I am so excited! This week I’ll be heading to beautiful Fiji to stay at the luxurious Starfish Blue Villa on the Suncoast. You have no idea how tremendously this lifts my spirits this week as I am heading to work. While I am on the bus watching the endless stop and go of Sydney morning traffic, my mind drifts off to the blue waters of the South Pacific.
The Isle of Pines is said to be the closest island to Paradise, and once you have been here you will see that there is no room for discussion. The island’s silhouette is striking, and it’s easy to see where it got its name from. The slim pine trees stand tall like pikes, giving this island the look of orderliness and weightlessness, not unlike a neo-Gothic cathedral.
But what really makes this little island so heavenly are the colours. Imagine the brightest of skies thanks to abundant sunshine, which tickles the most saturated colours out of everything around you. You thought that travel brochures are heavily photoshopped and colour enhanced? No need for that kind of technical magic on the Isle of Pines! The sand, warm and soft, is the whitest of white ever seen by man. The beaches are generous sweeps of this creamy colour, blending in softly with the turquoise blues of the sea, which is so clear, you can see the fish around you while you step deeper and deeper for a swim.
The water sparkles in all shades of blue to green, it is so beautiful that I cannot help but stare.
The trees and shrubs around us are emerald green, so lush and a paradise for wildlife and birds. Flowers are not just flowers, they seem to compete with the blues of the sea and the creamy sands, with popping pinks and golden yellows. It is as if God had drawn a picture and had generously applied pure, untainted paint to the canvas.
The Isle of Pines belongs to New Caledonia, hence the French name Isle des Pines which is also commonly used in the English language. The 2,000 locals here speak French, which seems befitting for such a beautiful and God blessed place. There are a number of luxury resorts here that are made for occasions like honeymoons and tropical beach weddings. The water is so shallow, so calm and warm, it is also great for kids, so families will be very happy here too.
We test the island for snorkelling. You can simply walk into the water, feel the soft sand under your toes, put your gear on, and off you go, drifting on the water’s surface for hours. Underneath, a parallel universe of colourful fish and corals, all living a happy co-existence in the sheltered lagoon and in the shadows of massive rocks that look as if they have been placed here for special effect.
The locals have set up camp kitchens next to the beach. There is grilled lobster for sale, the smell of barbecued shellfish French-style tingling our noses. Another stall sells fresh coconuts. Why bother with a can of coke when you can have a young coconut filled to the brim with deliciously sweet water? Once finished, the locals break it open and we can finish off the flesh as well.
The Isle of Pines has a good track record of being a paradise destination for thousands of tourists every year. However, for some 3,000 political prisoners of the French regime, this island has probably been the living hell. We walk up the road to the ruins of the penal colony that was once prison to the convicted leaders of the Paris Commune.
While largely overgrown and in a desolate state, some structures are still accessible or can be viewed from a distance. The tall wall surrounding the complex, the dark and damp prison cells, the hot and humid yards. We are only a couple of meters up the road, away from the cooling breeze by the water, and the air is thick and sticky. We picture these men from Europe, who had been deported after years of terror in their home country, facing penal life on this remote island, in this climate, behind bars and with shackles around their ankles. For these men, life on the Isles of Pines must have been hell, no matter how nicely the colours come to life around them.
From all the Pacific islands I visited so far, and it has been a few, the Isle of Pines is definitely the most visually appealing, calmest and friendliest of all. When digging your toes in the sand and having the warm water of the lagoon caress your ankles, looking out over the tall pine trees and watching the sun set, you would be a fool not to believe that paradise is close by.