to see an eco-system that has developed over millions of years in “relative isolation”.
The valley is home to the Reunion Stonechat, the Reunion Marsh Harrier, the Mascarene Paradise fly-catcher and the Olive white-eye, all birds found only in this region.  Several of the plants on view ——- most impressively the large highland TAMARIND Tree that populates the  TAMARIN PLAINS just below the COL des BOEUFS Mountain Pass   ————- grow nowhere else but MAFATE.

Cirque de Mafate

The epicentre of Mafate’s growing tourist trade is La Nouvelle, which has scores of well-maintained tin-roof houses, a Church, a single-room school, a dispensary and a cemetery.  Historically, MAFATE is synonymous with “isolation”, “loneliness” and “inaccessibility”.


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