I am a amateur freelance writer from Sydney. My passion is Aboriginal history, Australia and its unusual places. My aim is to share my knowledge to better your experience. Thank you
Published May 7th 2013
Experience the Beauty of Isle of Pines
Isle of Pines is an island sighted by Captain Cook in 1774 on his second trip to New Zealand, and yes it got its name because of pine trees. In the 1840's Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived and sandalwood was the selling point of Isle of Pines with the ships. In 1853 the French ruled.
Isle of Pines is known for its famous Geckos, the Crested Gecko (Rhacodactylus cilatus) and the world's largest gecko (Rhacondactylus leachianus), as well as skunks. Unfortunately I didn't see any geckos or skinks.
Kuto Beach is lined with Columnar pine trees. Here you can taste some local produce, or visit local markets, sit on the pristine beaches, or have a swim. What more can you ask for?
At Kanumera Bay you can snorkel, swim or canoe, around La Rocherma. These limestone caves found in the water along the base of La Rocher, are nothing less than beautiful. The marine life, fish and turtles, roam the area. The rich fertile minerals allow this rock to flourish with overgrown foliage, with a sand bar separating it from the shore. The beaches of La Rocher are some on the most photographed in the world.
La Rocher or Sacred Rock, has coral snakes living in and around it so you need to be aware of this when snorkeling. The rock is sacred to the native Kunies who request that you do not climb or enter the Rock area. They have no problems with the water, but not land. The locals are known to leave you surprises in the sand, beautifully carved marine life sandcastles. What a treat.
I headed inland on a tour past the banyan trees with their twisted branches finding sunlight. With their flat-topped canopies, they are the most unusually shaped trees I have ever seen. I felt like I was in another world.
We headed inland past the hospital and residential areas. I was impressed witht he inspiring architecture of Vao's Lady of Assumption Catholic Church. Photos of its impeccable, precise wood carved interior, are the most sought after. The gardens and grounds area is fenced with wooden stakes around the Presbytery. It is primitive yet effective, matching the surroundings.
The primary school sits on a large parcel of land and the high school was massive. Sports fields were every where you looked. Soccer is this main sport and, for a population of around 2000, sports seem to be the main activities.
St Maurice Bay Monument on the peninsula is a large stone monument of Jesus, with coral, rock designs and wildflowers around the base, and more of the wooden stake fences that surround the island. It has impressive, spectacular views and the coral base was intriguing. I wanted 1-2 hrs to sit and just soak in the view. The shore line of the bay and the vibrant blue ocean leave a tourist speechless. The residents live in standard homes and some are more traditional with their huts.
St Josephs Bay is a fishing village displaying tribal boats with modern fishing nets. Huts are scattered along the coast line here and inland as well. The native Kunies live here and keep tribal customs alive with their wood carved canoes, and fishing traditions. All coastal villages are delightful with gorgeous clean, pristine water, so vibrant in colour.
A smaller church and attractively adorned cemetery are along the road to Queens Cave.
You can also visit Queens Cave (Grotte d'Ouatchia / Ouatchia Cave). You will need a tour guide, permission to enter and a token or gift. This cave is sacred to the Kunies and is run by locals. Souvenirs, for approximately $10, are on sale. Bring a torch, camera and some shoes that will get muddy.
Walk down the rainforest track with ferns, vines, and red vibrant flowers. It's a magical, breathtaking walk, a beautiful area of Isle of Pines. The leaves on the vine are huge and such tall trees with thick trunks are along the track. You feel you could be in dinosaur era. If you are into fauna, you will love this place. Walk about 10 minutes and you will see the caves, with trees growing around them and holes eroded by the elements that allow rays of sunshine in so the limestone shines. This is a volcanic area, so the soil is rich here and a luscious growth of ferns, smack bang right in the middle of open dirt, can lead to a few tricks being played on unsuspecting trekkers. This is just the beginning. If you are impressed so far, that's nothing. Follow the creek over a log bridge and you will be in awe. Welcome to Queens Cave.
Gigantic stalactites and stalagmites growing from the ceiling thick and round, a must photo stop. The locals use Queens Cave for prayer and have a Virgin Mary statue in the cliff wall. This cave was the BEST, my highlight of Isle of Pines. I wish I could have done more. I believe it opens up into a glorious breathtaking underground world. We didn't have a torch so this is only what others spoke about coming down the trail.
Apparently Queen Hortense was hidden in Queens Cave in 1883 and could see the boats and people looking for her. She was very happy here the locals say, and made no attempt to leave. The ground is slippery with thick of brown, mud. I could have spent 3 hours here easily, but I was on a tour and so that will have to wait for my next trip to Isle of Pines.
Bagne Ruins is a prison and cemetery. Prisoners from Paris were sentenced to Bagne Colony and about 3,000 political deportees, who built the prison, are buried here. Bagne Prison, built in 1818 is just a ruin now and starting to be over run with vines and ferns. You can enter a few sections but beware, slabs of concrete can fall with no warning. I believe about ½ hour to 1 hour here would be sufficient. There are ruins and tracks everywhere around the prison. We entered 4 ruins here,
You can also visit Peak Nga, which has a 360 degree view of the Isle of Pines, or Oro Bay natural pool or a vanilla plantation in Gadji Bay. Unfortunately lack of time didn't permit me to explore these areas.
We got a taxi, which cost $30 for 2 hours and 6 stops. I felt like I had toured the island, and still had time for a swim and beach walk. But I now feel I haven't even touched the surface of this vast isle. I felt like everywhere I went I was taken to a different dimension of the Isle. I would love to spend a few days on Isle of Pines, which is one of the most photographed areas in the South Pacific.