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Journeys : RACT MNJ June July 2010
Destinations 17 June /July 2010 Later, standing at the top of the mountain and gasping for air while admiring the picture-perfect view, the two halves of our day couldn't have been more different. But that's the beauty of a destination like Isle of Pines -- which is only a 20 minute flight or 2.5 hour fast catamaran trip from New Caledonia's capital Noumea -- because you can do as much or as little as you like. The island is only 17 kilometres long and 14 kilometres wide and boasts 60 kilometres of stunning coastline. About 2200 residents live there, and many are Kanaks, clans of native people of Melanesian ancestry. Tribes were given back general control of the Isle of Pines (which locals know as `Kunie`) by the French colonial gover nment in 1911, so visitors still get a real taste of the traditional way of life. English is widely spoken, but locals appreciate any effort you make to speak to them in New Caledonia's official language, French. Most locals live in the main village of Vao and there's plenty of holiday accommodation around the island, so it's easiest to explore the island by hiring a pushbike, scooter or car. A must-see spot is the Bay of St Maurice, where a row of car ved wooden totem poles surround a statue of Jesus and two monuments -- one commemorating the ar rival of missionary Marist Father Goujon in 1848 and another paying tribute to the 18 islanders killed during World War I. It's an interesting mix of Christian and traditional faith. The Isle of Pines, often nicknamed 'Jewel of the Pacific', is surrounded by a barrier reef with an array of tropical fish and colourful coral. The island enjoys a subtropical climate with maximum temperatures often into the 30s -- even in cooler months the average temperature is about 22ºC. Sea temperatures are usually between 21º-28ºC, making the Isle of Pines perfect for swimming, and there are few spots better than Kuto and Kanumera Bay, where you can sink your bare feet into more than a kilometre of soft sand and swim and snorkel alongside a huge coral rock -- just don't climb it, as locals believe the rock is sacred. It would be easy to spend your entire holiday lazing here, but it would be a shame not to explore the rest of the island, which is home to unique fauna including colourful butterflies and the world's largest gecko. And what better place to see wildlife than while climbing Pic N'ga! The wide track starts off in lush vegetation but soon gives way to rocky ridges. It's hard to know what's trickier -- battling the hot sun on the uphill climb or constantly watching your step on the way down to avoid slipping in loose gravel. We encountered only a couple of tourists on our walk, so for the most part we felt like we were the only two people in the world. Standing at 262m, Pic N'ga certainly isn't Everest and you won't need a detailed map, specialised equipment or an experienced guide. But the mountain is still tall enough to offer a fantastic 360º view of the unspoiled beaches, sparkling water and distinct treeline of lush pines and palms that ear ned the island its name when Captain James Cook sailed its shores in 1774. But I bet he didn't explore foreign lands wearing thongs... The island is home to unusual fauna, including colourful butterflies Above: Locals enjoy a get-together Above right: Carved wooden totem pole at the Bay of St Maurice
April May 2010
Aug Sep 2010