Wonders in the Wild: Top Experiences in the Loyalty Islands
New Caledonia’s Loyalty Islands open up a whole new world to explore. Just 45 minutes away by plane from Nouméa, the six islands that make up the Loyalty group all share a striking kind of natural beauty with their slices of immaculate shores, unpredictable sinkholes, deep rock pools and sheer volcanic cliffs. Add to that the warm hospitality of the Kanak people and you’ll get why plenty of people who take a trip to New Caledonia go out of their way just to spend some time in the Islands. There’s no shortage of beautiful spots in New Caledonia for sure but the Loyalty Islands? They’re an irresistible invitation for a lovely walk on the wild side.
The Loyalty Islands have a lot to delight and excite the senses. We’ve taken the best and came up with this handy list of must-dos that will get you hopping from one island to the next in no time!
See the amazing Blue Hole of Hanawa (Ouvéa)
The mythical Hanawa Blue Hole will take your breath away, but don’t take our word for it. Seeing it, especially from the air, is quite sublime you should experience it yourself to really get it. Small cracks in the coral on the ocean side let in salt water that mixes with the Hole’s fresh water, making the great cavity into some kind of huge aquarium for the countless colourful fish that venture in through the cracks. Kanak children can often be seen jumping into and climbing back up using a rope, only to jump again from the rock wall. They also make it look so easy, but don’t be fooled! The Blue Hole is very deep, and the gelatinous waters hide an underwater drift that link the hole to the ocean. Once there, the temptation to dive into its waters is going to be oh so great but don’t go swimming! If the underwater currents are not enough to dissuade you, just remember that according to a local legend, the bottom of the hole is a giant octopus’s home sweet home. It comes up in the evening but who’s to tell if it suddenly changed its schedule?
Located in Hanawa where Ouvéa narrows to only 50 metres across, the Blue Hole and the nearby Turtle Hole are easy to find, positioned on the side of the one road that runs the length of the island.
Hike along the beautiful grey Lekiny Cliffs (Ouvéa)
The majestic cliffs of Lekiny overlook the turquoise lagoon waters and a walk along the hollowed out side is a welcome temptation. Located just 12 kilometres to the south of Fayaoué, the cliffs are also very accessible and easy to find. If you don’t fancy walking its length, you can also just hop on a kayak and take it in from a distance. One important note though: Don’t forget to take a local guide. The cliffs can only be visited if you have a guide with you.
Witness sharks and rays from the top of Pont de Mouli (Ouvéa)
Bridges are not usually the best spots for sightseeing, but if you are in Ouvéa and you’re dying for a sweet spot to see some turtles swimming beneath you, Pont de Mouli is your best chance. This road bridge connects Mouli Island to Ouvéa’s tip, and under it is a channel frequented not just by turtles but also by sharks and the much-loved rays. Looking down from the bridge is like looking down a massive aquarium! By the way, don’t be alarmed if you see some kids jumping off the bridge. The channel is a popular swimming site among the locals and the bridge doubles as a diving board, particularly during the weekends.
Check out the Chapelle Notre Dame de Lourdes (Lifou)
Located on a promontory on the northwest corner of Lifou and one of the most striking things that can be seen while on a cruise, the Chapelle Notre Dame de Lourdes is a fine example of missionary architecture in the South Pacific — single entrance, narrow pointed windows on either side, walls made of solid cement. It was built in 1898 as remembrance of the arrival of the first Catholic missionaries in Lifou in 1858 and is accessible through a steep but easily negotiable path.
Since the chapel is nestled on top of a hill and surrounded by lush vegetation, visitors flock to it to enjoy panoramic views of Baie du Santal and Baie de Jink. It easily overshadows Sandalwood Bay where cruise passengers often disembark. Want to see some whales? Try to visit during the cool seasons, around July to September, and you might just see some humpback whales if you’re lucky!
Explore the limestone caves near Luengoni Beach (Lifou)
The beach of Luengoni is incredible with its warm white sand but what really brings in visitors are the limestone caves. Why? There have glorious rock pools and a swim inside a cave is always an exciting experience.
Called ‘the jewels’, the magnificent pools are sinkholes hewn out of the island’s limestone. Shine a torch on the water and watch it shimmer emerald green, or better yet, go into the caves when the sun is at its highest, piercing the darkness in these natural amphitheatres. One caveat though, the pools are hidden deep inland and you’re going to need to walk for three to four hours to reach them. Quite a challenge, yes, but once you’ve jumped off the two-metre high cave roof and into the refreshing, inviting water of the pools, the long walk becomes nothing next to that awesome adrenaline fix!
Visit the Vanilla Plantation (Lifou)
To those who love vanilla, your heaven is in Lifou! The island is one solid paradise made up of sparkling waters and tranquil, uncrowded beaches but Lifou’s ultimate claim to fame is its vast vanilla plantations. Popularly used in New Caledonian cuisine, you’ll find vanilla in most foods in the islands and when it comes to cultivating high-quality vanilla beans, the Mou tribe in Lifou are the uncontested experts. Be sure to visit the vanilla plantations, sample the local dishes and listen as your guide talk about everything vanilla, including harvest, history and cultivation.
Here’s a tip. The annual Vanilla Festival is held in October so if you want to experience world-class vanilla in all its forms, try to time your visit during the three-day festival!
Discover the island’s famous Trou de Bone (Maré)
If you want a change of scene, venture into the wild heartland of Maré which is riddled with inland pools, grottos and deep sinkholes. One of the most famous is the 40-metre deep Trou de Bone or Bone Hole, one of the largest sunken holes in the world. The massive 30-metre rock cavity drops into a tropical garden with a lake in the middle. Seawater and rainwater meet in the depths and banyan trees surround the cavity, with their roots hanging high above the water.
The sinkhole is positioned 3 kilometres off the La Roche-Tadine Road. IF you’re heading to Thogone, you’ll find it on the right side about 1.5 kilometres from the turn-off. Keep an eye out for a metal guardrail beside the road. Note that there are no signposts so the guardrail is your only clue.