Last week I published a guest post on the Elite Travel Blog about 5 Amazing Things to do on the Isle of Pines. If you haven’t read it yet and if you are planning a trip there soon, have a look now as you will find some great ideas here.
For Happiness & Things I decided to write an equally informative post about the lovely island of Lifou.
Lifou, just like the Isle of Pines, is part of the island nation of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, a French overseas department. Lifou is part of the so-called Loyalty Islands, and if you’ve been to the Isle of Pines before, you will notice that Lifou is a different story altogether.
First of all, the island looks different – less pine trees, higher cliffs. Secondly, there are no expensive resorts awaiting you, hardly any tourists are staying overnight (although you can, if you want to, stay overnight in basic, more traditional accommodation).
Lifou Island feels more pristine, more real than the Isle of Pines, which has developed over time into a very popular luxury honeymoon destination. People on Lifou Island go by their everyday business, and on days that a cruise ship arrives they pack their traditional clothes, their home cooked meals and their imported cheap souvenirs and welcome the day guests at the tender boat pier at Easo. Once the cruise ship departs, life returns back to its normal, quiet self until the next influx of 1,000 or so tourists arrive for one day only.
If you are one of these 1,000 cruise ship passengers that are due to arrive on Lifou Island don’t just think about sitting on the beach or going for a dip in the admittedly warm water. If you are mobile with a reasonable level of fitness you will be amazed to discover that there is so much more to see and do on Lifou! Let me show you 10 amazing things to do on Lifou… this should give you plenty of choice for your own trip to paradise.
The little Church of Notre Dame de Lourdes
I recently published a guest post about Notre Dame de Lourdes on the Adventures on Around Travel Blog. Notre Dame de Lourdes is a beautiful little church which is situated not that far away from the place where the tender boats of the cruise ships arrive. You will spot it already from the deck of your ship – perched on a cliff overlooking the Coral Sea it is one of the most visible landmarks of Lifou Island.
You can easily reach the church on foot from here, just turn left on top of the road and walk until the very end. From here you will see the start of a rocky footpath flanked by tribal totems, and while you follow the steps up the hill you will be rewarded with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside and the Pacific Ocean. A great opportunity to take pictures of the beaches and even your cruise ship! Make sure you pack some water, wear comfortable shoes and cover your head – the tropical sun and the humidity can make the short climb a bit tiresome.
Once you arrive at the church have a look inside – it’s clean but sparsely furnished with the exception of some tropical flower arrangements, the statue of St Mary and some trestle tables. It doesn’t sound much but there is so much devotion and history here, it’s really worth your while.
Enjoy the tropical flowers around you
Not sure about how you feel about tropical climates but I just thrive on extremes. I love the fact that the hot and humid weather produces some of the most amazing plants – from coconut trees and fruit bearing trees to orchids and colourful flowers, I could spend hours and hours just discovering these wonders of nature. The colours of the flowers are just so much brighter, their leaves so much bigger and stronger.
Everything just seems to explode with vividness and vitality, celebrating the joys of life with every new day. A walk along just the simplest of country roads is enough to keep me happy and busy, snapping hundreds of photos of these exotic shapes and colours. And if you are lucky you will also see some birds and butterflies.
Relax at Easo beach
This is the beach you will probably see first when landing on Lifou Island – the tender boats drop you off at the pier that you can see in this picture. It’s a nice beach, warm, shallow, friendly. Don’t worry about having to share it with your fellow cruise ship passengers. There’s plenty of space for everybody, and given that the beach is normally completely empty you won’t have to share it with any tourists that might stay on the island.
Easo Beach is not ideal for snorkelling as there is no reef here, but you may see a fish or two if you give it a go. It’s a beautiful, natural beach where you will happily spend a day relaxing, just place your head under the shade provided by the trees that fringe the beach and you are all set!
Meet the locals of Lifou
Lifou is a gem when it comes to tourist destinations. The locals have a wonderful folklore – you will most likely be able to witness some performance of dance, drumming and singing in traditional costume. Everybody takes part in this, and it’s been done with an intensity and truthfulness that you just have to believe that it’s still deeply embedded in these people’s culture. Just wonderful.
If you get the chance, have a chat to some of the locals. You will see they are all very friendly, but of course it helps if you speak some French. Taste some of the food that the ladies will have prepared for you at the pier – you cannot get a more sincere South Pacific experience than this!
Find out how the locals live
Don’t just sit on your bum!
If you have any interested whatsoever into how people live you need to get up and get moving. Wander in any direction, do it for the exercise but also to satisfy your curiosity! Don’t you wonder how people live on a tiny island in the South Pacific? Keen to get a glimpse into the way they still follow the traditional ways?
Then there’s no better way then wandering the streets of a local village. What is truly wonderful is that there are still traditional huts on some of the properties, most of them probably for sentimental reasons, but not less exciting. You will also see gardens and pigpens, chickens and kids. Don’t stare but acknowledge with a friendly nod.
Go for a swim (and take the kids!)
The sand at Easo beach is fine, golden and soft, perfect for kids. In fact, since we already knew about this, this was the only occasion that we tore the kids away from their Wii at the cruise ship’s kids club to let them have a play in the sand and in the water.
However, you will find that there are little rocks of coral everywhere, so if you want to be able to wade into the water safely, consider using reef shoes or other shoes that you can use in the water. Having said that, it’s not mandatory to bring shoes along, it just makes your life easier.
A great source of entertainment for the kids are the hermit crabs that you will find everywhere – just work out a parkour using sticks, corals, shells and digging holes in the sand and let the racing begin!
Check out the traditional housing
Most people on Lifou will live in modern houses today but in some gardens you can still see the traditional huts that are typical for the island. On Lifou you can access one of these huts for a donation – just follow the road to the right from top of the pier road and into the next village.
One of the families here have a sign out front which invites tourists to have a closer look. The only other place I can think of where you can look inside traditional kanak huts is at the Cultural Centre in Noumea, and that’s obviously a museum copy and not exactly the real thing.
Admire the local art
I just love the way local tribes transform a piece of wood into a grim looking god. You will find totems and tribal art in several locations around the island, for example at the entrance to Notre Dame de Lourdes or close to the make-shift market that pops up every time a cruise ship arrives at the tender boat pier.
They make great photo objects too, but don’t mock them!
The Baie de Jinek is probably the best choice for snorkelling when visiting Lifou Island. First of all it’s easy to reach on foot from your starting point Easo beach, secondly it’s well regulated and offers stunning underwater views.
To get to Jinek Bay, start out from the pier and go to the top of the road, then turn left towards the chapel of Notre Dame de Lourdes. Half-way to the church you will arrive at a crossroad. Don’t continue straight but take the turn to the right. A couple of metres later you will have arrived at the bay.
Snorkelling at this location is very rewarding but it’s not free – to protect the environment and to regulate access the locals are charging a fee of around AUD $15 to access the water (you can pay in Aussie dollars in cash). Since the money goes towards protecting the environment and helping the local people I think this is very fair.
If you don’t have snorkelling gear with you, you can rent it for a fee on the spot, but beware that the shop may run out of equipment at some point and then you need to wait until a set becomes available. It’s best to bring your own gear.
Snorkelling at Jinek Bay is wonderful. You follow a path that keeps swimmers away from the most endangered areas of the reef. Access is via a ladder, so there is no beach here. Make sure you bring your underwater camera!
Visit a museum
From the tender boat pier just head up the road and then take the turn right. Just follow the road until you reach the first village. Why would you want to do that?
Well, first of all, there is a big church here that you may want to see, that has been build by the missionaries a long time ago. It is still in use and in good condition.
Secondly, you will find here a cemetery adorned with lots of tropical flowers that make this place surprisingly cheerful and beautiful.
Thirdly, there’s a small museum where you will learn more about the history of Lifou Island and its people. Even in the days of the internet there is still a lot of information out there that is not easily accessible and only kept locally, and if you ever tried to find out anything about Lifou Island you will see that this is not easy at all. The local museum will answer a lot of questions with some simple photos, newspaper clippings and illustrations.
Don’t forget to get a copy of this recommended guide book!