Make the most of your time in the Isle of Pines with these 4 amazing things to do for the whole family.
The Isle of Pines, New Caledonia is probably one of the most beautiful destinations in the South Pacific. It embodies the dream of a South Pacific paradise: turqouise water, lush tropical vegetation, sunny climate and extremely friendly and welcoming people. No wonder it is popular for honeymooners, even though the number of resorts is limited and accommodation rates are generally quite high. However, for those of you who make it here, you will be happy that you have indeed come to the island that is said to be the closest island to paradise.
While many of you may consider the Isle of Pines a destination that is perfect for de-stressing and relaxing, there is also plenty to explore on this small island beyond the gorgeous sandy beaches. and the colorful coral reefs. All you need to do is organize yourself a local guide who will be more than happy to show you around and share their culture with you, and you will be amazed at what you can find.
Here are the top 4 things to do on the Isle of Pines.
One of the best-known secrets of the Isle of Pines is the so-called Queen Hortense cave. Queen Hortense was the daughter of a chief who declared her successor after his death. While her own tribe was ready to accept a female leader, others were not so keen, and as tribal wars broke out in 1855, the young princess hid in a large cave with impressive stalagmites to escape further harm. She spent several months in this place, hidden away from the outside world and supplied with food by supporters who lowered provisions into a hole at the top of the cave.
Today, visitors only have to take an easy walk a few meters from the car park. There is a beautiful little shrine on the stone walls of the cave that the locals decorate with flowers and colorful cloth. And what happened to Hortense? The teenage girl came out of the cave again some months later and was sent to the continent to learn French with the nuns and acquired the skills to read and write. This came in handy when the French tried to legally take control of the Isle of Pines, as Hortense was able to advise her father not to sign the papers. Because of this wise advice, large parts of the Isle of Pines are still owned by its traditional owners. Another legacy of Queen Hortense is that she taught her newly acquired skills to the women of her tribe – she truly was a progressive and inspirational woman.
The ruins of the prison near the village of Wero on the other hand have a more sinister past. Built by the French, these walls were used to imprison around 3,000 French dissidents from the Paris Commune. You can get here on foot from Kuto Beach in a few minutes, and there is no entrance fee. Around the ruins you will find cell blocks and independent buildings, all crumbling and in different stages of disrepair. The grounds are overgrown with tropical vegetation but there are paths that allow you to get very close to the different parts of the prison. Inside, the shady buildings are damp and cool, but out in the yard it’s a different story altogether. You can only imagine how hard life must have been for the prisoners inside these stone walls. The heat is stifling and the sun burns fiercely. It is a very different place from the heavenly Kuto Beach with its luxury resorts, just a few meters away. If you are interested in more of the island’s convict past, there is also the Cemetery of the Deportees which can be reached on foot from the ruins of the prison.
The small settlement of Vao is the largest of its kind on the Isle of Pines, and one of the most impressive buildings is the church of Our Lady of the Assumption in the center. Built in 1860, it is a fine example of South Pacific missionary architecture, and inside you will find some wonderful treasures that elegantly combine traditional Christian symbols with local Kanak culture. For example, there is a beautiful hand-carved wooden altar with what appears to be a small replica of a longhouse or small sarcophagus. On the sides you will find golden symbols such as the sun, doves and crosses. Then there is also the large crucifix of the church which is attached to a small canoe outside, which probably remembers the way the Christianity was brought to the people of Kunie (the local name for the Isle of Pines) through the seas. While there, don’t forget to look up: the intricate ceiling is a wonderful collection of native woods found on the island.
Saint Joseph the Beach
Saint Joseph’s Beach is another great place to visit on the Isle of Pines – here you will see a wonderful display of the traditional outriggers still made on the island, now modernized with outboard motors. They make for fantastic photo subjects with the most stunning scenery around them. If you think Kuto Beach is beautiful, wait until you get to St. Joseph’s Beach! The water here is crystal clear and warm, the beach seems endless. The bay is full of tiny coral islands and is an important fishing ground for the locals. A great destination to simply relax, watch the locals in action and take photos that are sure to impress your friends back home.
Silke is its founder and sole contributor Sydney Travel blog, Happiness and Things. Follow her on her travels around Australia, the South Pacific and – soon – Mediterranean Europe.