After leaving Monsieur Chien on Ile Casy, we set sail for the Isle of Pines.
This is the Southernmost Island in New Caledonia and it is absolutely stunning. We visited last year and were keen to go back, despite it being a hard upwind 9 hour slog in 25kts of breeze for about 50 nautical miles. It was touch and go that we would be able to get there before sunset, but we were keen to give it a go.
We un-furled the staysail, cranked up the engine and motor-sailed our way through the reefs. Navigating around New Caledonia is relatively easy, with good charts and marks identifying the hazards and the preferred route is clearly defined on the chart and easy to follow.
It was windy and rough, but Esther Louise charged on, taking the odd wave over the bow. We were nice and protected in her centre cockpit, and still managing to make about 5-6kts. We had to arrive before 5.30 which was when we would lose the sun completely. Navionics calculated our arrival at any time between 3pm and 8pm depending on whether we were going up or down a wave at the time of the reading. The final few miles would be a beam reach, so we were confident we could pick up some speed and time on that leg.
As it turned out we arrived at Kuto Bay at 4.30pm. Not an ideal time to be spotting coral bommies but we had daylight and since we had been there last year, we were reasonably confident we knew where to avoid. We found a good spot to drop the anchor. Put out heaps of chain and had a well deserved Number One beer.
The following day we had booked ourselves to go sailing on a traditional Pirogue. I had tried to book this direct online ourselves, but didn’t get very far, so the lovely Herve from Noumea Yacht Services had called the Hotel Kou Bugny and they had sorted it out for us. This hotel is located right on the beach, and they promised to keep an eye on Esther Louise and our dinghy for us while we were away.
The hotel mini-van drove us off around the island to Baie d’Upi where we met Rocky and his 9 year old daughter who we think was called Glion. We had a very rusty conversation with them in French where we were trying to explain that we were sailors too, and not your usual cruise ship passengers, but I don’t think they understood. We waded out in to thigh deep water to get on board.
The Baie d’Upi is a large shallow inlet, it’s water is an incredible turquoise blue, sheltered all round from the sea with rocky cliffs apart from a small opening. It is closed off to all other boats apart from the beautiful pirogues. The tide was ebbing and so we motored slowly through the current until we reached some deeper water and then Rocky set the sails.
Rocky steered the pirogue with a large paddle. With the wind behind the huge triangular shaped sail we set a cracking pace as she ploughed her way through the crystal clear water, and around unusual mushroom shaped islands.
An hour slipped past quickly and then we were at the other end of the bay. We jumped off the boat and in to the white sandy mud. Rocky had a bucket for us to wash our feet and shoes. All of us were keen to keep on sailing, but we reluctantly waved goodbye to him and his lovely daughter and then headed in to the bush.
Thick tropical jungle surrounded us as we followed the track, winding our way between the trees, and occasionally attempting to climb them. It was a lovely walk for an hour until we reached a lady sitting at a table at the entrance of the Piscine Naturelle. The entry fee was CFP200 per person (about NZD$3.00) we only had the equivalent of a $60.00 note, and she didn’t have enough change. She let us in and we promised to pay on the way out, when either she or us would hopefully have some more change.
We waded through a river and around the corner we were met with a stunning sight. The most incredibly blue pool surrounded by rocky edges, fringed with the tall pine trees. There were a handful of other people there. Waves crashed over the rocks on the far side of the pool. We quickly donned our snorkelling gear and dived in to the underwater world below the surface.
Hundreds of beautifully coloured fish swam past, sometimes darting behind a coral outcrop. The water was warm and calm, a start contrast to the ocean beyond the rocks where the waves continued to crash over the tops sending fresh ocean water in to the pool. We spent ages exploring, fascinated by the different coloured lips on the huge clams. At one stage we saw an enormous fish hiding behind a large rock. It was lovely.
We were getting hungry and we were glad we had packed a lunch as there were no shops or restaurants close by. We laid in the sun and soaked up some much needed vitamin D. Eventually it was time to leave so we headed towards the resort at the Baie d’Oro. It was about a 20 minute walk through what looked like a sandy riverbed. We imagined it would be underwater at high tide. Eventually we arrived at yet another stunning beach.
There were some traditional restaurants on the beach, and apparently you can add lunch here to the day tour package. They cook their food in pits in the ground like a Maori hangi. We will have to come back again to give that a go. We wandered along the beach keeping an eye out for Le Meridien resort. There was nothing to be seen, and the beach came to an end, so we waded around the point, and then voila – a hotel – and cold beer!
We had to buy some of course, to get some change to pay our entrance fee. We sat in the sun and enjoyed the luxurious surroundings, before walking back to find the carpark. Our hotel mini-bus arrived at the same time we did. We paid our fee to the girl we had met earlier, and noted that cruise ship passengers have to pay CFP1500 compared to the CFP200 that ‘other’ people are charged. Interesting!
We were quite pleased there were no cruise ships visiting the island that day, as it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. The road around the island is only about 16km long. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to stop at the caves, which sound amazing, but again we have another reason to go back!
Esther Louise was still happily bobbing on her anchor in the bay, we went and grabbed some more beer and headed back to the beach to watch the sunset. We spotted something in the water, and thought it must have been a dolphin – but no it was a Dugong! Cruising around the bay along with a few turtles. Very cool.
Check out our video. The sailing bit at the start was actually the return leg. Much nicer than the sail down there!
Isle of Pines Travel Tips
- You can fly on Air Caledonie from Magenta Airport in Noumea to the Isle of Pines
- The Betico Ferry also does regular trips from Noumea and it docks at Kuto Bay
- The Hotel Kou Bugny is located right on the beach at Kuto Bay
- Kuto Bay is a lovely anchorage with great holding on a sandy bottom, sheltered from the tradewinds.
- The Hotel can organise the tours and they also have a few rental cars
- The tour we did included transfers and the pirogue sail – cost was CFP5000 (aprox $60.00 per person) lunch was possible and cost extra.
- Entry fee to the Piscine Naturelle was CFP200 – take cash in small denominations
- The town of Vao was a few km own the road from Kuto Bay, it looked like there were a few shops there, but we only drove through so didn’t get a good look at what supplies there were.
- You could easily spend a couple of days there, other things to do include climbing the big hill to get a beautiful view of your boat, snorkelling at Kanumera Bay and visiting the caves.