An excited group gathered at the Air Austral check in desk at 11h00 this morning, overjoyed at the thought of visiting the tropical island of Réunion. They all passed effortlessly through Emigration and had a short time to explore the duty free shops, before boarding the flight at 13.30. I am delighted to have Ireen Turpin as my co-chaperone and her passion for Geography and Life Sciences will lend such value to the tour. A reminder that photos will also be loaded on a face-book page – if you are a member of FB, then either search ‘Personal Touch Schooltours – Reunion 2018’ or follow the link below and click ‘LIKE’ to receive updates as they are posted.   More later....

23h30 (Reunion time!) What a lovely flight we had and the 4 hours passed so quickly! Upon arrival our Tour Operator Anne Christine and regular guide/driver Jean were enthusiastically waiting for us and we all happily loaded our bags onto the coach. La Juliette Dodu in Saint Denis is such a warm and welcoming hotel and the girls were delighted with the warm reception, unique ambience, delightful rooms, delicious food and the glorious pool, where we swam until after 23h00! It is an awesome group of girls and everyone is really excited for all that awaits during the week!


What a wonderful evening we had and after an island-style breakfast, we met with our guide/driver, Jean, who transferred us to Le Jardin de l’Etat. Everyone enjoyed strolling through this incredible tropical garden which boasts a variety of plants & flowers and Ms Turpin was a font of information! We then walked down the Rue de Paris, where Ms Turpin focused on ‘gentrification’, highlighting the changes that have been made to the area’s character & culture through resto ration. All were delighted to see the word SOLDES in the shop windows, indicating the sales and after a little retail therapy we gathered at the coach for our journey to the west coast. We drove alongthe strikingly beautiful route du littoral’, which is flanked by waves lapping the shore on the one side and sheer mountain cliffs dramatically descending on the other. Upon arrival at the Hotel Alamanda,we were warmly welcomed and then enjoyed a delicious lunch alongside the pool, which is surrounded by loungers and gigantic palm trees. It is beautifully situated, only 5 minutes’ walk from the beach & a large SCORE supermarket. At 15h30 we were transferred by local tuk tuk taxi to the Marina, where we were scheduled to enjoy a  sunset cruise aboard Le Grand Bleu, but unfortunately it was cancelled due to strong winds and an unsettled sea. With some quick lateral thinking we decided to visit the world class Aquarium instead, as it is which is also at the Marina and we rescheduled our cruise for Saturday morning, so no disappointment at all! Dinner tonight was served in the onsite restaurant adjacent to the pool and it was delicious! We have a very early start tomorrow, with breakfast scheduled for 06h00, so we encouraged all to curb their night energy and get some good rest! 


This morning all awoke bright & early to eat breakfast, before hopping on board the coach, where Jean greeted us with his customary warmth & enthusiasm. We then headed towards Le Volcan du Piton de la Fournaise, which is an incontestable part of Réunion’s natural heritage, dating back some 400 000 years and it is classified as one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Miraculously it is erupting as we are on the island and everyone was so excited to be part of this experience! In the company of 2 professional mountain guides, the girls hiked to the closest viewing point to witness this phenomenon and everyone was so very proud of their achievements. After a hike of 2.5 hours all were ravenous and enjoyed a delicious picnic lunch, made personally by the guides. On our return journey, we visited la Maison du Volcan, a newly revamped, exciting & interactive museum, designed to provide a wealth of geological information on volcanoes and this was quite simply magnificent. It culminated in a spectacular 4-D movie, which had us all screeching & vibrating in our seats, after which all returned to the hotel to relax and freshen up for dinner at the Italian restaurant Casa Cosi.


Today’s itinerary changed completely from what was scheduled! At 09h00 we hopped on board our coach and we were well on our way to the cooking course in Saint Denis, when, 15kms out of the capital we came to a standstill on the only access road to the city! The French were once again was on strike and for most of the day the traffic never moved! With some lightening quick lateral thinking and slick re-scheduling of arrangements by our Tour Operator, we took an off-ramp and changed our plans to Friday’s programme. Soon we were headed off to Cirque Mafate, the largest of the of the 3 on the island of Réunion and situated at more than 2 200 m above sea level. These geographical curiosities are ancient craters, which were formed by the collapse of the walls of the original volcano, Le Piton des Neiges and all have been dramatically affected by subsequent erosion. From the viewpoint at Piton Maido, everyone was amazed by the unbelievably striking scenery & they marvelled at the colony of people who reside deep in the bowels of this inaccessible cirque. On the way back we stopped at a geranium distillery and enjoyed some coffee with geranium sugar & syrup and some souvenirs were purchased too. We then returned to the hotel for a swim and ate lunch, before leaving for an afternoon visit to Kelonia, a fascinating and world class Research Centre & Marine Turtle Observatory, which promotes environmental responsibility & raises awareness about the need to protect these species. We were back at the hotel by 17h30 and the entire PHSG group then decided to walk down to the lagoon to swim, eat ice cream and witness the most beautiful sunset. It was an exceptional PLAN B day!!


Jean arrived at our hotel punctually at 07h30 and we travelled southwards towards the Sud Sauvage, the rocky ‘wild south’, which boasts a wealth of colours and a variety of landscapes. Our first stop was at Saint Leu, where we marveled at a remarkable blowhole, Le Souffleur de Bretagne. We then continued on to the viewpoint at Manapany-les-Bains, where we witnessed how volcanic rocks have been placed in the sea to create a basin which is protected from waves to constitute a cradle for extensive marine life. Thereafter we drove through the southern-most city of the French territory & the European Union, Saint Joseph, which is situated 30m above sea level at the mouth of the large ‘Rivière des Remparts’, whose river-bed is visibly affected by floods & landslides. We then stopped at the site of the 1986 lava flow, where Jean explained the extent of the devastation that had taken place, before we moved on to the site of the 2007 lava flow which actually crossed the national highway. Here Jean and Ireen led the girls on a fascinating tour of the area, highlighting the dramatic views of the ocean meeting the magma flows of past eruptions, with incredible evidence of pillow lava and the girls collected a variety of lava samples. Jean then gave the girls a wonderful experience by leading them into a lava tunnel, where they discovered that the vents from 2007 are still hot! We all then enjoyed lunch at a wonderful authentic Creole home, before continuing on to see another remarkable blow-hole, Le Souffleur d’Arbonne. We then headed back to the hotel, where the girls had time to enjoy the beach with an ice cream and tonight there was a resident singer who so appreciated the enthusiasm and participation of our girls! What great fun we all had, with some wonderful sokkie sokkie!!


Everyone was very excited for today’s activities and at 8.30am we all hopped on board the coach. At 10h00 we met Jacky, who runs a professional cooking school in Sainte Suzanne and we had the most wonderful few hours in his home, learning about la cuisine Réunionaise. We were introduced to a wealth of flavours & spices, noting that the Créole food is distinctly French, with African, Indian & Asian influences & nuances. Jacky designated roles to particular groups/individuals and everyone played an integral part in the preparation of our delicious 4 course lunch. There was much chopping, chattering, shredding, grating, stirring, squeezing, washing before adding the ingredients to ‘la marmite’ and cooking on the ‘feu de bois’. Ultimately, we enjoyed the fruits of our labour, eating the most wonderful food and the experience will remain indelibly printed on our minds forever. At 15h00 we travelled through fields of sugarcane to St André, where we visited a well-known vanilla factory, La Vanillerie and here our guide explained the intricate process involved in the production and we now understand why vanilla is so very expensive! After purchasing souvenirs/gifts, we hoped on board our coach and then made a stop at a mini mall in Sainte Marie, where we had an hour to enjoy some retail therapy! Once at our hotel we said a fond farewell to our beloved Jean, who has been our constant companion/guide/friend for the week, always going far beyond the call of duty. Dinner this evening was FANTASTIC, with a troupe of singers & sega dancers entertaining and encouraging all the hotel guests to participate. Our girls of course needed no encouragement and what fun to see them dance and it was and a real joy to behold! 


What a joy it was for everyone to be able to sleep in a little longer this morning and to eat a leisurely breakfast! At 09h30 all hopped on board one of 3 tuk tuks, very excited at the thought of a 2 hours cruise on Le Grand Bleu and all were beside themselves with joy that they were fortunate enough to see so many dolphins and whales. At midday they returned to the hotel where all enjoyed a picnic lunch alongside the pool. At 14h00 we once again hopped on tuk tuks as we made our way to the beach and here the girls were introduced to the mysteries of the coral reef as they explored the lagoon in glass bottom kayaks and paddle boards. There is such a rich biodiversity of both flora & fauna in the reef environment and their guide informed them of the measures which have been put in place to preserve this unique marine eco-system. It was such an amazing experience in an idyllic setting, with the waves breaking on the coral reef in the distance and the clear blue waters trickling onto the sand. We all enjoyed our ‘on-the-beach’ fruit cocktail and the spontaneous entertainment of some French locals who were celebrating a friend’s bachelor party!At 16h30 we returned to the hotel and all had some free time to relax before dinner tonight, which will be at La Marmite, a restaurant specializing in traditional Créole cuisine, all cooked on open wood fires. Our final dinner is guaranteed to be special, as we reminisce about all the very special memories we have created together on this beautiful island.


The transfer from our hotel has been arranged for 07h30 and all is confirmed for the return flight on UU 341. I am sure there is no need to remind excited parents & family members that the group is scheduled to arrive at O R Tambo at 12h55 on Sunday 7 October. This has been an incredibly happy tour, with such a cohesive group of girls and they have been wonderful ambassadors for Pretoria High School for Girls. To act ‘in loco parentis’ is no mean task and it has been my great pleasure and privilege to have been accompanied by Mommy Turpin, who is a true gem.  She is always so full of life & laughter, ensuring that your girls were well cared for, happy and safe at all times. Her joie de vie is both inspirational & infectious and she is a real blessing to the all she meets. Thank you, my dear friend, not only for flying the Personal Touch banner so high, but also for being a wonderful role model to your girls. Whilst the tour has undoubtedly been a resounding success, it has also been an intense week, with early departures and late nights, so your daughters are bound to be exhausted and the many wonderful anecdotes may not be immediately forthcoming, but they will indeed reveal themselves in the days, weeks, months and years to come! As parents you can rest assured that you have afforded your children the most wonderful opportunity and I have no doubt that each and every child will return not only academically enriched, but enriched as a person, having matured and grown in confidence and the precious memories & firm bonds of friendships will last a lifetime. It remains for me to wish you all a happy home-coming ~ ‘bon voyage et a la prochaine’!