A foretaste of Paradise
The Loyalty Islands Province comprises from north to south four main coral islands, Ouvéa, Lifou, Maré and Tiga, numerous smaller islets and the Beautemps-Beaupré reefs north-west of Ouvéa. Located approximately 125 km from the east coast of New Caledonia’s main island and some 250 km from Vanuatu, the Loyalty Islands cover a total surface area of 1,981 km2, i.e. approximately 10% of the territory of New Caledonia. Confetti in the heart of the Pacific Ocean.
Isolated in the heart of the Pacific and veritable New Caledonian gems, the Loyalty Islands can be considered as terrestrial and marine paradises.
White-sand beaches, a welcoming population and especially a very gentle way of life. The Loyalty Islands convey an image of serenity and nonchalance that is sometimes deceiving. Economic life is mainly organised around agriculture and fishing. Unquestionably, the islands nevertheless offer the most enchanting panoramas where nature and human beings flourish.
The jewel in New Caledonia’s sustainable tourism, the Loyalty Islands have chosen to offer their visitors a unique opportunity to share the Kanaks’ daily life and to walk in their steps long enough for a stroll or a fishing trip. Each island has its admirers: Ouvéa for the beauty of its beaches, Lifou for its immense bays fringed with New Caledonian pines, Maré for the incredible pleasure of life in tune with the lagoon.
Take a trip and allow yourself to be guided around Ouvéa’s crystal-clear azure lagoon, registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Explore gardens with a thousand scents, ancestral paths and ancient caves on Lifou and Maré. Let yourself be carried away by these islands imbued with the spirit of the Pacific.
Immaculate beaches, precipitous cliffs, deep forests, immense caves…the variety of scenery in Lifou is echoed in the open and enterprising nature of its inhabitants. They are happy to welcome the visitor and share the wealth of their traditions and history. Discovering the spirit of the Loyalty Islands begins in Lifou…
Lifou, Drehu in the local language, is the largest island in the Loyalty Island archipelago. Its area of 1150 km2 is equivalent to that of Martinique. Even more than in the other islands, the variety of natural sites in Lifou encourages the visitor to explore. The coast, crenellated with long, deep bays, gracefully links long white-sand beaches, cliffs cut out of the old reef and magically coloured banks of coral. The interior of the island, a vast plain built on the old lagoon, is covered with dense tropical forest suitable for hiking.
Ten thousand people inhabit this island divided into three customary districts: Wetr, Lösi and Gaïça. The traditions and customs are very much alive, as can be seen both during the great custom festivals and in all the acts of daily life such as in agriculture and the construction of traditional huts.
Wé, the Loyalty Islands administrative centre, is the largest town. Attractively located on the edge of Chateaubriand Bay, it contains the island's main administrative and commercial facilities.
Officially discovered and mapped by the Frenchman Dumont d'Urville in 1827, Lifou was soon besieged by dozens of Catholic and Protestant missionaries. They took advantage of the opportunity to make the island a private setting for their struggle for influence over local souls and for the more prosaic competition between the British Empire and France for control of this part of the South Pacific.
Today, daily life, social organisation and the environment still bear the marks of this historically troubled period and of visits by 19th century sailors, sandalwood traders, whalers and “blackbirders”. The Loyalty Islands were only annexed by France in 1864. However, not being suitable for intensive colonisation, they were constituted as a native reserve, a status which would permanently shape the archipelago’s history and the specific character of the Loyalty Islanders.
The wild beauty of the scenery on Maré, the profound and almost mystical link binding Maré Islanders to their natural world and seen in their living traditions, the island’s exceptionally rich history, all give this secret island a very specific identity which will leave a lasting impression on those who take the time to plumb its essence. Discovering Maré is above all an inner experience, made up of meeting its people and the emotions experienced...
Maré — Nengone in the local language – is the southernmost and highest of the Loyalty Islands, half the size of Lifou with an area of 650 km2. Its five layers of superimposed coral reach a height of almost 130 metres on the south coast. It has a wild beauty, with its deeply carved cliffs, basalt rocks and dark forests, and wonderful little sandy creeks nestling between rocky promontories and long undisturbed beaches fringed with coconut palms. The central plain, made up of the old lagoon, is dotted with numerous caves and natural freshwater or saltwater pools containing fish and turtles and featuring shades of blue and green not found anywhere else in the Loyalties.
Maré is divided into eight districts covering 29 tribal villages: Guahma, Tadine, Wabao, Eni, Médu, La Roche, Tawaïnedr and Pénélo. The main activity of the 6,900 Maré Islanders is market gardening which supplies the whole of New Caledonia with fruit of unique colours and flavours. Avocadoes from Maré have acquired such a reputation that they are snapped up in Noumea, and a great festival is devoted to them every year on the island.
First christened Britannia, from the name of the yacht captained by William Raven who explored the area in 1803, Maré was long subject to the influence of British sailors, merchants and missionaries. This influence can still be found today in the Nengone language, which is strongly marked by English words and pronunciations. The first European to set foot on the island was Captain Butler of the Walpole in 1800. But it was not until four decades later that the first real contacts with the whites were established. From 1841 onwards the Reverend Murray spread Protestant values. His Catholic counterpart, the Reverend Beaulieu, did likewise for his creed: unrest continued until 1883. Maré Islanders have always integrated newcomers who settle on the island, which explains their obvious mixed origins and their open and sturdy character.
The dazzling purity of the combined colours of the sky, the lagoon and the vegetation, the exceptionally mild climate, the inhabitants’ natural hospitality, the comfort of living in an island free of any pollution fully justifies the description “island closest to Paradise” which all those lucky enough to stay there have given Ouvéa.
Ouvéa – Iaaï in the local language – is one of the most beautiful atolls in the Pacific, with its white-sand beach extending for 25 km, caressed by crystal-clear water of varying hues. Thirty-five km long and in some places less than 40 metres wide, with a total area of 132 km2, the island has a single road running north to south, sometimes along the endless beach planted with coconut palms that faces the lagoon and sometimes beside the intense blue of the open Pacific Ocean. The lagoon, with the exceptional clarity of its water, mirrors the majestic Lékiny cliffs and serves as a food reserve for the inhabitants. Ouvéa Island is a tilted atoll, partly submerged, with a lagoon which is not filled in, as on Lifou and Maré, but bounded to the north and south by a series of reefs and islets, called the Pléiades. Ouvéa atoll and the Beautemps-Beaupré islands are among the six areas of the New Caledonian lagoon registered in July 2008 as part of the World Heritage of humanity.
Ouvéa’s 4,300 inhabitants draw their origins from Polynesian and Melanesian migration. The Polynesian influence is clearly more marked than on Lifou and Maré; even the name of the island is the Polynesian name for Wallis Island (Uvea). In the Saint-Joseph custom district, in the north, the Takedji chefferie (chief"s area) is a kind of Wallis Island enclave within the Kanak district. This is why two indigenous languages are spoken on Ouvéa: Iaaï, a Kanak language, and Faga-uvea, which is of Polynesian origin. The island is divided into three custom districts: Saint-Joseph, Fayaoué and Mouli.
Ouvéa inherited the tag “island closest to Paradise” in the 70s from Katsura Morimura, a young Japanese writer who came to stay on Ouvéa. Enchanted by the setting and the warm welcome, she called the novel she was writing “The island closest to paradise”, and placed the action on the island, telling of a romance between a young visiting Japanese woman and a Japanese descendant settled on Ouvéa. The book was never translated into French but was made into a film with the same title, sub-titled in French. Today Katsura Morimura is dead but the title of her novel has remained attached to Ouvéa and partly explains why Japanese visitors so love this island.
Are you interested in the Loyalty Islands, our authorized agencies are at your disposal to organize your stay:
- CALEDONIA SPIRIT (+687)27 27 01
- CENTER VOYAGES (+687)28 07 75
- PACIFIQUE LAGON (+687)23 53 02
- PHILO TOURS (+687)28 99 57
More information iles-loyaute.com