Day Trip to Paradise

Day Trip to Paradise
By admin


Pines rise like stepladders to the sky on the southernmost island of New Caledonia. As I travel around the tiny Isle of Pines, I soon learn that a row of the endemic trees signals ocean. And after a day swimming in pale turquoise water and strolling on soft bleached sand, I soon learn that pines also signal paradise.

On this island, a baby learns to swim before it can walk. On the talcum powder sand of Kanumera Bay a local mother hoists her naked child onto her hip. The water is warm, transparent and waist-high but the child, no more than 10 months old, is not happy. “Mamma, Mamma,” he wails. His cries are laughed and cooed at but largely ignored as she walks further into the sea.

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Eventually she gives in and treads closer to the shore line. He crawls up the porcelain sand bank and jauntily flees toward me, turning back all the while to check on his chaser. I am the only observer on the beach and as he draws near I see the cheeky smile on his face. This is just a game. His mother gives me an in-on-it smile as she sweeps him into her arms and dunks him back into the glistening water.

This island is perfectly unspoilt. With less than three thousand inhabitants and with the land under the respectful custodianship of the Melanesian population, it has escaped development geared toward mass tourism and feels all the more authentic for it. A mere 20 minute flight from Noumea, the island is small enough to be manageable in one day and spectacular enough to be luxuriated in for one week.

The escapade that I witness takes place in front of a large rock that is sacred to the local people. Wooden steps jut out to reach cliff-edge and tree-shrouded totem poles. A sign prohibits visitors from climbing to the top. Happily, its beauty does not need to be stood on to be appreciated. The rock has a gentle overhang that shades the glassy water below. It is the one place I find where visitors are not welcome on this embracing island.

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The warm welcome for visitors even extends to a red carpet. A short walk from Kanumera Bay, beneath a webbed canopy of native buni trees lays a red carpet of flame tree petals that leads to the ear-shaped beach of Kuto Bay. The fanned flowers are a vivid invitation to sand so dense it doesn’t hold my footprints, and water so bright that it brings a squint to my eye. Interestingly, the flame tree is a de-facto Christmas tree for the islanders – when you have pines all year long it is the scarlet tree that marks out the festive season, blooming from November to February.

Seagulls are the most numerous of the inhabitants of Kuto Bay. People are a distant second. As populations go, it is a fairly relaxed one. Gulls nestle in the velvety sand, stand on one leg in the lapping waves and even form a straight line as if an orderly queue was necessary to take in the view. As I walk down the beach I seem to be the biggest disturbance of their day.

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It is the same for the crabs that gather on the path to an ocean swimming pool at Oro Bay. They scuttle from my footsteps but being black with bright orange pincers, they are easy to spot. If only I could disperse the mosquitoes in the same way. On the walk to the pool I end up flecked with them. My only recourse was to slap my exposed skin like a self-flagellating monk. Later in the day I find solidarity with one local as he walks down the road whacking a leaf-heavy tree branch against his skin. It seems to be the one peril in paradise.

But it is a peril I am willing to accept when I see the splendour of the natural swimming pool. Waves crash on the reef beyond, but here the water is calm, lapping about in worm-shaped curves. The pool is shallow and sand-bottomed in parts – most visitors wallow as if they are taking a bath. I venture further out and stand in the clear water only to notice flashes of colour below. The fish are forthcoming because many visitors bribe them with food. I have nothing to offer but I take advantage of their cooperation and duck underwater with a snorkel, only to be greeted by a fish with eyes like mother of pearl that swims straight up to my goggles.

Brazenness seems endemic on the Isle of Pines. In 1872 the French government asked the local people to leave their island to make room for political prisoners. Queen Hortense stood up to the French and said, “We would rather die than leave our island.” As I reluctantly leave this remarkable place, I understand why.

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