During your research to plan your trip to New Caledonia, you will find one constant: the praises for the Isle of Pines. A local woman we met on Lifou, another island of the archipelago (my favourite one!), even told us her dream was to go to the Isle of Pines. I am not going against the flow: the Isle of Pines is a must-do when you visit New Caledonia. You’ll find in this article the best things to do on the Isle of Pines and my personal tips to plan your visit.
Planning tips to visit the Isle of Pines
How long should you stay on the Isle of Pines?
We spent three full days (four nights) on the Isle of Pines and loved it. It’s a beautiful island where I wished I could have stayed longer. On top of many natural stunning spots to explore, there are plenty of fun activities to keep you entertained. Three days did not give us enough time to explore the entire island but it was a good length to do the highlights.
I find a day trip to the Isle of Pines is way too short, but if you don’t have more time then I recommend doing the Upi Bay boat trip – that was my favourite activity on the island.
You may be interested in reading my article about visiting New Caledonia on a big cruise ship.
Do you need a car on the Isle of Pines?
We found a car rental on the island but it was difficult and expensive for us to organise it as we were a group of six people travelling during peak season. And we actually realised that in three days, we would only have time for a small selection of activities. The main ones can be organised with transfers from the hotel and drivers were always flexible. So, to avoid renting a car, we booked a hotel between the popular Kanumera and Kuta bays (Relais Kuberka*). We could walk to the restaurants and the beaches in both areas and didn’t mind the 15-minute digestive walk. I’d have prefered a hotel on the beach, but the Gite Nataiwatch* that our friends recommended was fully booked so we took plan B.
You will need to rent a car or join a guided tour if you want to drive to the north of the island to check out the Reine Hortense cave. But I wouldn’t recommend renting a car for your entire stay.
When is the best time to visit the Isle of Pines?
Good news: there is never a bad time to visit the Isle of Pines!
The climate is lovely all year round. There is a risk of cyclones at the start of the year, but the Isle of Pines is usually more protected than the other islands of New Caledonia as it’s the most southern one. We were told that bad weather never lasts long on the Isle of Pines. Well, it’s not reputed to be the closest island to paradise for no reason! You should be safe from bad weather from April to October. Although it’s cooler during the winter months, it’s still nice and you’ll be able to swim.
If you can avoid travelling there during school holidays, it may be easier (and often cheaper) to organise your trip.
As for the other destinations in New Caledonia, I recommended finding out when a cruise would be around. Ask your accommodation when you get to the island and plan your activities smartly to avoid the crowd: avoid Kuto Bay, Kanumera Bay and the Natural Pool.
What are the best things to do on the Isle of Pines?
My highlights of the trip were, in order of preference:
- Cruising Upi Bay on a traditional boat
- Our quality family time on Moro Island
- Diving around the pretty gorgonians
- Watching the sunset on the beautiful Kuto Beach
You may be interested in reading my tips for an easier (and cheaper) trip to New Caledonia.
Things to do on the Isle of Pines
Flying to the Isle of Pines
The Isle of Pines shows her best profile before you even set foot on it. Every plane trip we did from one island to another offered stunning bird views of the beautiful lagoons. How could you escape love at first sight?
If you don’t want to fly, you can also catch the Betico ferry from the main island to get there. It’s cheaper, but slightly longer (add 2 hours) and you’ll miss a very scenic flight.
Watching sunset: is the best sunset spot on the Isle of Pines on Kuto Beach or Kanumera Beach?
We tried both. We loved both. The magic hour is always more magic when you’re next to the ocean, don’t you think? The sun went down on the horizon at Kuto Beach. At Kanumera Beach, it enhanced the pine trees, which is a special feeling considering they gave their name to the island!
A boat tour to the atoll of Nok Anhui & Moro Island
As a big cruise boat arrived in the morning, the touristy spots on the island suddenly got crowded. It was a perfect day to book a boat excursion to smaller islands.
The untouched atoll of Nok Anhui was incredible.
We were the first boat to reach it, which was the best way to appreciate the beauty of the place. Our visit was on an overcast day but when the sun rays managed to find their way to the atoll, the colours were stunning. We spotted some big eagle nests with their owners nearby.
2017 edit: We were told that it is not possible to visit Nok Anhui Atoll at the moment. I don’t know if the situation has changed again since.
We also saw turtles on the way to Moro Island. It’s always a pleasure to see turtles. But I felt terrible when someone from another boat jumped on it to catch it so tourists could have their photos taken with it. It lasted for a long time, and the turtle was obviously not enjoying it. I’m glad no one from our boat joined the stupid attraction. I don’t think I could have stayed silent. But are the people catching the turtles the ones to blame? Locals would not do it if it weren’t for the tourists’ pleasure.
It was the only negative moment of the day. The rest was close to perfect.
Responsible travel tip: Do not touch wildlife. It is stressful for the animal, and often harmful. Responsible travellers should follow the “Leave no trace” principles when enjoying the outdoors, including respecting wildlife.
The reception on Moro Island was unexpected.
We booked this tour without really knowing much about it. While driving around the main island, our hosts at La Petite Ferme told us they heard several times praises about this tour. They had noted down the number. It was easy: we just called and booked it! If you want the surprise too, skip the next two paragraphs!
When we arrived on Moro Island, a welcoming cocktail had just been served for us. You cannot see it from the sea but, just behind the vegetation, an enchanting camp awaits. The decoration is lovely and fits well with nature all around. The food was beautiful too. We felt like kings.
On the way back, our guide stopped the boat and we had the surprise to be surrounded by sharks in a few minutes. They used to feed them and, although they’ve stopped, the sharks are still attracted by the motor noise and come to check it out. It’s highly recommended not to put your hand in the water at that moment!
To book the tour we did, contact Julo at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 77 28 50.
Scuba diving from the Isle of Pines
We dived the Garden of Eden with numerous giant gorgonians. The water was beautiful with excellent visibility, and the coral formations were fantastic. My highlight: we saw pygmy seahorses on the gorgonians!
When we tried to go scuba diving in New Caledonia, we didn’t have luck with finding a dive shop opened during our stay on Lifou and Ouvea. But it was easy to organise dives in Hienghene and Poindime. There all offered a different experience.
Are you covered for scuba diving by your travel insurance? It’s worth double-checking. If not, I recommend DAN (Divers Alert Network) for those who dive regularly. WorldNomads* and Covermore* also make it easy to add adventurous activities like scuba diving to your plan.
Sailing Upi Bay on a traditional boat is a must-do on the Isle of Pines
It feels like an adventure just to board this small wooden traditional sailing boat – called Pirogue in French. We slowly and calmly went down the breathtaking bay. The colour of the water and the big rocks coming out of it were magical. It reminded me of the cruise we did in Zanzibar (Tanzania) a couple of years ago.
No motor was needed, we were lucky with the wind. It felt like we escaped from time, and I wish time stopped. I could have stayed there forever.
Don’t worry about booking the tour too much in advance. We were told to book only one day prior to our excursion, once we arrived on the Isle of Pines. Just ask your hotel hosts. They are in touch with the boatman and will organise that quickly for you.
If you only have time to do one thing on this list of things to do in the Isle of Pines, I recommend exploring Upi Bay.
You’ll board the boat in Vao, the only village of the Isle of Pines in the southeast of the island. If you can organise a short detour to St Maurice Bay on the way, you can check out the Kanak sculpture on the totems around the monument that celebrates catholicism.
Visiting the famous Isle of Pines Natural Pool
After leaving our “pirogue”, we went for a short forest walk that ended up on a river that we had to cross to find the gorgeous Natural Pool. The rock standing in the middle of the transparent water gives a real charm to the place. A barrier of rocks in the background protects the serenity of the pool. The clownfish are more curious than ever. It’s very close to perfection.
What’s missing? Well, the actual question is what is in excess… As it sometimes happens in popular natural places, mass tourism is not helping. If only all the small things to limit our impact could be respected: don’t wear sunscreen in the water, don’t feed the wild animals and – obviously – don’t leave your rubbish there.
If the view was unbeatable, the snorkelling experience was nowhere as good as in Lifou.
From the Natural Pool, you can walk up the Sand River (easier at low tide but amazing when the water comes back in) to reach another beautiful beach on the other side. You’ll find there the restaurant Le Kou-Gny. I wouldn’t particularly recommend it for the food or the service, but the view was incredible: we were eating on the beach, in the shade of the trees. Don’t forget to book.
If you are after luxury, the most expensive hotel on the island is nearby, Le Meridien*. There are a restaurant, a spa and a swimming pool on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
Hiking Pic Nga, the top of the Isle of Pines
We woke up early to reach the summit of Pic Nga for sunrise. The one hour hike to the top is steep, so we were happy to avoid the sun and the heat while climbing. Culminating at 262 metres, it’s the highest peak on the island. The panoramic view up there is worth the effort. And we did not have many opportunities for hiking during the trip so it was good to exercise a bit!
Your only opportunity to eat “Bulimes” (snails)!
The Isle of Pines is the only island in New Caledonia where you are allowed to eat the local snails, the “bulimes”. You can only find this particularly big species in this area of the Pacific. As they are endangered, they limit the collection and no exportation is allowed. Your only chance to try them is at a restaurant on the Isle of Pines.
If you want tasty local food with a touch of good service, the Oure Tera beach resort* has a great menu (the restaurant, not the bar!). Some of us tried the traditional “bougna” while others were seduced by a dish made of hart meat with foie-gras on top.
Reine Hortense Cave
We didn’t have time to organise a trip to the famous cave. It’s not far from the airport though so you may have time for a visit before catching your flight back to Noumea. Make sure you have some coins to pay the entrance fee.
Our friends who went there loved the lush vegetation all around the cave and the path that led to it. The cave entrance on the cliff is huge and impressive. Take your phone or a torch with you to have some light so you can better find your way and see the details of the rocks forming the slippery tunnel. Once you’ve reached the end, imagine the Queen hiding there during the tribal conflicts.
Where to stay on the Isle of Pines?
Although it is the most developed island for tourism in New Caledonia and there are many things to do on the Isle of Pines, you won’t find large resorts dramatically damaging the stunning landscape. It also means most accommodations are basic unless you can afford one of the two luxurious resorts. Locals have managed to keep the place safe from mass tourism, except when a big cruise ship is visiting.
A couple of friends recommended the Gite Nataiwatch*. It was fully booked for our dates so I don’t have a personal experience to share. We went there for dinner and found it okay but we had more recent feedback (2017) about poor service and disappointing food compared to the price level. These travellers had a better experience at the Relais Kuberka*.
It’s funny as we stayed at the Relais Kuberka* and were not impressed. We found it overpriced (which is often the case in New Caledonia) and the food was not great at all. Overall it had all we needed and the location between Kuto and Kanumera Bays was ideal.
If you want the best in terms of comfort, and you are willing to pay a lot for it, check Le Meridien* and Oure Tera*. Their locations are unbeatable and their level of service is supposedly more consistent and reliable.
What do you think are the best things to do on the Isle of Pines? Where did you stay? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is the Isle of Pines?
The Isle of Pines is a small island in the south of the French archipelago of New Caledonia, in the South Pacific. You can fly from Noumea – the capital of New Caledonia – or come by boat.