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The Isle of Pines, New Caledonia is probably one of the most beautiful destinations in the South Pacific. It embodies the dream of a South Pacific paradise: turqouise water, lush tropical vegetation, a sunny climate and extremely friendly, welcoming people. No wonder that it is a favourite for honeymoons, even though the number of resorts is limited and accommodation rates are generally quite high. However, for those of you that make it here, you will be pleased to know that you have indeed come to the island that is said to be the closest island to paradise.

A traditional outrigger in St Joseph's Bay, Isle of Pines
Silke Elzner: A traditional outrigger in St Joseph’s Bay, Isle of Pines

While many of you might consider the Isle of Pines a destination that is perfect for destressing and relaxation, there is also a lot worthwhile to explore on this small island beyond the gorgeous sandy beaches and the colourful coral reefs. All you need to do is organise yourself a local guide who will be more than happy to show you around and share their culture with you, and you will be amazed at what you can find.

One of the best known secrets of the Isle of Pines is the so-called grotto of Queen Hortense. Queen Hortense was the daughter of a chief who declared her to succeed him after his death. While her own tribe was willing to accept a female leader, others were not so keen, and as tribal wars erupted in 1855, the young princess hid out in a large cave with impressive stalagmites to escape further harm. She spent several months in this place, hidden away from the outside world and supplied with food by supporters who would lower the provisions down a hole on top of the cave.

Today, visitors only have to take an easy walk a couple of meters from the car park. There’s a gorgeous little shrine up on the stone walls of the grotto which locals decorate with flowers and colourful cloth. And what happened to Hortense? The teenaged girl reappeared from the cave some months later and was send to the mainland to learn French with the nuns and acquired the skills to read and write. This became handy when the French tried to legally take control over the Isle of Pines, as Hortense was able to advise her father not to sign the papers. Because of this wise counsel, large parts of the Isle of Pines are still owned by its traditional owners. Another legacy of Queen Hortense is that she taught her newly acquired skills to the women of her tribe – she really was a progressive and inspirational woman.

The prison ruins near Wero village on the other hand have a more sinister past. Built by the French, these walls were used to incarcerate around 3,000 French dissidents from the Paris Commune. You can get here by foot from Kuto Bay within a couple of minutes, and there is no entry fee. Around the ruins you will find cell blocks and free-standing buildings, all crumbling and in different stages of disrepair. The grounds are overgrown with tropical vegetation but there are footpaths that will allow you get very close to the different parts of the prison. On the inside, the shady buildings are moist and cool, but outside in the yard it’s a different story altogether. You can only imagine how hard life must have been for the prisoners within these stone walls. The heat is stifling and the sun burns fiercely. It’s a very different place from the heavenly Kuto Bay with its luxury resorts, only a couple of meters away. If you are interested in more of the island’s convict past, there is also the Cemetery of the Deported which can be reached on foot from the prison ruins.

The little settlement of Vao is the biggest of its kind on the Isle of Pines, and one of the most impressive buildings is the Our Lady of the Assumption church in the centre. Built in 1860, it is a fine example of South Pacific missionary architecture, and inside you will find some wonderful treasures that elegantly combine traditional Christian symbols with the local Kanak culture. For example, there’s a beautiful hand-carved wooden altar with what appears to be a small replica of a longhouse or a small sarcophagi. On the sides you will find golden symbols such as the sun, doves and crosses.Then there is also the big crucifix of the church which is attached to a small outrigger canoe, probably remembering the way Christianity was brought to the people of Kunie (the local name of the Isle of Pines) via the seas. While there, don’t forget to look up: the intricate ceiling is a wonderful collection of native woods found on the island.

St Joseph’s Bay is another great spot to visit in the Isle of Pines – here you will see a wonderful display of the traditional outriggers that are still crafted on the island, now modernised with outboard motors. They make for fantastic photo objects with the most stunning scenery surrounding them. If you think Kuto Bay is beautiful wait till you arrive at St Joseph’s Bay! The water here is crystal clear and warm, the beach seemingly endless. The bay is dotted with tiny coral islands and is an important fishing ground for the locals. A great destination to simply relax, see the locals in action and take photos that are sure to impress your friends at home.

Silke is founder of and sole contributor to Sydney Travel blog, Happiness and Things. Follow her on her journeys around Australia, the South Pacific and – soon – Mediterranean Europe.

https://i2.wp.com/www.elitetravelblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/A-traditional-outrigger-in-St-Josephs-Bay-Isle-of-Pines.jpeg?fit=1024%2C683https://i2.wp.com/www.elitetravelblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/A-traditional-outrigger-in-St-Josephs-Bay-Isle-of-Pines.jpeg?resize=150%2C150Timothy ChowOceaniaAustraliaThe Isle of Pines, New Caledonia is probably one of the most beautiful destinations in the South Pacific. It embodies the dream of a South Pacific paradise: turqouise water, lush tropical vegetation, a sunny climate and extremely friendly, welcoming people. No wonder that it is a favourite for honeymoons, even though the number...A travel blog featuring interviews and guest posts about destinations around the world. Why not have your say and write for us?

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