Maré, Lifou and Ouvéa. Fairy-tale names for fairy-tale islands. In a line 100km off the east coast of Grande Terre, they’re all sparsely populated with secluded beaches, hidden caves and deep holes. They all have large tracts of impenetrable bush, but their roads are so good that driving around is a dream.
Lifou is home to magnificent cliff-top views, sheltered bays with coral shelfs teeming with colourful tropical fish, secluded beaches, fascinating caves and a rich traditional culture. The indigenous language is Drehu. The main centre in Lifou is Wé, where the Loyalty Island’s provincial offices are based.
Île des Pins
Known as Kunié to the Melanesians, Île des Pins (Isle of Pines) is a tranquil paradise of turquoise bays, white-sand beaches and tropical vegetation 110km southeast of Noumea. According to local legend, warriors of Tongan descent came from Lifou about three centuries ago and were invited to take over leadership of the island.
Think 25km of perfect white beach backed with grass, tropical flowers, and thick forest inhabited by the endemic and protected Ouvéa green parrot. Look out over an exquisite turquoise lagoon stretching as far as you can see. Add a chain of tiny islets, the Pléiades. Sound unreal? Ouvéa may leave you shaking your head in wonder.
The stunning, relatively untouched coastline here features lush vegetation, gentle rivers, fascinating rock formations, waterfalls, deserted beaches and small villages. Poindimié and Hienghène are the two main towns on the northeast coast. Both have grocery stores, a post office, clinic, pharmacy, bank and ATM, and gendarmerie.
North of Hienghène
This is the wildest and most stunning stretch of the northeast coast. It’s covered in tropical vegetation, and waterfalls and streams rush down the mountains to join the sea. It's a captivating journey. A three-car ferry carries vehicles across the Ouaïème River, 17km northwest of Hienghène. It’s free, runs 24 hours a day, and the crossing is a highlight.
This serene village is tucked into the foothills on the shores of Baie de Hienghène, at the mouth of the Hienghène River. The area has fascinating rock formations, and it is known as the birthplace and home of Jean-Marie Tjibaou, New Caledonia’s pro-independence leader who was assassinated in 1989.
Kuto & the West Coast
Kuto has two gorgeous aquamarine bays, separated by the narrow neck of Kuto peninsula. Baie de Kuto is the perfect place to lie on the beach or swim in the calm sea. For snorkelling go to Baie de Kanuméra, where coral grows not far from the shore. The ferry and cruise ship quay is on the north side of the Kuto peninsula.