With endless deserted palm fringed beaches littered with crispy white Fangipani flowers, dense green jungle and a local prawn curry to die for, Lifou is fast becoming a popular holiday destination dotted in the blue Pacific Ocean just to the northeast of New Caledonia’s mainland.
Formed entirely of fossil coral and reef, the 1 146 km2 island is the largest makatea, or coral atoll in the world and is the last remains of an extinct volcano. Discovered by the French in 1857, whalers and traders as well as Catholic Missionaries soon shared the island with the native Kanak people.
Today, just over 10 000 people call Lifou home and the local language is Drehu, but English and French is also widely spoken throughout the island. As tourism is the largest source of economy and income, the Kanak people of Lifou are welcoming and keen to share their wonderful island and culture with the rest of the world. With an abundance of activities available and year round fantastic weather, Lifou is a popular destinations for Australian tourists, especially those traveling with P&O Cruises. Local women offer massages and hair braiding, the lush jungle allows for fantastic hiking, warm clear water allows wonderful swimming and snorkeling and for the sun worshipers the endless sunshine and soft sand offers the perfect island getaway. Lifou is relatively cheap, easy to travel and visitors can enjoy a wide variety of local foods including fresh fish, prawns, lobster and even turtle to the dismay of many. Farm raised chickens, pork and goat is also available at a steeper price. Sipping salty and refreshingly cool coconut water directly from freshly picked coconuts is a sure way to dehydrate and adds to the special island vibe.
With no natural source of fresh water above ground, large freshwater reservoirs found right around the island can be accessed through cave systems. Close to Easo, a small village on the north-western side of the island, 10 Australia Dollars (AUD) paid to the local land owner allows you entry into the Lue Jajinyi Cave, or the Blue Cave. Homemade wooden arches forms the gateway to the infamous grotto and after 15 minutes of walking, stumbling, slipping and sliding through dense jungle on a single rocky path, the warm green jungle transforms into a cool, damp, dark and very small opening in the earth.
Taking a dip in the cold, black water in a seemingly bottomless pit is a life changing experience and is not for the faint of heart. Lit only by a single lamp, the darkness soon gets the adrenaline pumping and finally scrambling out on the sharp, algae covered rocks takes some doing. Children should swim supervised and going in a small group is encouraged.
To the north of Easo, two wooden totem poles leads the way to the Nortre Dame De Lourdes missionary chapel with a cast iron statue of St Mary on top, enjoying the best views of the South Pacific Ocean. The simple yet beautiful white building offers a cool escape from the blistering tropical heat and with the few empty benches, plastic flowers and a Madonna, the endless incline of steps is well worth it even if just for the view over the island.
Understanding the value of tourism and the role a healthy, clean and protected environment plays in attracting visitors, locals manage and protect the wonderful marine park, Janik Bay, by limiting the number of visitors to 200 per day to ensure the conservation of this stunning but fragile reef system with its teeming marine life. Around 15 AUD buys you a half day pass to snorkel with brightly coloured tropical fish between healthy, colourful, well preserved coral reefs. The underwater visibility is fantastic and due to the small number of visitors and the large number of Pacific Loggerhead sea turtles, Janik Bay might be one of the best snorkeling sites in the world. Be sure to take your own gear and an underwater camera to capture some of its magic.
To see more pictures of my travels on Lifou Island and a video of me snorkeling with a sea turtle, go have a look at my Lifou Visual Diary or my Instagram account at @luzanne_f . And as always, please feel free to leave a comment or reply.