After spending a few days in Noumea on the main island, Lifou was the first island we visited in New Caledonia. I fell in love with the place, and the feeling did not fade as we got to see more places in New Caledonia. Indeed, Lifou is the destination I preferred over our entire first trip to New Caledonia. There are many things to do in Lifou, and I will be back to explore it again!
Why did I like Lifou so much?
It appeared to me wilder and simpler than Ouvea or the Isle of Pines. And more interesting and welcoming than the main island. We had excellent local encounters on Mare Island and Ouvea Island during our second trip. It changed my feeling about Lifou: I realised I loved it so much the first time because of the people we met there. Still, it’s kept the number one spot in my heart as the best place for snorkelling!
Lifou is a big island with many things to do. We had three days there, and it was not enough to explore it all. We decided to focus our visit on the northern part. If there is a boat cruise while visiting Lifou, you can avoid the sudden crowd by escaping to the south. This article details things to do in Lifou during a three-day trip, and why I loved it so much.
One of my favourite things to do in Lifou: an overnight trek with a tribe
We spent two days on a secluded beach with young people from the Hunete tribe.
During our first stay in New Caledonia, Lifou offered us the most interesting interaction with residents. We booked a tour ([email protected]) to spend two days in nature with young people from the Hunete tribe at the northwest of the island on Santal Bay.
Although the tribes have their own language, New Caledonia is part of France, and they all also speak French there. It makes it perfect for us to interact with locals. Young people would learn English at school – as the French do – but the level varies (as it does in France!).
Our guide Elisa took us for a walk in the forest to show us the different local plants and flowers they use for healing or eating. Some had European names or equivalent; some did not. I had never heard of most of them. I am always fascinated by how much we can get from the forest and how little most people know about it.
After two hours in the woods, we reached the camp right next to the beach. It was simple, with only the necessary things needed for minimal comfort. No shower, no electricity, no mattresses. But they were well equipped for cooking and entertaining us! Once at the camp, we met Jean, Etienne and Simeon. Three different characters with a strong common wish to make our stay the best possible. On arrival, they opened fresh coconuts for us to have drinks and snacks.
I was touching the dream of simple living on a tropical island and loving it.
It was interesting to learn and taste the stages of coconut maturation. They taught us how to grate coconuts and make coconut milk. They had gone fishing earlier today while we were hiking, and Etienne was cooking our first meal. He would use our freshly made coconut milk for the rice. We had a feast during our two days at the Lifou Nature Camp: coconuts, fish, taro, manioc, sweet potatoes, infusion from the herbs picked up in the nearby forest, and even clamps.
Lifou Nature is an excellent example of eco-tourism.
They cherish their beautiful land and want to protect it. A few years ago, the Chief of the tribe decided this beach would become a protected area, and fishing has been forbidden since then. It had a positive impact on marine life. Unfortunately, all the trash from Santal Bay would end up on this beach because of the wind and the current. Yet, it looked relatively clean. I was thrilled when Simeon mentioned they would spend time during each trip cleaning the beach. As you may be aware, I like cleaning places I visit during my travels; it’s a way to have a positive impact. Doing that with some locals and my family was amazing. We picked up many small plastic pieces, flip flops, and different parts from a traditional boat that had drowned.
Of course, we did not come here only to clean the beach and hear about the increasing marine life. We were keen to check it out ourselves! We did some snorkelling with Elisa. Again, the coral and variety of fish were fabulous. This time, our highlight was to see the Tricot Raye, a highly poisonous local sea snake who is so calm that it is not even dangerous in the end.
Back around the fire, we improvised a weaving workshop.
It was a big accomplishment for me to learn how to create a plate from palm trees. Elisa and Jean were patient as my manual skills are close to inexistent. Later, our dinner was served in the dish I built. Although weaving is usually for women, the men were good at it and helped us create small balls we could play with for the rest of our trip in New Caledonia!
At night, we went for a coconut crab hunt.
It happens in two phases. The first one occurs before it gets dark: it is time to set up the traps. I honestly had no idea hunting could be that easy. The hardest part is to prepare the material: you need coconuts cut in half and sharp sticks. Then, you need to choose spots to place your stick with the coconut at the top. When you come back a few hours later during the night, you will find coconut crabs eating the coconuts, as if they were waiting to be picked up. It can be tricky to catch a big coconut crab to tie it: with its strength, it can break your finger! So you’d better know what you are doing. Jean and Simeon had done it so many times that it looked almost easy. That night, the crabs we found were too small to be eaten, so we released them.
If all these activities – and the food! – were fun and fabulous, none of these was the highlight of our stay.
Meeting Elisa, Simeon, Etienne and Jean was a rich and touching experience.
They were welcoming and careful to ensure our entire family was having a good time. Still, they were being themselves and not pretending. We felt there was no gap between them and us. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the Kanak culture. Simeon was especially very open and sincere during our discussions around the fire about traditions and ways of life. Our stay only lasted two days, but it was funny how sad we felt when we had to leave. But of course, it is something to be happy about: it meant we enjoyed our time!
Jinek Natural Aquarium: the best snorkelling spot ever!
Jinek Natural Aquarium is simply the most spectacular reef snorkelling I have ever done. The clarity of the water is exceptional, but it is the size and the diversity of corals that also make Jinek incredible. We spotted a lot of lovely fish and other fascinating marine creatures. Our highlights were finding a giant eel and a tiny spider!
Make sure you go there before a boat cruise visits the island. Avoid it when there are hundreds of tourists around. Although they now restrict the numbers, the crowd messes with the environment, and locals told us that fish are less numerous during and after a cruise visit.
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Learning about vanilla at Janine’s plantation: a must-do in Lifou
I had no idea visiting a vanilla plantation could be that fun and entertaining. But I don’t know if Janine speaks English to make the experience good for non-francophones.
We only visited one “Vanilleraie” during our trip to New Caledonia, and I am glad we picked this one. While visiting her beautiful garden, Janine will tell you all you want to know about vanilla. I was impressed by the complexity of it. Such a fiddly job! Her husband Felix was the one who re-launched the vanilla activity on Lifou island and who trained most locals.
Janine will talk about so much more than just vanilla pods. As we all sat around the table for a degustation of vanilla tea or coffee with local fruits, she would share her views about some challenges with the modern world and children’s education. It is funny to see that no matter the culture and lifestyle differences, the same types of problems seem recurrent with teenagers!
Vanilla production is an important activity on Lifou and a delicious ingredient in the cuisine of New Caledonia. They often served us sauces with our fish that had a touch of vanilla. If you want to learn more about the plantations and their history, you can also visit the House of Vanilla (Maison de la Vanille) on Lifou. You may even be able to buy some pods there if they have any left: it’s a popular item!
Beautiful lookouts in the north of the island
There is a short and easy walk to reach the Notre Dame de Lourdes chapel at the top of a hill. From there, the view is fantastic. We could spot all the places we went to in the past couple of days, from the Santal Bay up to the Jokin Cliffs on the top end of the island. At the Joking cliffs, we were once again fascinated by the shades of blue in the water.
On our way to Ouvea, we flew over all the north of Lifou. Travelling from one island to another in a small plane offering an amazing bird view of the beautiful lagoons is a real experience by itself. It was one of the most scenic flights ever!
Scuba diving on Lifou
We tried to go scuba diving when we visited Lifou. Unfortunately, we never received an answer from the dive shop. We also heard a few negative comments about the safety of their operation, so we decided to focus on other activities. We picked other destinations for scuba diving in New Caledonia (Hienghene, Poindimie and the Isle of Pines). We hope scuba diving will be back on the list of possible activities in Lifou next time we visit!
Where to stay and eat on Lifou Island?
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As a logical choice with our decision to explore the north of the island, we stayed at Lilo Reve*, the six of us sleeping in a “fare” or “case” (on mattresses on the ground in a traditional hut). Lilo Reve location is perfect with beautiful access to the sea at the bottom of the property. You’ll be amazed by the stunning blue water and beautiful rocks. But that’s not it: they frequently spot sea turtles from the shore!
Food and comfort were average but well-aligned with our expectations for accommodation in that price range in New Caledonia. We felt welcomed; everybody was friendly and willing to help.
We ate a couple of times at Fenepaza*, a nearby restaurant recommended by our host at Lilo Reve. It was a great place to try local cuisine; their wood fire gave some really interesting taste to our dishes. The service was excellent. Some Internet addicts in our group appreciated the free wifi!
What are the best things to do in Lifou according to you? Where did you stay during your trip? Share your experience below!
Where is Lifou Island?
Lifou is the biggest and most populated island of the Iles Loyautes, located 190 km to the east of New Caledonia’s mainland. You can go to Lifou by plane from Noumea with Air Loyaute (the easiest), by boat with the local Betico or a big cruise boat from Australia. From our experience, I highly recommend renting a car as there are many things to do in Lifou and the island is big.
Although it is a French island, New Caledonia is in the Pacific, close to Australia and New Zealand.