If you’ve read my post about things to do in Noumea, you already know I always prefer exploring other parts of New Caledonia. But if you’re in Noumea for a few days, don’t worry. You’re in the capital of the world’s largest lagoon, so it isn’t bad at all. There are a few islands particularly worth visiting, like Ilot Signal (Signal Island). We spent one lovely afternoon on Signal Island, so here are a few tips to plan your visit.
How to get to Signal Island
There are a few ways to get to Signal Island. You won’t be surprised to find out they all include a boat! It takes around 30 minutes to go from Noumea to Signal Island.
Boat transfers (including tours) to Signal Island are on a small semi-rigid boat. It’s not the most comfortable boat, but it goes fast. If you have back problems, you may want to ask for more information about the sea conditions and how bumpy the ride is going to be. But note that you’re protected from the swell in the lagoon, so the ride would mostly be uncomfortable if there’s wind.
- You can catch a taxi boat from Port Moselle (ask the tourist office, check Blue Lagoon Taxi Boat, Nautica or call or message Coconut Taxi Boat at +687 75 50 17).
- You can go to Signal Island on your own vessel; it’s a popular island to visit when sailing in the lagoon near Noumea.
- If you’re coming to New Caledonia on a cruise boat, the easiest way to get to Signal Island is to book a tour* (or even a private tour*).
Things to do on Signal Island and equipment you should bring
Feeling like a castaway
Signal Island is very different to the other popular islands (Duck Island, Maitre Island or Phare Amedee) you can visit near Noumea: there are no facilities there. Only dry toilets. They have built a few tables and benches for visitors to have a picnic, a jetty to make it easy to embark on the taxi boat, and nothing more. It’s all about enjoying nature in the simplest ways possible.
So obviously, there’s no shop on Signal Island. Make sure you bring enough water and food for your time there. Don’t plan on catching your meal: the island is a reserve so fishing is forbidden. Trees provide a few shady areas, but you should still be careful of the sun and wear a hat. I recommend also wearing long sleeves to protect your body on the beautiful white sand beach of Signal Island.
Responsible travel tip: Did you know that your sunscreen could harm the fragile ecosystem of the coral reef? It’s essential to be mindful of what you’re applying to your skin when snorkelling or swimming near the reef. The best way to protect your skin from the sun is to cover up with long sleeves and pants. If you must use sunscreen, choose a mineral-based one to avoid harmful substances (see the full list here). Mineral ingredients are less harmful to the environment and provide excellent protection. Apply the sunscreen at least 20 minutes before entering the water to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Snorkelling on Signal Island
Make sure you bring your snorkel gear! Snorkelling is often the number one reason to visit Signal Island. The island is surrounded by corals. As fishing is prohibited, you’ll see a large variety of reef inhabitants.
Signal Island is particularly reputed for having many resident turtles. We only snorkelled for about half an hour and saw two green turtles and one hawksbill turtle – which is rarer to see as they are unfortunately critically endangered whereas the green turtles are “only” endangered. They are about the same size, so they can be hard to differentiate. But the hawksbill turtle has a curved beak and a saw-like shell edge that’s not as smooth and round as the green turtle’s shell. We snorkelled a few hundred metres on the left of the jetty. If you can, aim to snorkel at high tide to increase your chances of having good visibility.
Responsible tips: Be extra careful with your fins when you snorkel or dive on a reef so as not to damage the coral. If you can use shorter fins, you will reduce the risk of accidentally hitting the coral.
Walking around Signal Island
It takes less than one hour to walk around the entire island (about 2km). A boardwalk takes you away from the beach for an opportunity to see birds. We didn’t see many birds as we didn’t visit during the muttonbird breeding season. Still, we had to be very careful of where we stepped when not on the boardwalk to avoid the nests in the ground. They have installed a few signs – in French and in English – to explain the history of the island and give information about the local flora and fauna.
You’ll get close to the tower built on the island in 1883 to indicate the entrance of the channel when you align it with Mount Koniambo. It is coated with lime made on the island. It can be seen from afar and is the reason why the island is named Signal Island (or Ilot Signal in French).
It’s a very easy flat walk, but I still recommend wearing shoes (thongs or sandals are fine) as there can be spiky things in the beautiful white sand.
Chilling on the beach
You can also enjoy Signal Island by doing… simply nothing. It’s a good place to relax on the beach and just admire the beauty of the lagoon. I’d still recommend keeping your eyes open: you can often spot turtles popping their head outside the water! If you’re lucky, you might even see a shy dugong.
Most people stay on the beach near the jetty. If you want to enjoy the serenity of the small island, you’ll find an empty beach on the opposite side of the island. On this side, near the tower, we spotted a group of young black-tip sharks swimming in the shallow waters.
How long should you stay on Signal Island
As you can imagine after reading the activities on Signal Island, it’s a small island! After three hours, we felt like we had seen it all. It doesn’t mean that it’s not worth staying longer on the island. It’s always nice to relax in such a beautiful place or go snorkelling a few times in the lagoon. The landscape will also change with the tides so you’ll never get tired of it.
Your time on Signal Island may be dictated by the taxi boat schedule. I recommend staying for half a day on Signal Island and trying to visit another island on the way. For example, Blue Lagoon Taxi Boat offers a tour to visit both Signal Island and Laregne Island on the same trip.
Some people even stay on Signal Island for a night. Camping is free, but you’ll have to bring all your camping equipment, food and water. During the week outside of the local school holidays, you may even have the island just for you. But keep in mind locals often go to islands to celebrate birthdays during the weekend, so you may not get the castaway feeling if you spend a night there with another group.