Behind Lifou's idyllic facade lies adventure, discovers Belinda Merhab
Standing in a gloomy cave with a burly seven-foot-tall man who speaks no English, I'm confused and nervous as to why he keeps pointing at me, before emphatically waving his finger at a large black hole.
He signals for me to put my can of beer down on a rock and lifts the hem of his T-shirt - indicating I remove my dress, I think?
My skills of deduction tell me he wants me to jump into the abyss. Huh?
I've arrived at Lifou having only learned the island's name an hour before stepping on to its dock.
A tropical cyclone near Vanuatu had disrupted the itinerary of my cruise ship holiday, forcing us to re-route to the islands of New Caledonia - not that I was complaining.
Like every other island I'd visited during the week, Lifou was stunning.
Glistening turquoise water, powdery-white sand and coconut trees hanging overhead ensure every amateur click of a camera captures a postcard-worthy glimpse of paradise.
Beautiful. But, after a while, kinda boring.
Spotting a drink stand run by locals, I headed over to get some advice on where to go and what to do. My presence didn't even warrant the batting of an eyelid as I approached the six or seven locals reclined in deckchairs, who appeared not even remotely concerned with selling drinks - or anything, for that matter.
After ordering a hollow coconut full of kava and a couple of beers for the road, I was told there was a good snorkelling spot to be found up the hill. The kava, an intoxicating drink made from the roots of a shrub, looked like muddy water (and tasted like it, too).
I sculled it and set off up the hill.
At the top, I was met by a small crude sign that said "snorkelling", with an arrow pointing left, and "cave" with an arrow pointing right.
I turned right, following similar signs until I was met by two men who instructed me to pay an entry fee before pointing towards a wooden tiki archway leading into rainforest.
A man and his teenage daughter passing in the opposite direction bound toward me, dripping wet and panting with excitement. "Make sure you jump!" The man blurted.
"It's a leap of faith, but it's worth it," he said. "You'll see when you get there."
I continued along the path - down steep staircases through dark crevices and back again into the sunlight streaming through the rainforest canopy - when a stocky local man, who appeared to be a guide, offered me his hand.
Armed with a torch and plenty of hand gestures to overcome the language barrier, he led me through a maze of moss-covered tree roots and a series of narrow walkways between huge boulders, until we arrived at a pitch-black cave.
As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I began to make out its characteristics.
There was a small window at the top, some rocks to the right and, to the left, a big dark abyss.
The guide pointed at the hole, then back at me, then back at the hole.
He shone his torch to show me that it was full of water.
I took off my dress, walked towards the edge and stared at the darkness with a nervous, anxious feeling that had my neck twitching and my heart racing.
There was no telling what rocks, objects or creatures were in there - and God knows where you'd get medical attention if something went wrong.
I pinched my nose, bent my knees and took the leap of faith.
The water was cool, fresh, amazing.
"It's beautiful!" I yell at my guide.
He smiles. He gets it.
Getting there: By ship: Carnival Cruise's Spirit; Princess Cruise's Sea Princess; and P&O's Pacific Pearl port at Lifou. By air: Air Caledonie has regular flights from Noumea to Lifou.
- TimeOut / AAP