Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

Photo: Pierre-Alain Pantz
Photo: Pierre-Alain Pantz, http://www.isle-of-pines.com

Is New Caledonia about to become the hot destination in the South Pacific? Since the main airport was recently expanded and international hotel chains are set to open new resorts, the archipelago could become the next Tahiti or Fiji. While infrastructure would improve, the outer islands probably wouldn’t be as serene and remote feeling. So brush up on your French and plan your trip to the Isle of Pines now, before the groundbreaking begins.

The Isle of Pines–nicknamed “the closest island to paradise”–is full of long, white-sand beaches and Araucaria pine trees. The New Caledonia Barrier Reef surrounds the island. A high-speed ferry or a quick flight brings you from the capital city of Nouméa 62 miles south to the former French penal colony.

Plan your activities for the mornings, before it gets too hot and cruise ship passengers deboard for the afternoon. Snorkel in the natural swimming pool at Oro Bay. Surrounded by coral cliffs, the starfish, the colorful fish, and the coral are protected from the open sea. Hike up N’Ga Peak–the highest point on the island–for panoramic views of the Isle of Pines, nearby islands, and even Grande Terre–the main island–on a clear day. After presenting a small gift and being granted permission, explore the stalactites and the stalagmites of Queen Hortense Cave, where the wife of a local chief hid before abducating in the late 1800s. And visit the penal colony ruins in Ouro. The water tower built by the prisoners is still in use today.

If you’re going to be on the east side of the island, make a reservation at Kou-Gny for lunch. After walking through a jungle path–the restaurant isn’t near the road–you’ll find picnic tables shaded by pine trees and a view of the turquoise water. The smell of lobster helps you find your way. Start with a cold beer and a salad. Followed by grilled lobster. Savor each bite. After you’ve sucked the last bit of meat from the legs, refreshing passion fruit and papaya squirted with lime juice arrive. Make another reservation before you leave.

Photo: Ouré Tera Beach Resort
Photo: Ouré Tera Beach Resort

Full and tired, you’re ready for a nap on the beach. Your hotel, the Ouré Tera Beach Resort, is located on Kanumera Bay, a beautiful stretch of sand. With lots of clownfish and snapper in the water, the bay is a great place to snorkel. But for now, you’re content to relax in a lounge chair and scan the crystal-clear water for dolphins and dugongs until your eyes start to shut. Close to paradise indeed.

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