I previously stated Lifou was my favourite island in New Caledonia. Honestly, I would not be surprised to hear you prefer Ouvea. I loved the simplicity and wilderness of our stay in Lifou, but I admit the pure white beaches of Ouvea make a perfect postcard. Many simply call that Paradise! I visited Ouvea Island twice. The second trip was a lot easier to organise than the first one. I hope my tips help you as you prepare for your adventure.
I could have named this blog article “When it does not go as planned in Ouvea”.
Booking accommodation (the ones we wanted were full), then transport, tours and finally underwater adventures… Every step of our first trip to Ouvea Island ended up being difficult. But that’s not the overall feeling we had during our stay on this beautiful island. In such a paradise, it is easy to forget about what went wrong.
It feels like the worse that can happen when you travel to Ouvea is to spend the day on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Who’s up for that?
This article details what we did and what we wanted to do in Ouvea. You’ll also find tips to help you plan your stay. If you’ve ever been to Ouvea, please leave a comment at the end of the article; I’d love to read about your experience!
*2018 edit: We made it back to Ouvea and had a perfect trip! I kept the original article but added a few paragraphs with the other activities we did during our second trip. We managed to go to Ouvea Island twice and had completely different stays! Spoiler: the second one in the north was the best, and we found the best Ouvea Island accommodation!
Missing out seeing the shark nursery & Lekini Cliffs
We were in Ouvea for the festive season (New Year). Unfortunately, this did not allow us to do all we had in mind in Ouvea. The diving shop was booked out or not running. The famous tour to the shark nursery with Antoine at the north of the island was unavailable. The guide who was supposed to take us to the Lekini cliffs never showed up, despite confirming the day before the tour was running.
But that’s fine. We were prepared to need flexibility during our trip to New Caledonia. Plan B to chill on one of the most beautiful beaches ever and snorkel the Baie de Mouli was fun enough not to have regrets. If you don’t have snorkel gear, ask the resort Paradis d’Ouvea* if you can borrow a snorkelling set.
*2018 edit: During our second trip to Ouvea Island, we could join the two tours we missed a few years before!
The Shark Nursery walk was beautiful, and we spotted a few sharks from the shore. We tried to find them while snorkelling with no success. The most interesting part was to exchange with our guide. As the weather wasn’t too good, we were the only group to move ahead with the tour that day!
A few kilometres to the south, there were hardly any clouds. The different weather in such a small distance was incredible. Our walk to Lekini Cliffs looked fantastic. I regretted the group was that big, but we were lucky to manage to stay next to the guide ahead of the rest of the group to get all the interesting information and see the place without anyone in front of us. It is gorgeous. There is an opportunity for snorkelling, but we had seen better places in New Caledonia.
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Enjoying Mouli and its surrounding
We spent most of our time in the south of the island, around Mouli. We only went to the north to see a Blue Hole. Although it is always nice to see something extra, don’t be too disappointed if you do not have time to go there.
We loved hanging out near the Mouli Bridge. It is one of these perfect postcard places. On one side, Lekini cliffs surround the calm and clear bay. The large lagoon is on the other side. In between, the channel is full of life. From the bridge, we could spot turtles, rays and many different types of fish crossing from the bay to the lagoon. The underwater visibility was probably the worse we had in New Caledonia, but it was still good fun to look for the biggies. To be more at ease with the tidal current, rent fins at the nearby resort Paradis d’Ouvea*.
Having our tours cancelled also gave us the opportunity to drive to the most southern point of Ouvea for snorkelling.
There, we had a close encounter with a curious white tip shark that gave us a good story to tell. We are not scared of sharks, on the contrary, we are excited to see them. But when it sneaks from behind us only a couple of meters away and start swimming around us, being concerned is being smart.
As a precaution when encountering a shark a bit too curious, we were told to go deeper than him. Well, that works well for diving. When snorkelling, it is a bit harder. Not even mentioning we were in 1 meter of water with corals under us. The second tip is to form a shape as big as possible to impress the animal. So we went close to each other’s and held our camera stick in front of us. The shark never showed aggressivity and stuck to curiosity. It just left and became our best encounter for that snorkelling session!
South “Pleiades” – Tour Around the Small Inlets in the South of Ouvea Island
We did manage to book a tour in Ouvea to visit the small southern inlets with Pierre (firstname.lastname@example.org).
We stopped on one island for lunch and snorkelling.
This time, our highlights were a group of six cuttlefish and a couple of beautiful eagle rays which came close to us. It is always magical to watch these beautiful creatures. Unfortunately, we got stung by jellyfish and had to abort the exploration. It was quite stressful as we had pain on the face and neck, and had no idea what type of jellyfish just stung us. The 30-meter swim back to shore seemed to last forever. We wished the guide had warned us, but it is rare to have them around. They were blue bottles; they give a painful sting, but they are not too dangerous.
Not sure what to do with jellyfish? Read these 6 Tips to Deal with Risks while Snorkelling
The lunch was a great way to meet other people from our big group. We chatted with a lady from the French metropole who now lives in Noumea. A great move, isn’t it? But, as often, travellers are hard to please. She was jealous of us residing in Australia. Are all travellers always looking to a foreign land with envy?
During that tour, we were hoping to go swimming with manta rays.
We were unlucky again on Ouvea as it was the reproduction period so we would not go to bother them. I liked this excuse, placing the animal needs before the tourists. Anyway, although I always like the opportunity to see them, we are lucky to have manta rays not far from home (on Stradbroke Island) so the disappointment was not too big.
On the way back, we were nicely cruising close to some beautiful islands when our boat suddenly got surrounded by sharks.
Although sharks are usually not aggressive against humans, we were told not to put our hands in the water. These sharks used to be fed and now come close when they hear the boat, still expecting food. I don’t like the idea of feeding wild animals as it often puts them in danger more than it helps them. Hence, I was happy they were not doing it anymore. Many people were excited to see the sharks from that close – including my mother who had never experienced such a thing. A funny surprise!
Our more authentic stay in Gossanah in the North of Ouvea Island
On our second visit in 2018, we focused more on the north of the island that we didn’t get to visit the first time because of the car issue. It was very different from the south of the island. It’s a lot less touristy and feels a lot more authentic. Do I need to add that we preferred it?
This part of the island is known in history for sad events that occurred during the French election in 1988. It’s a topic we didn’t talk about during our trip as it’s still a painful subject for locals. But before you travel there, I suggest you watch the movie Rebellion and, if you understand French, Kanak l’Histoire Oubliee is very interesting too. The movies may be biased in some ways, but they’re still based on true facts, and I believe they give good points of view of the Kanak feelings.
The most northern tip is wonderful with a rocky coastline that differs a lot from the white sand beaches we were used to in Ouvea.
We went there for snorkelling at a spot called “La Derivante”.
You start from the small restaurant “Soleil Levant”, and the current takes you slowly to the next beach. No effort is required: you just have to open your eyes and watch.
We stopped for lunch at the Soleil Levant.
Although we didn’t have a booking, which is unusual for these small restaurants in New Caledonia Islands, the woman in charge, Koma, managed to prepare a delicious meal for the four of us. But she also lectured us about how bad it is not to treat our “old” parents better (“old” is a very respectful word for locals): we should always ensure they have food for lunch. Koma is a fascinating character and made our trip to Ouvea even more special.
We visited stunning islands.
We also spent an exclusive moment with locals when we boarded a fishing boat to explore the North “Pleiades”, the islets in the north of Ouvea, as we were the only group on board. If the landscape wasn’t more impressive than the South “Pleiades”, we were the only tourists around and loved the exclusivity.
We visited an interesting cave.
Finally, our last tour was very different to all the other activities we did in New Caledonia. We visited Anubet Cave. Our guide Dominic took us for a walk in the forest where he shared his knowledge about the plants and the trees. After half an hour, we reached the cave where we could go for a swim. We felt very privileged to be able to access such a site and our time with Dominic was very interesting.
If you don’t speak French at all, the north of Ouvea will be more challenging for you than the more touristy part in the south. But if you’re used to travelling to countries with a language barrier and love the challenge, go for it. You’ll have a blast.
Where is the best Ouvea Island accommodation?
During peak season, book your accommodation in advance so you can choose the one that suits you the most.
For our first trip, most accommodations on Ouvea Island were booked out, so we ended up in a place with bad reviews…
Many budget options were not available as the owners were away for the end of the year festivities.
There was only one place that could host the six of us: Le Cocotier*. Their online reviews* were mostly negative, so we had low expectations. It ended up being fine. I like reviews, and I often use them to make decisions about my trips. However, I found the reviews for New Caledonia were often far from our experience. I do agree that owners could be more welcoming, and the food was not top quality. It is true that it was not perfect, but considering the price difference with the nearby resort Paradis d’Ouvea*, it was what we needed. For the cleanliness, maybe we got lucky. Considering the number of people who describe terrible experiences, I wouldn’t recommend booking that place. We didn’t choose it for our second stay.
For New Caledonia in general, it is often that the level of service does not match what we would be used to pay elsewhere.
Except maybe for the big chains in Noumea, visitors should lower down their expectations to fully enjoy their stays. Some reviewers also need to consider the overall way of living on these islands. I read complaints about wild dogs or dirty showers. From what I have seen, locals keep their dogs unleashed and any outside facilities would attract bugs and a bit of dirt. Nothing too surprising, then. So perhaps don’t choose to stay with locals in accommodation with shared facilities. If you are after luxurious comfort, go for a more expensive option like the Paradis d’Ouvea* or the Hotel Le Beaupre*.
What we liked the most about Le Cocotier was being so close to a magnificent beach. We had incredible sunsets every evening. Also, being able to share a “fare” (also called “case”, it is a traditional house with mattresses on the floor) made the stay very cheap.
For food, we ate at Le Cocotier, some at a nearby restaurant called Mowague, and we would also go to the resort Paradis d’Ouvea*.
For our second trip, we stayed at the best Ouvea Island accommodation.
We loved our stay at Beauvoisin. We had a very comfortable traditional hut with real beds, two rooms and a common area. Not only are Marc and his family very welcoming and helpful but they also do an excellent job at keeping the place beautiful and tidy. Their bougnat (a traditional meal) was delicious, and we loved spending time with Marc learning more about his plants and his vanilla plantation. It was so much more authentic and interesting than staying at a hotel. I sent my father there when he visited Ouvea, and he had a fantastic experience too.
Where is Ouvea Island?
Ouvea is the most northern island of the Iles Loyautes, located 190 km to the east of New Caledonia’s mainland. You can go to Ouvea by plane from Noumea with Air Loyaute for a scenic flight or by boat by boarding a big cruise ship from Australia.
Ouvea is a lot smaller than Lifou. Depending on where you are staying and the activities you want to do, you may want to hire a car or a scooter. From our experience, I would recommend booking transport in advance. Although we mentioned we were six, the car they brought to us at the airport was for five people only, so we tried to hire a scooter. Every time we called, the scooter was going to be ready in a few hours, or tomorrow. We never saw it.
If you don’t want to bother with vehicle rental, pick your accommodation near Mouli. It is a stunning place, and with the resort* nearby, you will have access to most tourist activities.