Travelers will finish a cruise to Isle of Pines, New Caledonia feeling like they’ve just stumbled upon a secret part of the world. Rich in beauty and adventure, Isles of Pines makes for a low-key destination thanks its separateness from New Caledonia’s main island.
Isle of Pines is a small island located just a 30-minute ferry ride from that main island, though it feels worlds away due to thick greenery largely made up of pine trees, which provides a starkly rugged contrast to the blues of the sea. Isle of Pines also boasts an impressive underwater world as it’s surrounded by coral reefs. It is nicknamed “the closest island to paradise” and also has a UNESCO World Heritage designation that helps to prevent it from being overdeveloped. On shore, beaches abound and the island’s history as a penal colony means there are also some eerily interesting ruins to explore.
While in Isle of Pines, cruise passengers can visit city sights, historic ruins, or incredible natural scenery. Whatever you choose, you’re sure to have a memorable day exploring this special island in the South Pacific. Because of this, it’s often a favorite port of cruisers when included on itineraries leaving from Australia or New Zealand.
Vao is the administrative center of Isle of Pines and is home to some of its top landmarks. Here, you’ll find historic buildings and coastal scenery. It’s a great place to amble around and soak up the local culture of the island. A top site to see while in Vao is Our Lady of the Assumption church. Missionaries to Isle of Pines had a strong influence on the island in the 1800s, and Our Lady of the Assumption church is a great example of South Pacific missionary architecture. Built in 1860, the church includes both traditional Christian symbols and native culture of the island.
This cave is one with a rich history and impressive formations. While walking through it you’ll see impressive stalactites and stalagmites hanging from the cave ceiling and stretching up from the floor of the cave. Visit the cave with an expert guide who can verse you in the history of this piece of land, as it was said to be where Queen Hortense, a local queen who the cave is named after, hid from conflict between tribes on the island.
Another part of the island’s past is its time as a penal colony. After the Paris Commune was defeated in 1871, roughly 3,000 French dissidents were sent to the Isle of Pines to live in a prison there, which now lies in ruins near Wero village, just up the main road from Kuto Bay. You can still see the buildings and walk around them to view the cell blocks that once held the prisoners. The area is overgrown, furthering its haunting feel. Paths have been made through the growth that lead you to various areas of the prison.
Isle of Pines is home to a stunning natural pool located in Oro Bay and created with the help of a coral reef. With the reef keeping the water enclosed within the bay, you’ll find a translucent body of water in a bright shade of aqua, calm and perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
It doesn’t take much to have a blissful time in Isle of Pines—just bring your swimsuit and a towel and find one of the gorgeous beaches around the island. Many of them are great for swimming, with some standout beaches being Kuto (conveniently located right by the tender jetty) Kanumera Bay, and la Baie des Rouleaux.
Enjoy the gorgeous waters surrounding the Isle of Pines right on top of it with a sailing adventure during your Isle of Pines cruise port of call. A popular way to do so is via an outrigger boat that leaves from St. Joseph Bay and travels to Oro Bay for a swimming break in the natural pool.
With all the reefs around the island, it probably comes as no surprise that scuba diving is a big draw here. Scuba centers are located on the island and will rent out equipment as well as offer guided scuba diving tours. Head out on a dive boat with a professional guide who will take you to some of the best dive spots around the island, with areas ideal for both beginners and advanced divers
Isle of Pines is a great place for a casual meal with island ambiance. Head to Isle of Pines Snack Kohu in Vao for some toasted sandwiches and milkshakes, or stay close to the tender jetty and get a buffet meal in Kou-Bugny Hotel’s restaurant or order some traditional entrees at Les Vieux Bugny’s restaurant. For a quick snack, you can also find food at general stores located in Kuto and Vao.
During your Isle of Pines cruise, a local delicacy to try are the snails. The snails served are endemic to the island and are caught by locals and then prepared for you to feast upon. You can get them in most restaurants around the island and you’ll see them referred to as “bulimes” or “Escargots de l'île des Pins”.
A cruise to Isle of Pines, New Caledonia will take you to an idyllic island located within the Pacific Ocean north of New Zealand. New Caledonia is an overseas collectivity of France. Most of the locals on the island are of Melanesian Kanaks descent, the native tribe that has lived on the island for centuries, long before it was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1774 and later seized by Napoleon in the mid-1800s along with the rest of New Caledonia.
Shortly after that, the Isle of Pines became a penal colony for France. The native people of New Caledonia fought against the French occupation. Though the archipelago is still an overseas territory of France, much of the governing power is in the hands of the local population of the islands. The indigenous Melanesian population has been given the right to have the final say on the way the land is used, which has helped the Isle of Pines stay undeveloped.
Due to the coral reefs that surround the island, ships aren’t able to pull right up to its shores. Your cruise ship will instead anchor offshore and then tender passengers to the island. Your tender boat will drop you off at a jetty on Kuto Beach. From the jetty, you can easily walk to souvenir and food stands. There are also bars and a general store close by. Taxis are available at Kuto Beach to take cruise passengers to other parts of the island, such as the village of Vao, which is about an 8-minute drive from Kuto Beach.
You won’t find much in terms of public transportation to get around Isle of Pines. The typical way to get from one place to another if it isn’t walkable is via a taxi or vehicle rental. Cars, scooters, and bikes are available to rent on the island.
An easy and stress-free way to see the island is on one of our shore excursions, which takes the hassle out of figuring out local driving laws and lets you just enjoy the gorgeous scenery and sights of Isle of Pines.
You don’t have to go far to do some souvenir shopping during a cruise to Isle of Pines. Small stands selling local crafts and other souvenirs are located within walking distance of the tender jetty. You can also find additional shops in the town of Vao.
The island may be part of France, but you won’t see any euros being handed out here. Instead, the official currency is the CFP franc. However, some businesses will accept the Australian dollar (Australia is located just east of New Caledonia) and even U.S. dollars are occasionally accepted. If you need CFP francs, ATMs are the easiest way to get them and are located by the tender jetty and in Vao. Credit cards are also accepted at some locations, but it’s wise to double check before deciding on a purchase or service since some businesses – particularly smaller or family-run ones – only accept cash.
Tipping isn’t customary in Isle of Pines, though most people tend to round up the bill when dining out, particularly in more European-style restaurants. In addition, small tips for tour guides or taxi drivers are accepted and appreciated.