In Travel

A Comprehensive Guide To New Caledonia’s Islands

Most visitors to New Caledonia don’t realise the island nation extends beyond Grand Terre, its mainland. Lying east of New Caledonia, the three Loyalty Islands and Île des Pins (Isle of Pines) are also French territory.

Far less developed than the mainland, these islands are secluded natural havens. Whether explored on a week-long sailboat charter, or just for a day trip, these islands promise an authentic Pacific Island experience.

Ouvéa

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Image: Marine Reveilhac, © Marine Reveilhac / NCTPS

If there is any island that deserves the title of ‘jewel of the Pacific’, it is the northernmost of the Loyalty Islands, Ouvéa. Just a 40-minute flight from Noumea, Ouvéa is an unspoiled, brilliantly blue paradise.

Though you won’t find any five-star hotels or Michelin-starred restaurants here, what you will find instead are incredible nature-based experiences.

Divers and snorkeling fans are right at home under the water in Ouvéa. Take a boat tour of the nearby Pleiades islets, to see hundreds of species of fish, the endemic sea snake and even reef sharks in their natural habitat. The tour stops on the shores of a desert islet, where a fresh seafood lunch is served. Enjoy it with the sparkling Pacific waters lapping at your feet.

For those who prefer to keep their head above the water, eagle rays and turtles are easily spotted from the iconic Mouli bridge. The water through the channel is an stunning shade of turquoise. For more sea life spotting, head to the Hanawa Blue Hole lake.

Lifou

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Image: Patrick Dancel, © P. Dancel / NCTPS

Outdoor adventurers, Lifou is your paradise.

As the largest of the three Loyalty Islands, Lifou is also the most diverse. Here, in addition to the immaculate beaches you’d expect, you’ll also find steep cliffs, thick tropical rainforests and deep caves.

Experienced divers can explore the long corridor of underwater caves off the coast of Lifou with a guide, while novices can keep to the rich and colourful Gorgone Reef. For an added thrill, try night diving.

On shore, the brilliant white sands and turquoise waters of Luengoni beach are unmissable. From Luengoni, a 3-4 hour guided walk along the coral cliffs and through the forest will get you to the sinkholes. Under the watch of a guide, take the 2m plunge into the pitch-black water hole – it is exhilarating.

For those more keen on a culinary adventure, the vanilla plantations in the center of the island might be more to taste. Quickly gaining international recognition, Chez Weniko Qatr offers locally farmed vanilla.

Maré

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Image: © Sebastien Lebegue / NCTPS

Regarded as New Caledonia’s best-kept secret, Maré is abounding with untouched beauty. Hire a bicycle and navigate through thick tropical forest to explore the many hidden coves and caves of the island.

The coastline on Maré alternates between white sand beaches and dramatic rocky outcrops; the most renowned being the Warrior’s Leap in Wakone. From the top of the 30m sheer cliff faces, the reefs below are clearly visible through the calm, clear water.

To get closer to the aquatic life, cycle or hike through the coconut groves to the natural aquarium; a crystalline pool carved out of coral and fed by an underground saltwater passage. Pack a snorkel and towel to spend a few hours swimming and relaxing in the cool of the surrounding forest.

The inner parts of the island are not to be outdone by the coast. Head inland and underground to marvel at the stalactite-covered Pethoen or Medu caves.

Tiga

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Image: © Denis Callé / DIL / NCTPS

Of all New Caledonia’s islands, Tiga is the least touristic. Very few people make it out to the tiny 10km2 island, so now is the perfect time to see it.

There is just one single tribe of less than 200 inhabiting the island, and not a car, hotel or restaurant to be seen around. Visitors will instead be immersed in the locals’ way of life.

Days on Tiga consist of not much more than catching shellfish on the fringing reef flats, playing communal bingo, and cooking and foraging for food.

To find a few creature comforts, there is a small shack that houses a grocery store. It is one of only three buildings on the island. The rest of the island is all traditional huts and thick, pristine nature.

Isle of Pines

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Image: Stephane Ducandas, © Ethnotrack / NCTPS

Named for its thousands of signature Araucaria pine trees, the southernmost New Caledonian Island, Isle of Pines, rivals Ouvéa for the title of ‘jewel of the pacific’.

Once home to a penal colony, remnants of its convict history can still be seen across the southwestern part of the island. In Ouro, there are ruins of the jailhouse, as well as 230-grave cemetery.

A natural swimming pool in the northeast is the island’s most well-known attraction. Barricaded from the fringing bay with a natural rock wall, the calm pool with its abundant sea life is a popular spot for snorkelers.

For a different perspective on the dazzling turquoise waters, Le Meridien Ile Des Pins hires out stand-up paddle boards and kayaks. They are free for guests to use to explore Oro Bay. Keep an eye out for cruising sea turtles and rays.

Visitors to the Isle of Pines can watch the sun go down from any one of the white sand beaches, but it is hard to beat watching the sunset with a local beer on the laid-back deck of Kou-Bugny hotel at Kuto Bay.

(Lead images: Mouli Bridge / Monique Ceccato & Valentin Coutaz)

Published 03 May, 2019