The Isle of Pines
Hot off the press from the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia
Just a few minutes into the heli flight from Noumea – a wave of pure delight descended over me. I looked through the glass straight ahead to see so many beautiful little islands with sparkly white beaches and bright colors; the largest of which was our destination. What a surprise to see such a rare and stunning combination of white sand beaches, glistening turquoise waters, tall pine trees (yep, pine trees) and other lush foliage. It was almost like an Alpine scene, except with warm weather and magnificent beaches all around! This rare jewel is the Isle of Pines, in New Caledonia.
Just a 45 minute helicopter hop from New Caledonia’s main island, this quiet little hideaway is a truly unique place to visit. It has a rugged and undiscovered feel to it. The terrain is like nothing you’ll ever see anywhere else. I could not believe how pleasant the weather was—about 75 degrees, with a nice breeze, and NO HUMIDITY! Ladies, this means no hair-frizz! You won’t find it to be bustling with tourists either. This is actually one of the only places I’ve been to where the most fantastic spots are surprisingly not crowded. In fact, at most of the sights I explored on and around the island, I was the only guest there.
The only 5 star property on the Isle of Pines (for now) is the Le Meridien. It has a pristine location on the island and is within walking distance of the spectacular Piscine Natural, or the “Natural Pool.” My suggestion would be to try to book one of the ocean or waterfront bungalows for a more exclusive experience. The pool at the Le Meridien was definitely one of my favorite features of the property. It’s a rounded infinity pool backed by the glistening waters of Oro Bay. As a guest at Le Meridien, you can enjoy access to sea turtles and a plethora of other marine life literally just outside your doorstep. Oro Bay provides some of the best snorkeling on the island.
A bit about the tumultuous history of the Isle of Pines…
The Kunak, a Melanesian people, inhabited the island for over 2000 years before Europeans made their way over. In the 18th Century, Captain James Cook dubbed it “l’île la plus proche du paradis” (the closest island to Paradise) while on one of his voyages. Around 1840, missionaries and merchants started coming. In 1853, France took possession of the island, and by 1872, three-thousand political deportees and prisoners from Paris were exiled there to serve out their sentences. (Doesn’t sound like much of a punishment to me!) It is now a peaceful indigenous reserve, but the 19th Century penal colony and cemetery ruins can still be seen.
Also still standing, are some fascinating hand carved totems, which surround a statue of Jesus. The statue was erected in 1848 with the alliance of the locals and the missionaries. The totems were brought as a goodwill gesture by the local Kunie families. Other wooden carvings can be seen scattered throughout the island, featuring ancient gods, turtles, hawks, and other symbolic shapes.
Some tropical vacations offer nothing to do but sip a cocktail on the beach… the Isles of Pines is anything but that. It is an incredible little island full of natural wonders and beauty – Caves, caverns, natural pools, lush vegetation, and a rich coral reef. Additionally, wherever I went, the only sounds I could hear were tropical birds singing and the soft lap of the waves. You won’t see many other people while you’re here but you will find that it is inhabited by a very friendly and small population, abundant with culture and tradition.
Some of the best things to do while visiting Isles de Pines are:
- Swim in Piscine Natural for an intimate view of the beautiful marine life
- Swim with turtles in Oro bay right in front of Le Meridien
- Visit Queen Hortense Cave (you may find a few tourists here)
- Explore the island by car
- Island hop via private yacht charter – don’t miss Nokanhui!
- Check out the fantastic totems
- If you’re a history buff, have a look at some of the ruins!
Suggestion: bring along some water shoes to protect your feet while romping through the river.