The worst day of the year is the day when daylight saving ends. I struggle with the constant darkness, more so than with the colder winter temperatures or the rain. The only thing that helps under these circumstances is a trip down memory lane, and what nicer place to picture myself in than beautiful Lifou Island in the South Pacific Ocean?
We were lucky to spend the day here as part of our cruise, and Lifou clearly was one of the highlights for us.
This tiny atoll belongs to New Caledonia and is home to roughly 10,000 people although you will be hard pressed to find them when anchoring with a giant cruise ship at Easo.
There are justified reasons for doubt and criticism when it comes to cruise ship tours – a big wave of pale skinned Westerners overflowing a tiny spot like Lifou like a wave, washing ashore and occupying the beaches in a radius of no more than 100 metres – but we were warmly greeted by the locals who had prepared for the arrival and had set up market stalls, food vendors and facilities for the guests. The local kids were particularly fond of us strangers – doing somersaults in the water and giving us and each other plenty of high-fives.
Since Lifou is part of French speaking New Caledonia there is this is extra bit of exotic feel to it – you struggle to make yourself understood, but when it happens it’s magic. I enjoyed the small talk with one of the women selling chicken curry and coconut rice and she was equally delighted to have a chat with us.
There are two major things you can do on Lifou if you don’t want to go on any of the tours – by tour I mean a Lifou inhabitant will take you around in their car for cash, but no guarantee they will care to explain anything to you along the way – there is a great snorkelling spot just across from Easo and there is a small missionary chapel that you can climb up to.
We did both. Snorkelling was fantastic although busy. I congratulate the locals for their environmental thinking of limiting snorkelling access and charging a fee. Without this local initiative the reefs would no doubt suffer severely from the visitors that come in masses to the little bay. You can also rent gear there but be aware that if you arrive on a ship there might not be any left to hire by the time you get there. Once you paid your fee of around $15 AUD you can access the water and stay there for as long as you like.
The chapel is beautiful in its understated, South Pacific way. The Notre Dame de Lourde chapel on Lifou is perched high up on a cliff with fantastic views over Easo and the surrounding jungle. The climb is daunting in the heat but it’s definitely worth it.
The chapel was build by missionaries at the end of the 19th century and is still in use.
In honour of our stay for the day the locals also entertained us with dance and drums, a fantastic experience that gave us glimpses of the South Pacific culture.
Lifou is a fantastic stop on any cruise. I hope that over years to come, and in particular in light of the latest cruising boom, it will continue to retain its uniqueness and cultural identity. And I hope that the natural beauty will not be destroyed by development or careless tourism.