The Isle of Pines is one of the most beautiful islands of New Caledonia. Famous for its incredible blue water, deserted beaches, and amazing tall pine trees, a vacation to the Isle of Pines feels like stepping into a postcard. In fact, this island is a haven of lush greenery, and natural escape. It is dubbed the closest island to paradise, and for good reasons. It is truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. This gorgeous place is located 100 kilometers from the mainland of New Caledonia, Grande Terre.
Even if the island is officially a French territory, the people living on the Isle of pines are Melanesians and Kanaks. The inhabitants are called the Kunie people (Kunie means Isle of Pines) and they are divided into 8 tribes on the island, each with their own little chief and governed as a whole by a High Chief. They live a very simple life, cultivating their own fruits and vegetables, fishing and making crafts. Most of them live in the center of the village, Vao.
The Isle of Pines, the closest island to paradise
Size: The island is very small, it’s only 15kmx13km (9×8 miles)
Population: There are around 2000 people living on the island permanently. Most of them were born on the island and just stay there their whole life.
Language: The official language is French, but the Kunie speak in their own tribal language amongst themselves. English is not widely spoken, but still, it should be quite easy to get yourself understood in touristy spots.
Currency and budget: New Caledonia’s currency is the Pacific franc. Life is pretty expensive on the Isle of Pines and in New Caledonia in general. Everything is 2 times more expensive than in western Europe, especially the food because most of it is imported. New Caledonia and the Isle of Pines are definitely not your typical budget/backpacking destinations. There are actually very few backpackers who go there, and you’ll find mostly wealthy Australian tourists and families. But if you buy local, and are smart about your travel you can enjoy New Caledonia and the Isle of Pines on $50 a day.
Visa: To enter New Caledonia, Australian and American citizens need a passport valid for six months beyond the duration of their stay and can stay up to 90 days without a visa. European citizens can also stay up to 90 days without a visa and just need a passport valid for the duration of their stay. If you’re French, you can stay and work in New Caledonia for as long as you want.
Weather: The Isle of Pines has a sub-tropical climate. The best time to visit is from September through to December, when the sun is shining and the temperatures are good. We were in New Caledonia in August and got a few days of rain, even though it was not the rainy season. January and February are also sunny months but many people feel it’s far too hot to do anything.
How to get to the Isle of Pines
There are no international flights going to the Isle of Pines. You’ll first need to get to Noumea, the capital city of New Caledonia. Direct flights to Noumea depart from Australia (Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney), New Zealand (Auckland) and Japan (Tokyo, Osaka). They are operated by Aircalin, Qantas, Air New Zealand, and Air Vanuatu, and arrive in La Tontouta Airport.
Once you are in Noumea, you’ll need to either change airport and take another flight or go to the harbor and take a boat to the Isle of Pines.
We decided to experience both boat and flight, so we took a flight to get to the Isle of Pines and the boat to return to Noumea. The flight is more expensive, but it is well worth the money spent! The ocean views from the plane are simply incredible. You can see stunning reef flats and the sea color is just out of this world. The flight is only 20 minutes, and if you can afford it, I absolutely recommend you take it. It’s a quick way to get to the island, and it’s super scenic. Flights depart several times a day from Noumea Magenta airport (domestic airport) and are operated by Air Caledonie.
Taking the boat to reach the Isle of Pines can be a fabulous experience if you’re not seasick. The ferry departs the port of Noumea every Wednesdays and Saturdays, and arrives on Kuto wharf, near Kuto bay. The crossing time is approximately 2h30, and for us, it was a smooth ride but I’ve heard it can be rough sometimes. Taking the boat to the Isle of Pines is way cheaper than flying, and you might even spot dolphins if you’re lucky. For more information on the price and schedule, you can check the Betico website.
What to do on the Isle of Pines
Whether you want to unwind or go on an adventure, the Isle of Pines has what you need. Here is a list of 5 must-do activities on the island.
Swim in the crystal clear water of the Piscine Naturelle (natural pool)
The Piscine Naturelle is the most popular attraction on the Isle of Pines. This incredibly beautiful pool is surrounded with tall pine trees. It’s the perfect spot to go snorkeling and discover the many tropical fish that live in the Pacific ocean. The water is so blue, it doesn’t even look real. This place is definitely a must-see when you go to the Isle of Pines.
Drift along Upi Bay on an outrigger canoe
Drifting along Upi Bay in a typical Melanesian outrigger canoe is definitely something you can only do on the Isle of pines and is one of the best activities on the island. Upi bay is still wild and natural, incredibly beautiful with water so clear you can see the fish. If you’re lucky you might even spot turtles and rays! It really is spectacular. From there, you can reach the natural pool by walking through a beautiful lush forest. The walk takes approximately 45 minutes and is really easy. The trail is not really well indicated and there’s a lot of roots coming up the ground but it is still very nice.
Discover the roots of Kanak royalty at the Queen Hortense cave
The Grotte de la Reine Hortense (Queen Hortense Cave) is a stunning grotto located in the heart of the island. The cave is approximately a 20-minute car ride from Kuto bay, and from the car park, it’s only a 5-minute walk through tropical vegetation to the cave. It’s very impressive, and the cave is covered in huge stalactites and stalagmites. Look up when you get inside, and you’ll find a colony of bats. The entry fee is 250 PCF (about $2,50) and don’t forget to bring a torch lamp!
See the intriguing mix of Christian and Kanak sculptures at St Maurice Bay
The Christian and Kanak sculptures located at St Maurice bay are very peculiar and commemorate the first Catholic service that was given on the Isle of Pines in 1848. They represent a Christian statue surrounded by wooden totems carved by the tribes of the island. You can spend hours admiring all the engravings and different expressions on the totems. On top of that, there’s a beautiful beach at the back where you can enjoy a swim.
Climb N’ga Peak
N’ga Peak is the highest peak on the Isle of Pines. It is not very high (262 meters high) but the hike to the top is actually quite intense. It takes around an hour to get to the summit of Pic N’ga, and the panorama is absolutely outstanding. Climbing N’ga Peak is definitely worth it and you can’t miss it if you go to the Isle of Pines. From up there, you will get the most stunning views of the island’s coast and the islets surrounding it. Don’t forget to bring snacks and water, or even better take your picnic and enjoy it at the summit.
Where to stay on the Isle of Pines
The Isle of Pines is a small island, so the accommodation options aren’t endless. Below, I’ve listed 4 of the most popular accommodations you can find on the island. There are a few more, so be sure to check the Isle of Pines website.
Atchu Camping is a well kept and peaceful campground located right on the beach. You can either rent a tent, rent a spot if you have your own tent, or choose to stay in a hut. They have an outdoor kitchen with everything you need, shared facilities and an on-site restaurant. The electricity is only available in the evening. This camping is really affordable, so if you want to enjoy a budget vacation on the Isle of Pines, head to Atchu Camping.
Nataiwatch offers low-key traditional Melanesian style bungalows and camping space for budget travelers. The guest house facilities include electricity, sheltered tables, fire sites, showers, and toilets. This beautiful beachfront guest house has BBQ facilities and its own restaurant and bar on site. They also offer bike and car hire, as well as snorkel gear.
This tropical beachfront hotel set on the tranquil Kuto Bay and surrounded by forests offers air-conditioned rooms and bungalows. You can rent snorkeling and canoeing equipment from the hotel, and enjoy their restaurant, the Nautilus. Hotel Kou-Bugny is more expensive than Atchu and Nataiwatch, but the level of comfort and the services are hotel standards.
Meridien Ile des Pins
Meridien is probably one of the most popular accommodation options on the Isle of Pines. Set aside the beautiful lagoon of Oro Bay, this beautiful resort offers bungalows and hotels rooms, as well as a swimming pool and a spa. Guest can use the kayak and snorkeling equipment for free. Meridien Ile des Pins is a resort, so definitely not budget-friendly. If you’re looking for a luxurious escapade on the Isle of Pines, Meridien is for you!
How to get around the Isle of Pines
The island is not big, so you can easily walk to some nice spots around your hotel. If you are staying near Kuto Bay, you can walk to Kanumera bay, go to the small supermarket, visit the decaying penal buildings and obviously swim in Kuto bay. To go any further, you’ll have to rent a bike, hitchhike or rent a car.
Renting a bike for the day is a popular option among travelers of the Isle of Pines. It’s a nice way to see the island, and stop wherever you please. The roads are in pretty good condition and there isn’t much traffic so it’s quite easy to get around. There are some steep roads but nothing major!
Renting a car on the Isle of Pines is really expensive, however, if you can afford it then go for it. You will be able to drive around the entire island and see all the most interesting spots in a day or two if you take your time.
Robin and I hitchhiked on the Isle of Pines because we didn’t want to spend the money on renting a car. We had been told by the camping managers that hitchhiking was very easy and very common on the island so we decided to give it a try. We didn’t wait more than 5 minutes before someone picked us up! The locals are super nice and they will stop to pick you up so don’t hesitate to hitchhike. Also, you could get to talk to them and learn a lot about the isle and the Kanak tribes.
Where to eat on the Isle of Pines
Like I mentioned before, the island is pretty small so your choice of restaurants is pretty limited. Robin and I were eating at the Atchu camping restaurant, the food was affordable and delicious, especially their sandwiches! We also shopped at the local supermarket, 5 minutes from Kuto bay, and cooked most of our meals in the outdoor kitchen of the camping. If you have a higher budget, try the Nautilus restaurant located on Kuto bay. They serve local cuisine and seafood, and the setting is fabulous. The Meridien resort also has a restaurant, called “La Pirogue” which serves French and Melanesian dishes.
How long should I stay on the Isle of Pines
The Isle of Pines truly is a gem, and you should give yourself a few days to explore this amazing island. Most people stay 2-3 days on the Isle of Pines, and in this length of time, you can see pretty much everything. I suggest you stay a few days longer if you can so that you can really enjoy the beach, walk around and talk to the locals. The Isle of Pines is so gorgeous you’ll probably never want to leave!
What to bring on the Isle of Pines
When going on a tropical island, you should always have these travel essentials with you.
Your tropical vacation will get you loads of sun, so make sure you always carry a sun hat with you!
Same goes for the sunscreen. Make sure you wear sunscreen at all times to protect your skin. If you can, buy a reef-safe sunscreen so it won’t affect the beautiful fauna and flora of the lagoons when you go swimming.
A sarong is a must-have on a beach vacation! It’ll be your best friend on the Isle of Pines, especially if you spend a lot of time on the beautiful beaches.
Fast drying towel
I always carry a fast drying towel everywhere I go and I usually use them to shower but you can also use them as beach towels. They are super handy, lightweight and easy to carry.
As I said, you’ll be spending quite some time at the beach or at the pool if you stay in a resort. So don’t forget your swimsuit!
The Isle of Pines is the jewel of the Pacific and a spectacular travel destination. Whether you’re a budget or luxury traveler, you will fall in love with this stunning island. Have you ever been to the Isle of Pines? Let me know in the comments below!
Are you going to New Caledonia? Don’t forget your travel insurance!
Travel insurance is the only thing I don’t go anywhere without. Your travel insurance covers you against travel risks such as lost or stolen luggage, trip cancellation, and most importantly, unexpected medical costs abroad. I always recommend getting travel insurance with WorldNomads, the best travel insurance company for backpackers and travelers.
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