Isle Of Pines: P&O's Most Popular Stop

14 January 2015

The most popular destination among P&O Australia passengers is not a flashy city nor a famous beach resort, but a tiny island in New Caledonia called Isle of Pines.

Consistently rated as the favourite port of call on P&O’s South Pacific cruises, Isle of Pines epitomises the tropical utopia of travellers’ dreams.

A whole lot of natural beauty is packed into its compact size, at only 15 kilometres long and 13 kilometres wide.

 The island is named for its trees

Twinkling turquoise water and powder-soft white sand welcome cruisers, and its namesake pine trees line the coast like a green gateway to holiday heaven.

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The Island Closest To Paradise

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As part of a French overseas territory, Isle of Pines, or Île des Pins, is nicknamed l'île la plus proche du paradis (‘the closest island to paradise’).

But it was actually discovered by the British navigator Captain James Cook in 1774, before Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived. A century later, the Napoleon-led French Government took possession and turned it into a penal colony. How those poor prisoners must have suffered, imprisoned so close to paradise.

Ruins of the penal colony can be found in the village of Ouro, on the western side of the island. The water tower, built 140 years ago, is still used, and the cemetery holds the graves of hundreds of political deportees.

Today, most of the 3,000 residents are native Melanesian Kanaks.

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Wonderland In The Sacred Ocean

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Despite speaking French (as well as their own dialects), the Kanak people proudly conserve the traditions of the indigenous culture. Like many cruise passengers, they regard the ocean as sacred and central to their way of life.

Seafood is a staple of everyday cuisine, so don’t miss the fresh shellfish sold at markets on the island.

Examples of Kanak arts can be seen at Saint Maurice Bay, where sandalwood carvings are placed around a religious memorial that celebrates the arrival of the first Marist brothers (Catholic missionaries) on the Isle of Pines in 1848.

 You are never far away from tribal art

Local artists’ paintings are also displayed at bus stop shelters, adding colour to the streets.

But Isle of Pines’ biggest drawcard is its watery wonderland.

Surrounded by the New Caledonia Barrier Reef (the second-longest double-barrier coral reef in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the island has exceptional snorkelling and diving opportunities.

Home to the endangered dugong and green sea turtles, it’s absolutely teeming with marine life.

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Even The Fish Are Friendly

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Unusual animals can be found on land, too. Watch out for the Crested Gecko, whose little spikes around its eyes look like eyelashes, and the treetop-dwelling New Caledonian Giant Gecko, measuring up to 36 centimetres.

The best and safest place to swim and snorkel is Oro Bay, on the opposite side of the island from where cruise ships dock. Known as ‘the natural aquarium’, this protected cove is memorable for its abundance of remarkably friendly tropical fish. Please check with your cruise line regarding the availability of this snorkelling site, as it is not currently open to tourists.

 Inside the natural aquarium

Oro Bay is a short drive away, followed by a 20-minute walk through a forest and wading across a shallow stream.

The P&O shore excursion, ‘Lunch at Le Meridien’, includes a feast of food and drinks and use of the hotel’s pool, sports equipment and private beach.


Experience the romance of New Caledonia. Enjoy The Perfect Romantic Getaway In New Caledonia

Want to know more about the Isle of Pines? New Caledonia’s Isle of Pines


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Tribal Dancing

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Another excursion, ‘Island Discovery’, visits Queen Hortense’s Cave, where the ruler apparently hid for several months amid conflict over her leadership in the 1880s. According to another version of the legend, Hortense was the wife of a local chief who took refuge in the grotto during a tribal war in 1855.

This tour also covers landmarks such as convict-built churches, Vao village and colourful market stalls. Along the way, local guides will provide an insight into Kanak customs and the modern way of life.

For an unguided overview, ‘A Glimpse of Our Island’ bus tour stops at the most beautiful and historically significant sites. (There’s no public transport on the island, so it’s recommended to book a tour if you want to see the highlights.)

Of course, it’s possible to go solo and wander around the port area. A convenient place to take a dip and do some shopping is Kuto Bay, located within two minutes walk of the cruise ship pier.

 

At this kilometre-long beach, local women set up stalls selling sarongs, fresh fruit, coconut drinks and bougna (a tasty mixture of sweet potato, taro, yam and either chicken, crab, prawns or lobster, wrapped in banana leaves).

Tribal dancing is performed on the shore, to welcome and entertain tourists.

To the right of the jetty is the lovely Kanumera Bay. Dominated by a large, sacred rock, this calm beach is ideal for families to cool down.

Other activities range from relaxing glass-bottomed boat tours and outrigger canoe rides, to a one-hour hike up N’ga Peak (262m), the island’s highest point.

However, the most popular P&O shore excursion is the 'Turtle Bay and Brush Island Boating Adventure’. This enjoyable tour starts at Kanumera Bay, where a small boat awaits to explore the most scenic beaches and islets.

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Selfies With The Turtles

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Turtle Bay lives up to its name, with lots of loggerhead and green sea turtles paddling around. It’s possible to swim with them or take a selfie while your guide holds one for you.

Sharks, stingrays, manta rays and dolphins can also be easily spotted in the crystal clear water.

The next stop is Brush Island, which is uninhabited, so it’s a nice, quiet place for a stroll. There’s great snorkelling here, too, so bring swimmers, a towel, reef shoes and an underwater camera.

 A cruise is one of the finest ways to see the islands

The maximum age limit on the 'Turtle Bay and Brush Island Boating Adventure’ is 65 and the minimum age is six years old. The boat is rustic, and you’ll probably get wet when embarking or disembarking, but that’s half the fun.

Lasting only two hours, this short trip allows time to experience some of the other attractions of this delightful destination. Be sure to make the most of your day – you’ll soon be pining to come back to the Isle of Pines.

Louise Goldsbury

Louise Goldsbury has taken 50 cruises in the past five years, all in the name of research for her work as a specialist cruise writer, editor and blogger. Louise shares her tips and insider info on cruiseylife.com and the Cruisey Life Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/CruiseyLifeUncensored). Based in Sydney, she also writes a monthly solo travel column in Escape, published in News Ltd’s Sunday newspapers and on www.escape.com.au.