Welcome to the isle of Pines, “the closest island to paradise”. 3/4 days on the island are sufficient to see most of the things. It is always complicated to get there with the ferry Betico, the New-Caledonia catamaran used by most of the local and tourists to reach the island as it is not comfortable at all (there are some quick flights as well with Air Caledonie) but once you are there you realize you are inside the typical postcard. Strongly advised to take as much food and drinks you can as there is no supermarket on the island, only a very small grocery at Vao, main village.
The isle of Pines
2 hours boat from Noumea abord the ferry Betico. Much less comfortable than the Yasawas Flyer on Fiji islands! Very long and complicated to check in and the stability of the boat is not very good. Lot of waves pitching the boat, resulting in many people sick!
We arrive under a grey weather, soon becoming sunny as the van from our camping, Nataiwatch is coming to pick us up at the ferry station of the island. The Nataiwatch camping is located right next to a wonderful bay, Kanumera Bay. Isle of Pines is more touristic than Lifou in Loyalty islands, but still reasonable, all good 🙂 The camping is good, with not only camping ground but also individual cabins for those requiring little bit more comfort. And for the big luxury, the Meridien 5 stars hotel is not far away, but we didn’t try! Settled now, we are now ready to discover the island!
Camping is one of the most economic way to save some money to sleep in the island, even if you also have access to bungalow at Nataiwatch resort. Different ranges of budget on the island, from the Meridien 5 stars to camping ground!
On the island of Pines, we dedicated one day to the visit of the totems in St-Maurice Bay and the village of Vao, only village of the island, located 5 kms from Nataiwatch and Meridien resorts. But as it mean more or less one hour of walk, we decided to do hitch-hiking to get there! Maybe a bit lazy, but also to best way to save some time, as we only have 4 days there! And is not easy to rent bikes or cars on the island, as you have to book in advance…But hitch-hiking works perfectly fine over there, there is only one road so very possible you will meet nice local or tourists to drive you wherever you want to go 🙂 Also a good way to better know local people and know a bit more about their lives.
We finally reach the place, no one there! Cool! Only few minutes from the center of the village, the St-Maurice bay with the totems is maybe the most iconic place of New-Caledonia, and the symbol of kanak culture: totems and a Virgin Mary, 2 cultures, one very old, one brought by Europeans which is now immersed in the local culture. We could also take the opportunity to go for a quiet swim as well as playing with a lonely dog, obviously very happy to meet with some new friends to play with him!
Peacefull atmosphere at Isle of Pines
A very quiet island with different types of accommodation
Vao, the main village, is not very big and there is a small grocery out there. For information, it is the only place on the island where you could do some mini-shopping if you’re missing basic food. The best thing is to buy everything you can in Noumea or asking for a good lunch/dinner at your resort: You can order the famous bougna, traditional kanak recipe. Vao is the main rallying point on the island, and the very beautiful church has to be noted.
Our day off to the natural swimming pool
Our most complete day out, the must see of the island. the natural swimming pool (piscine naturelle) of the Oro Bay. After riding a beautiful outrigger, a pirogue, to visit the magnificent Upi Bay (a kinda small Halong Bay!), you can reach the Oro Bay after a quick bushwalk. And here you are, the bay is made of pristine transparent waters full of exotic fish, who come in and out depending of the tides. A real natural aquarium, ideal for snorkeling and discover fishes you’ve never seen before. Fishes are attracted by the plankton and numerous corals.
Then we are reaching the appointment given by the guides before taking the “pirogue”, “chez Regis” (at Regis’ place), one of the most famous local restaurants of the island (but did not eat there, as we found the bougna little bit pricey). Bougna is very traditional dish you will be happy to taste however. But as it takes time to prepare, ask you cooker the day before to have one ready on time! But on our way back there, it is funny to notice the sandy river we crossed a few hours before is now full of water, with the high tide coming very quickly! Incredible, we had to get there taking of our shorts and make sure we don’t get our electronic equipment wet!
The natural swimming pool at Oro Bay, the main event of our stay there
It is the end of our day, the most complete (and exhausting!) we had so far on Isle of Pines! Despite the fact we were there in October (normally the best period to go to New-Caledonia), and the fact the weather was actually very mixed, between sun, clouds and light rains, we really enjoyed our day: The different bays, St-Joseph, Upi and Oro, were all amazing, very few tourists on the sites.
You don’t need to stay only near the coasts as the center of island is also worth considering. Indeed, the remains of the penal colony in the XIXth century are still visible. As it was the case for Australia and British convicts, New-Caledonia received thousand of French convicts and the remains are a rare testimony of that period. It is good to walk around these old stones to get immersed in the history of “le caillou”. Also, go and hike to the pic Ngo, the tallest mountain of the island to have a magnificent panoramic view of the lagoon surrounding the island. Caves, such as Queen Hortense caves, an old kanak legend, are also spectacular. Thus, the island has a lot to offer, don’t stay only near beaches!
Lot of different touristic and interesting sites
Our stay is already finished, have to head back to Grande Terre to enjoy our last days in New-Caledonia! The island is definitely a must see. Weather can change quickly but it is strongly advised to take a day to go to the “piscine naturelle”at Oro Bay, as well as discovering the totems at St-Maurice Bay and chilling, listening the gentle and pleasant sound of waves coming to the beach…
Where did we sleep?
- Le Gite Nataiwatch: The camping, offering as well individual bungalows, is located on a shady area near Kanumera Bay, not far from the amazing hotel of Meridien (to be recommended if you can afford, wonderful spot!). But Nataiwatch is simple and ok for those looking to save money while enjoying the wonderful location. It is also possible to rent bikes, book activities or order a delicious typical kanak lunch to the owners who will be glad to make your stay unforgettable.