During your research to plan your trip to New Caledonia, you will find one constant: the praises for the Isle of Pines. A local woman we met on Lifou, another island of the archipelago (my favourite one!), even told us her dream was to go to the Isle of Pines. I am not going against the flow: the Isle of Pines is a must-do when you visit New Caledonia.
We spent three full days (four nights) on the Isle of Pines and loved it. We could have spent two weeks there. On top of many natural stunning spots to explore, there are plenty of fun activities to keep you entertained.
But as for the other destinations in New Caledonia, it is recommended to find out when a cruise would be around to better plan your activities and avoid the crowd.
Let me take you through the highlights of our stay…
How long should you stay? Do you need a car? What are the must sees?
Three days did not give us enough time to explore the entire island.
We found car rental on the island but it was difficult for us to organise it as we were a group of six travelling during peak season. And we actually realised that in three days, we would only have time for a small selection of activities. The main ones can be organised with transfers from the hotel. So, to avoid renting a car, we booked a hotel between the popular Kanumera and Kuta bays. We could walk to the restaurants and the beaches in both areas and didn’t mind the 15-minute digestive walk!
You will need to rent a car for at least one day if you want to see most of the island .
My highlights of the trip were, in order of preference:
- Upi Bay on a traditional boat
- Our quality family time on Moro Island
- Diving around the pretty gorgonians
- The beautiful Kuto Beach
Views from the plane before landing on the Isle of Pines
The Isle of Pines shows her best profile before you even set foot on it. Every plane trip we did from one island to another offered stunning bird views of the beautiful lagoons. How could you escape love at first sight?
If you don’t want to fly, you can also catch a ferry from the main island to get there.
Sunsets: from Kuto Beach or Kanumera Beach?
We tried both. We loved both. The magic hour is always more magic when you’re next to the ocean, don’t you think? The sun went down on the horizon at Kuto Beach. At Kanumera Beach, it enhanced the pine trees, which is a special feeling considering they gave their name to the island!
Atoll of Nok Anhui & Moro Island
As a cruise arrived in the morning, the touristy spots on the island suddenly got crowded. It was a perfect day to book a boat excursion to smaller islands.
The untouched atoll of Nok Anhui was incredible. We were the first boat to reach it, which was the best way to appreciate the beauty of the place. We went there on an overcast day but when the sun rays managed to find their way to the atoll, the colours were stunning.
We spotted some big eagle nests with their owners nearby.
We also saw turtles on the way to Moro Island. It’s always a pleasure to see turtles. But I felt terrible when someone from another boat jumped on it to catch it so tourists could have their photo taken with it. It lasted for a long time, and the turtle was obviously not enjoying it. I’m glad no one from our boat joined the stupid attraction. I don’t think I could have stayed silent. But are the people catching the turtles the ones to blame? Locals would not do it if it weren’t for the tourists’ pleasure.
It was the only negative moment of the day. The rest was close to perfect. The reception on Moro Island was unexpected. We booked this tour without really knowing much about it. While driving around the main island, our hosts at La Petite Ferme told us they heard several times praises about this tour. They had noted down the number. It was easy: we just called and booked it! If you want the surprise too, skip the next two paragraphs!
When we arrived on Moro Island, a welcoming cocktail had just been served for us. You cannot see it from the sea but, just behind the vegetation, an enchanting camp awaits. The decoration is lovely and fits well with nature all around. The food was beautiful too. We felt like kings.
On the way back, our guide stopped the boat and we had the surprise to be surrounded by sharks in a few minutes. They used to feed them and, although they’ve stopped, the sharks are still attracted by the motor noise and come to check it out. It’s highly recommended not to put your hand in the water at that moment!
To book the tour we did, contact Julo at [email protected] or call 77 28 50.
Diving near the Isle of Pines
We dived the Garden of Eden with giant and numerous gorgonians. The water was beautiful with excellent visibility, and the coral formations were fantastic. My highlight: we saw seahorses on the gorgonians!
In New Caledonia, we only dived at Poindimié and didn’t have luck with finding a dive shop opened during ou stay on Lifou and Ouvea. Although they’re both coral focused dives, the Isle of Pines was different compared to Poindimié. It’s worth doing both.
Upi Bay on a traditional boat
This is a must-do on the Isle of Pines.
It feels like an adventure just to board this small wooden traditional boat – called Pirogue in French. We slowly and calmly went down the breathtaking bay. The colour of the water and the big rocks coming out of it were magical. It reminded me the cruise we did in Zanzibar (Tanzania) a couple of years ago.
No motor needed, we were lucky with the wind. It felt like we escaped from time, and I wish time stopped. I could have stayed there forever.
Don’t worry about booking the tour too much in advance. You can do that once you arrive on the Isle of Pines. Just ask your hotel hosts. They are in touch with the boatman and will organise that quickly for you.
After leaving our “pirogue”, we went for a short forest walk that ended up on a river that we had to cross to find the gorgeous Natural Pool. The rock standing in the middle of the transparent water gives a real charm to the place. A barrier of rocks in the background protects the serenity of the pool. The clown fish are more curious than ever. It’s very close to perfection.
What’s missing? Well, the actual question is what is in excess… As it sometimes happens in popular natural places, mass tourism is not helping. If only all the small things to limit our impact could be respected: don’t wear sunscreen in the water, don’t feed the wild animals and – obviously – don’t leave your rubbish there.
If the view was unbeatable, the snorkelling experience was nowhere as good as in Lifou.
Pic Nga, the top of the Isle of Pines
We woke up early to reach the summit of Pic Nga for sunrise. The one hour hike to the top is steep, so we were happy to avoid the sun and the heat while climbing. Culminating at 262 metres, it’s the highest peak of the island. The panoramic view up there is worth the efforts. And we did not have many opportunities for hiking during the trip so it was good to exercise a bit!
Your only opportunity to eat “Bulimes” (snails)!
The Isle of Pines is the only island of New Caledonia where you are allowed to eat the local snails, the “bulimes”. You can only find this particularly big species in this area of the Pacific. As they are endangered, they limit the collect and no exportation is allowed. Your only chance to try them is at a restaurant on the Isle of Pines.
If you want tasty local food with a touch of good service, the Oure Tera beach resort has a great menu (the restaurant, not the bar!). Some of us tried the traditional “bougna” while others were seduced by a dish made of hart meat with foie-gras on top.
If you want more details, be patient. I’ve got a full article on the food we tried in New Caledonia in my draft folder!
Where to stay on the Isle of Pines?
Although it is the most developed island for tourism in New Caledonia, you won’t find large resorts dramatically damaging the stunning landscape. It also means most accommodation are basic unless you can afford one of the two luxurious resorts. Locals have managed to keep the place safe from mass tourism, except for big cruise ships, unfortunately.
A couple of friends recommended the Gite Nataiwatch, but it was fully booked for our dates. So we stayed at the Relais Kuberka, as we found it was conveniently located between Kuto and Kanumera Bays. It was a bit overpriced (which is often the case in New Caledonia) and the food was not great at all, but overall it had all we needed.
If you want the best in terms of comfort, and you are willing to pay a lot for it, check Le Meridien.
Have you been to the Isle of Pines? What was the highlight of your trip? Where did you stay? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is the Isle of Pines?
The Isle of Pines is a small island in the South of the archipelago of New Caledonia. You can fly from Noumea or come by boat.