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.
Loyalty Islands? It is thought that British traders named them that at the end of the 18th century, perhaps because the people were so 'honest and friendly'.
The islands saw intense power struggles between Protestant pastors and Catholic missionaries in the 1840s, but the Protestants made greater headway, using indigenous languages while the Catholic missionaries preferred French. The Loyalty Islands still have a strong Protestant influence, English words in their languages and even a love of cricket!
The islands were only annexed by France in 1864, but, deemed unsuitable for intensive colonisation, they were left as a native reserve. The official language is French, but while it is generally spoken and understood, each island also has its own language.
The locals blend traditional and modern lifestyles with ease. You’ll need to take cash (although each island has a bank with an ATM). You’ll find a shop with limited groceries in each village. Dining is somewhat limited to your, or other places, of accommodation, or snack-type simple eateries.