Isle of Pines and Oro Bay (or Ile Des Pins and Baie d’ Oro)

There are no prizes for guessing why this tiny island in the pacific with a population of just 2000 is called, ‘Isle of Pines’. 

Isle of Pines as seen from the ship.

Isle of Pines as seen from the ship.

The Island is part of French-speaking New Caledonia.  From Noumea (capital), it’s a 20-minute flight or a three-hour ferry ride but most tourism arrives by cruise ship where the ships anchor off-shore and passengers are ferried across in tender boats.

The Island is an absolute unspoiled paradise however, its history is not quite that pleasant.  In the 1860’s it served as the most infamous of the South Pacific’s penal colonies.  Nearly 4,000 political prisoners from France were held under the most severe and brutal conditions.  Most of the prisoners never committed a crime while other prisoners only committed a minor infraction.

The Catholic Church built reluctantly by the convicts and the indigenous.

The Catholic Church built reluctantly by the convicts and the indigenous.

The currency on the Island is Pacific Francs however they do take Australian dollars.

We could have booked a tour through the Oosterdam however I knew we were heading to a very small island so didn’t think a structured tour would be necessary and that turned out to be correct.

The first place we snorkelled on the Isle of Pines.  Very pleasant but not a lot to see in the water.

The first place we snorkelled on the Isle of Pines. Very pleasant but not a lot to see in the water.

We arrived in the waters off the Isle of Pines early one morning.  It was overcast which is fairly typical at this time of year however the weather improved significantly during the day until it was your typical day in paradise.  As I viewed the Island from the balcony of our cabin, all I could see was a tropical paradise.  It’s surrounded by turquoise waters that roll towards brilliantly-white sand then araucaria pines, from which the island derives its name, rise in clusters towards the sky.  Man’s footprint on this island is insignificant as there are no visible structures like buildings, hotels or resorts.

The priest's home that's next to the church.

The priest’s home that’s next to the church.

A few days before Christmas a friend found out we would be visiting the Isle of Pines and she said, ‘You must absolutely go to ‘this place’.  I can’t remember the name of it but you must go there’, and gave me some very vague directions of where we might find ‘the place’.  ‘When you get off the ship just go up the beach until you see a man in a shed and he’ll take you’.  However, when we came across on tender boats there was no beach to be seen and definitely no shed.  That’s because there are two places where cruise ships anchor and our ship had anchored at Kuto Bay (Baie de Kuto) which is on the other side of the Island to Oro Bay.

Slightly confused, I found the tour guide from the ship standing in a sweat at the end of the jetty and asked him where the place is that has the best snorkelling.  With a wave of his hand he pointed to a spot further up the beach and dismissed me.  We hiked up there with our towels and sunscreen and snorkels and masks and flippers and reef shoes only to find that not only was it crowded with hundreds of others from the ship but that there was absolutely nothing of interest to see in the water at all.  What the shore tour guide expected us to see remains a mystery.

Just hanging off the sign pointing us in the direction of Oro Bay.

Just hanging off the sign pointing us in the direction of Oro Bay.

I knew I couldn’t be in the spot my friend had told me about but had no idea of the name of the place we needed to find.  Collecting up all our belongings we hiked back down the beach and I found a taxi driver who could tell me his name was ‘Willie’ but that was about the extent of his English.  ‘Snorkel?’ I asked.

‘Oui’.

‘We go with you?’

‘Oui.  Oro Bay’.  It was that simple.

 

Trees are good for climbing.

Good climbing trees.

There is one road around the island and being a French island, the cars are lefthand drive and they drive on the other side of the road.  We got into Willie’s people-mover that was air-conditioned and began driving around the island.  It appears seat belts and speed limits are merely a suggestion.  Along the way we passed cows, local villages, lots of mango trees laden with fruit and plenty of jungle. 

Trekking to Oro Bay.

Trekking to Oro Bay.

 

Walking along the track that leads to Oro Bay

Walking along the track that leads to Oro Bay

Around 20-minutes later Willie dropped us off at a small clearing where there was what looked like a shack but it was a very casual restaurant jutting out over the water.

The casual restaurant close to Oro Bay.

The casual restaurant close to Oro Bay.

He pointed to where we needed to go saying, ‘Oro Bay’ and we understood we had to wade through the water and once on the other side we would have to walk for about 10 minutes before we arrived at Oro Bay.  We sat down to put on our reef shoes but were careful not to sit under a coconut palm because many people have been killed by a falling coconut; it’s like being hit by a falling brick.

Oro Bay

Oro Bay

 

Paradise

Paradise

Shoes on, we waded into the warm blue water, lifted our bags over our heads and forged forward.  (The depth of the water to take you to Oro Bay varies upon the tide).

Water so clear, clean and warm.

Water so clear, clean and warm.

The walk isn’t challenging but clearly you do get wet, however, in the heat of their sticky summer, a cool wade is very welcoming.  It took about 20 minutes for us to arrive at Oro Bay and as soon as we set eyes on this incredible pool of blue water surrounded by the pine trees, we knew it was well worth the journey.

A stunning pool of transparent water

A stunning pool of transparent water

Transparent water.

Transparent water.

Oro Bay (Baie d’ Oro) is an absolute ‘must-see’ destination and I do hope you get to experience it just once in your lifetime.  It would have to be one of the most beautiful and stunning natural sites I have ever seen in my life.  It is surrounded by dense vegetation with much of it being the Island’s incredible pine trees, the sand is the whitest I have ever seen and the water the most serene shade of turquoise.

Chillin' at Oro Bay.

Chillin’ at Oro Bay.

We dumped our belongings and grabbed our flippers, snorkels and masks.  If you don’t have your own (or you forget to pack them!) you can hire them.  Don’t hire them from the first place you see when you get off the jetty at Kuto Bay as they were charging AUS$20.00 per snorkel and mask and extra for flippers.  About 50 metres further along the track there is a shop that hires out snorkelling equipment for AUS$15.00 and the gear looks better quality.

The unusual pine trees.

The unusual pine trees.

The water at Oro Bay is the clearest I had ever snorkelled in.  It is like looking through the cleanest fish tank.  You can definitely see from the surface all the way to the white sandy bottom.

A grandmother looks after her granddaughter while making baskets with the flax at Oro Bay.

A grandmother looks after her granddaughter while making baskets with the flax at Oro Bay.

However, if you have been snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, you will not find the coral to be as vibrant or as interesting.  What we did see was gorgeous but not stunning.  We saw plenty of ‘Nemo’ fish and zebra fish and other fish of many different kinds and in terms of coral we saw clams in a range of colours and many other beautiful types of coral.

Back at the beach with the ship in the background.

Back at the beach with the ship in the background.

We snorkelled for a couple of hours, did some sun-bathing, wandered around the edges of the bay seeing locals making baskets and others cooking food over an open-fire.  It’s a very special place.  Then it was time to put on the reef shoes and head back to where Willie was waiting for us.  He then drove us around the island showing us some of the sites.

The beach where there is a restaurant and bar.

The beach where there is a restaurant and bar.

Once back at Kuto Bay, we paid Willie AUS$100.00 for a couple of hours of his time.  We bought a late lunch from some of the local stalls then had another swim in turquoise waters before heading back to the ship.

Isle of Pines, I will miss you!  And I hope to be back before too long.

And as the ship cruised away, there was a stunning sunset.

And as the ship cruised away, there was a stunning sunset.

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Comments

  1. This is my first time hearing about Oro Bay – it is simply gorgeous, you are right- the water is so clear! Definitely the clearest I, too, have seen!
    Thanks so much for sharing this beautiful spot with us!

  2. It is so nice to watch all these summer photographs :) you all seem so beautiful. Should be amazing place. Thank you dear Charlie, love, nia

  3. Welcome home!!! This is just one of those rude drive through comments…as I’m now on vacation with some girlfriends in Florida! Will catch up with you next week !!!! xo

  4. What a gorgeous place!

  5. What a wonderful spot.

  6. Beautiful and serene. Thanks for taking me to this island on yet another frigid cold Minnesota day, although Sunday proved balmy at nearly 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

    We have lots of pine trees in northern Minnesota. They seem so out of place in the setting you photographed.

  7. Wow! Those pines look a little odd there! Mine are covered with snow! ;) What a lovely vacation spot! Glad you had a nice vacation. I would love to go to a place like that some day! Blessings…

  8. What a gorgeous destination! It was wonderful to sit here and pretend I was there with you soaking up the sun…while I look out my office window at a foot of snow. ;)

  9. It looks so warm there.

  10. Oh this place looks absolutely beautiful and unspoiled, thanks for sharing your day on and around this special isle…it’s now on my list!

  11. Absolutely stunning. And I love your sense of adventure. To keep moving until you know you are in the right place. Worth your while it seems.

  12. That really does look gorgeous Charlie and well worth your preserverance, thanks for sharing it with us. Is $100 a lot for the guide for a couple of hours? Just curious.

    • Hi Eva. Nothing in New Caledonia is cheap. The local taxi drivers also operate as tour guides and there’s no meter-system in the cab to define how much you should pay, you just have to negotiate. He dropped us off which was about a 20-minute ride, then he drove back, then came back to get us, then he drove us around the island before taking us back to Kuto Bay. $100 might seem a lot but the people are poor and have very few opportunities to make money. Also, the tour organised through the ship would have cost us a lot more by far.

  13. Gorgeous scenery, thanks for taking us along on your trip.

  14. What paradise Charlie! It always amuses me that people can go to such a beautiful place and not explore at all just go where they’re told. You guys sure know how to make the most of it!

  15. What amazingly clear water! Just the way I like it- no sharks can sneak up on me that way :)

  16. Heaven on earth!

  17. What a stunning destination! you all look so happy and rested. And I’ll remember that about falling coconuts. It would be ironic as I love coconut so much :P

  18. What a great place to hang out for a while! Love the solitude with amenities. More great pics!

  19. Mmmmm…. Are we there yet?!!!!!…. So beautiful I want to book a trip now. Nothing like being OTT relaxed :) Who did you cruise with ? Would you recommend or simply fly there…

    • Hi Suzanne, I cruised there with Holland America’s MS Oosterdam. Here’s some info on it I posted a few days ago… http://hotlyspiced.com/ms-oosterdam-pacific-treasures-cruise/

      You can get there either by cruise ship or by getting the ferry from Noumea but as the ferry takes three hours, a lot of your day would be taken up with travelling so it’s probably better to go with a cruise ship so you can spend a day there. I don’t think there’s much in the way of accommodation on the Island. We loved our cruise and standby… I have a lot of posts coming up that will tell all!

  20. And there’s me thinking I’d head to the shade under a coconut tree….
    Loving these sunny photos at the moment – I’m sitting here with a hot water bottle on my lap.

  21. What a beautiful escape, I’m glad you persisted and found Oro Bay. It might not have many exotic fish but it is so secluded and pristine, the perfect snorkeling spot I think! You had a great day for photo ops too, these are the best days for making memories, aren’t they? xx

  22. I’ve never heard of it but it looks like so much fun. Thanks for sharing this new location Charlie.

  23. Such beautiful images!
    I love the transparent water shots you posted, gorgeous… and isn’t the water just so warm, like taking a bath. I loved my cruise. I hope you did too.

  24. Am so envious of your sunshine filledl trip!

  25. What an amazing place. I am so glad you found it! Definitely a once in a lifetime, can’t miss experience.

  26. Oooh the beauty!

  27. Thanks for the tip on sitting under coconut trees. I will remember that when I am there. Good on you for making the effort to see it. It looks well and truly worth it.
    Carolyn

  28. How gorgeous! Good for you for figuring it all out and moving around the island until you found the serenity and peace of Oro Bay. I wouldn’t want to leave! I never thought about the peril of a coconut tree, but of course they could be deadly! This really must have been a magical day for you and the family. Wonderful photos, Charlie! Lots of smiling faces. :-) ox

  29. Gorgeous! And I’m so glad you were finally able to find Oro Bay. It looks like a magical place. What a great trip.

  30. Some amazing shots you took here Charlie! I didn’t know that Isles of Pines was a French speaking island I think long long ago a teacher back in High school from that area that’s why he could speak French but we didn’t understand why for such a long time :)

    I also like that picture of the grandma making the baskets!

  31. This is a PERFECT shore trip while on a cruise. That’s exactly what we would have done. I’m so ready for a holiday.

  32. how cool and love those trees

  33. That looks like a wonderful wonderful place! Wow!

  34. I went to the Isle of Pines a few years back with the family too. Like you, I found it stunning. It was my favourite place on our cruise to Vanuatu and New Caledonia. There was something very special about it.

  35. Absolutely lovely beach and a great place to snorkel.

  36. Oh my God – look at those beaches… and that transparent water? What an amazing place, I’ve never heard of it before at all. How lucky you were to go there – so jealous!

  37. That clear water is amazing!! I would love to walk barefoot on that beach!

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