A small island in the Pacific Ocean, just 19 kilometers wide, is known for the beauty of its bays, the colors of the waters and the great tranquility that one breathes. The small Kunié was discovered in 1774 by James Cook and renamed “Ile des Pins” because of the particular vegetation that still covers it today, composed mainly of tall and slender columnar pines. We spent a few days on this island because we had read a lot about it and our expectations were really high. At the end of our stay we could just say that this island is the paradise! Thanks to the beautiful sunny days, we were able to capture images with extraordinary colors, you will hardly believe to your eyes, but there is no deception, the Isle of Pines is really one of the last remaining unspoiled paradises on our planet.
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The Isle of Pines can be reached just from Nouméa in about 2 hours and a half of navigation or in about 30 minutes of domestic flight operated by Air Caledonie (depart from the small Aerodrome of Magenta). The flight has the advantage of revealing the underlying lagoon in all its beauty. The frequency of flights would also allow you to visit the island in a day, but we do not recommend it: you need at least 3-4 days to explore it and to enjoy it.
Let’s discover together the main attractions of the island.
Oro Bay (Baie d’Oro)
It is considered the most beautiful bay of the island and to visit it you have to enter the property of the luxury resort Le Méridien (crossing the beautiful Oro Bridge and heading left, following the saltwater canal). The sight is breathtaking, a scenario in continuous transformation, which changes appearance according to the tides and the incidence of sunlight, but in any condition you see this place you will simply be enchanted. Its waters shine in thousand golden sparkles, especially during low tide, and in the distance they become a very intense turquoise.
Walking along the shore during low tide, you will be amazed to see how many shells and hermit crabs will be able to count around you and you will realize how much this place is still genuine and pristine.
The seabed is sandy and flat for at least one hundred meters from the shore, while it becomes rocky in the middle of the bay (this is the reason why during low tide it is not allowed to rent boards and canoes from the gazebo of the hotel facilities). At this point where the water is more blue and deep, sightings of sea turtles are possible.
Natural Pools (Piscine Naturelle)
It is the main attraction of the island, anyone who arrives here cannot avoid a stop in this small Eden of New Caledonia. It is a bay sheltered from the open sea, where the sloping seabed creates a deeper central basin where the water immediately becomes a very intense turquoise, giving the idea of entering a swimming pool. The water is clear and calm, the seabed is rich in corals and the fish that come in moments of high tide remain trapped once it retreats.
The large number of different fish species and the lack of currents therefore make it the ideal place for snorkeling. We suggest you visit them early in the morning to avoid the “overcrowding” of tourists and to enjoy the place at the time of high tide which, besides being more evocative, will allow you to have fun with the curious fish (yes, they will crowd around your ankles and follow you in your movements in the water, exactly where later there will be no more water!). All around the pools a forest of very high columnar pines makes the landscape even more impressive. The Natural Pools can be reached following the path in the vegetation along the saltwater river that starts from Le Méridien (cross the Oro Bridge and then immediately right, continue for about 15 minutes). Pay attention because you will find yourself walking through the roots of the trees that emerge from the ground, you will have to climb over trunks and sometimes even put your feet in the water. If the tide level allows it, it may be more convenient to walk directly into the water (which we have just done on our way back, encountering a large quantity of fiddler crabs).
Kuto Bay (Baie de Kuto)
We move now to the opposite side of the island. It is a bay that immediately dazzles for the intensity of the turquoise color of its waters, blinded behind the palms (we arrived from the hinterland by bicycle and we were literally jumped off the saddle when we saw it).
The sand is really white and very fine as everyone says, but we immediately noticed that the sea here is a little more wavy, partly due to the different exposure to the winds of this part of the island, partly because the shore is not completely flat and the waves arrive crashing. It is generally a quiet bay, suitable for sunbathing and bathing. It is also the busiest bay on the island, in fact there are pontoons for ships coming from Nouméa and almost all tourist boats are docked here. It can be reached easily by car because it borders on the coastal road and does not require passage through narrow paths.
Kanumera Bay (Baie de Kanumera)
It is separated from Kuto Bay by a promontory consisting of a thin strip of land. Green and blue shades characterize its calm waters and the palm-covered beach is wild and not crowded, although most of the island’s accommodation facilities are concentrated in this area.
Compared to the Kuto bay it is more suitable for snorkeling as there are coral formations not far from the shore. The distinctive element of this bay is the huge rock that emerges from the water, now completely covered by vegetation, which makes it look like a small island. For the locals this is considered a sacred element and it is forbidden to climb on it, so just circumnavigate it by swimming, admiring the fish that swim around it and find shelter among its creeks.
It is the only real town on the island. However, it is a village, with a few houses each surrounded by its own garden, there are small markets, a church, schools, a bar/restaurant and even a tourist information center.
However the services that you can find are basic, it is absolutely not thought for the tourists and despite the indications of the inhabitants, it is also difficult to distinguish a house from a food shop. We have noticed that the locals are extremely friendly, if they can help you they are happy to do so.
Monument to Saint Maurice
It is accessible from Vao, following the road that leads from the tourist information center to the sea. Here you will find an exceptional location for your souvenir photos: expressions of Melanesian art (of which you will find other tracks only in museums or in private properties), which stands out against the incredible background of the New Caledonian sea, with its thousand shades and colors brilliant.
It is a unique monument, in which local art and culture (which find their highest expression in sculpture) merge with the colonial one: in the center there is in fact the statue of Saint Maurice, which was brought here from the first settlers, it is enclosed by a series of wooden totems depicting the faces of the deceased ancestors who are thought to protect the communities from evil spirits and negativities (be careful and you will notice that each carved face presents different features, because some of the facial features are faithfully portrayed).
Afterwards, the base of the statue was transformed into a memorial to the war victims. The bay in front is boundless (you will see kilometers of empty beach as far as the eye can see) and it is characterized by calm waters in which to stop for a refreshing bath; if you are lucky you will come across some fisherman intent to launch his nets to bring dinner on the table. In fact on this island men are in harmony with the surrounding environment, feeding on what nature offers, without exploiting it, respecting it.
Upi Bay (Baie d’Upi)
It is a spectacular bay, which can be appreciated in all its beauty through a short tour in a rocket pirogue (the typical boat of New Caledonia, which you will find only here) through the huge boulders that emerge from the sea. In some points the water is so clear and quiet that it seems almost to look through the glass of an aquarium.
Heading towards the central part of the bay the sea becomes deeper, the surface ripples with waves and the colors of the water become so bright. The pirogues cross each other, pass, follow different trajectories around the boulders. Suddenly, going up along the Upi Bay, the colors fade more and more until they reveal enchanting white sand beaches, which are the end tour point for the guests, including us, who have chosen to save on return rate.
From there in fact as proficient explorers you can take the paths in the vegetation, among lianas, coconut palms, secular trees and enormous roots with curious shapes, to reach the Oro Bay (in about 50 minutes of walking).
In addition to these attractions we would also like to point out the possibility of visiting the cave of Oumagne (or of Queen Hortense) in the northern part of the island, not far from the aerodrome, famous for the beauty of the surrounding nature and for the millenary stalactites. Another historical site worthy of interest, now abandoned and slowly swallowing by the vegetation, is the penitentiary prison of Ouro. In fact, it seems that in 1864 the island became a penitentiary colony for French political opponents, but apparently after having served their sentence many of them chose not to return to their homeland…how can we blame them?!
It is hard to believe that there are such beautiful places still unknown to the indiscriminate exploitation of man. Cause it is in uncomfortable position and the travel costs are remarkable, cause it is a barely visible dot on the maps, cause it is a place that is still little talked about and of which most people ignore the existence, but New Caledonia is jealously preserving the beauty of its islands and their wild soul. Isle of Pines is a destination for those who need to feel the contact with nature, to live according to the natural rhythms of sunlight, to escape from chaos: there are no places to drink or dance in the evening, there is no exploitation of tourism. The population is generous and hospitable, the main attractions are all free, the beaches are endless and completely accessible. If you arrive here with this awareness and with the need to live a different experience, you will take home one of the most beautiful memories of your life.
See you soon