The 3 Loyalty Islands

The 3 Loyalty Islands
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The Loyalty Islands make up 10% of New Caledonia. They are not developed for mass tourism and as such they suit the traveller who seeks an authentic connection with the local Melanesian population. The Loyalty Islands have the best preservation of Melanesian tradition in New Caledonia. Each island has a different language but the customs are shared. The infrastructure is low-key and the islands feel like a well-kept secret.

There are small resorts on each island as well as traditional home stays. The emphasis is on the relationship between travellers and the population. No-one is anonymous in the Loyalties. The local community engages with all visitors, so you feel less a tourist and more a guest.

LIFOU

The largest of the Loyalty Islands, Lifou is a flat raised coral atoll thick with forest. Its rugged coast features many prominent cliffs and the surrounding sea varies from indigo to electric blue. The stand-out cliffs are at Jokin and Xodre. The Jokin Cliffs overlook a stunning lagoon of blue and green. Xodre Cliff is jagged and drops into a dramatic display as waves dissolve to spray. From July to September humpback whales stop to scratch off the parasites on the reefs. The best beaches, meanwhile, are found in the southern province with the kind of sand and water normally only seen on postcards.

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The vanilla from Lifou is renowned and can be purchased from suppliers on the island (pictured above) who keep the plump pods in small blue esky coolers. Vanilla should be stored like wine, in a dry and cool place. Australian customs allows visitors to bring it back and – at just 200 French Pacific francs ($2.10) per dried pod – it is a lot cheaper to be bought here than in Australia.

MARE

Mare is the island of choice for culture. It is reliant on agriculture and is the most rural and undulating of the islands. Compared to Lifou and Ouvea, the second largest island of Mare is the least equipped for tourism so it will appeal to travellers willing to engage with the locals. There are no road signs so travellers will need a guide to drive around the island or they can try their luck and see where the road takes them.

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This is a place rich with legend. A coastal walk between the Tenane and Roh tribes features a cave-mirror that determines whether the visitor’s soul and body are united. If vengeance is more your thing, spitting on a pebble and inserting it into a rock along the coastline is reputed to inflict a nasty boil on your intended recipient. The central plain is a former lagoon so there are numerous caves and pools here. One is called the Bone Hole and it descends 40 metres underground with the roots of Banyan trees draping down to reach the water beneath.

OUVEA

Ouvea is all about the pristine sea that surrounds it and its geography is opportunely designed to enhance this asset. The middle of the island is a sandy isthmus connecting two land masses. Here you will find the longest beach in New Caledonia, a 22km band of floury sand where privacy is assured. The atoll of Ouvea is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is rich in marine and reef biodiversity. Divers will discover green sea turtles, parrotfish, sharks and humphead Maori wrasses.

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A bestselling book was written about Ouvea by Japanese author Katsura Morimura titled The Island Closest To Paradise. This book led to the island’s popularity among Japanese tourists and has stuck as the island’s dreamy moniker.

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