Those seeking a glimpse into undiminished South Pacific tradition should consider a vacation in the Loyalty Islands. There, life is organized around the local tribes, and the storied customs of the Kanak culture are thriving.
One of three main regions of the French territory of New Caledonia, the Loyalty Islands are located approximately 62 miles away from the mainland. The area consists of six inhabited islands, in three main communes, including Lifou, Maré, Tiga, Ouvéa, Mouli, and Faiava, as well as several smaller, uninhabited islands and islets. The combined land area of the Loyalty Islands is 765 square miles with nearly 20,000 inhabitants residing permanently in the region. For the most part, locals are of mixed Melanesian and Polynesian ancestry, with a small European minority.
Lifou, also called Drehu in the local language, is the largest island of the Loyalty archipelago with an area equivalent to that of Martinique. The coast is cut by deep bays, alternating with long white sandy beaches, cliffs, and trenches. The interior is covered with dense rainforests.
Officially discovered in 1827, Lifou was rapidly taken over by Catholic and Protestant missionaries who brought an oppressive atmosphere to the island in their struggle to gain influence over the locals. In 1864, the Loyalty Islands were annexed by France, and were incorporated as an Aboriginal reserve, a standing that shaped the final history of the archipelago and the uniqueness of the Loyalty Islands. Many say that the discovery of the spirit of Loyalty begins at Lifou.
The southernmost and highest of the Loyalty Islands is Maré, also called Nengone in the local language. The island has a wild beauty, with its deep cut seashore cliffs, somber forests and coves of white sand. The central plain, an old lagoon, is pierced by numerous caves and natural pools.
Renowned for its annual Avocado Festival, or Fête de l’avocat, Maré is the garden island of New Caledonia. Due to the influence of British sailors and missionaries, there is a strong presence of English accents in the native Nengone language. The Mareans have always been known to warmly incorporate newcomers into their community, thanks to their open mindedness and kind-tempered personalities.
Ouvéa is the third sub region of the Loyalty Islands, and one of the most beautiful atolls in the Pacific. Boasting a white sandy beach that stretches for 25 km, caressed by breathtaking clear turquoise water, the island is crossed from north to south by a single road. In the 1970s, Ouvéa inherited the nickname, “the island closest to paradise” from Katsura Morimura, a young Japanese writer who came to visit the island.
The Ouvéa region is made up of Ouvéa Island, the smaller Mouli Island and Faiava Island, and several islets around these three islands. All these lie among the Loyalty Islands, to the northeast of New Caledonia’s mainland. The two native languages of Ouvéa are the Melanesian Iaai and the Polynesian Faga Uvea, the only Polynesian language that has taken root in New Caledonia. Speakers of Faga Uvea have fully integrated into the Kanak society, and consider themselves Kanak.