New Caledonia: Vive la Pacifique

By Julia Carlisle

Language is no barrier where enjoyment is a universal concept, writes Julia Carlisle.

The Warriors' Leap on the island of Mare, New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands. Photo / Supplied
The Warriors' Leap on the island of Mare, New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands. Photo / Supplied

I'm sitting on a coconut tree branch looking over the white sand and tropical blue waters. But what really makes me smile in this paradise is watching my two kids frolicking in the water with a couple of local kids from the island.

The Carnival Spirit has docked at Mare, one of New Caledonia's many tropical islands, and so we've left the ship's opulence and our well-maintained cabin for a day.

After a 20-minute mini-bus ride, we've been abandoned on this strip of paradise, and it's utterly magical.

My daughter and son look like little tourists slapped with sunscreen and wearing bright rashies, while the local kids have beautiful dark skin and big smiles.

It doesn't take long for new friendships to form and my kids introduce me to their new friends Rene and Victor. The fact my kids have French grandparents helps the all-important sandcastle building conversation.

But as the other kids from the ship join in the beach fun of collecting coconut shells to add to the castle, it's easy to see kids don't need to speak the same language.

Our day on Mare is one of the four days of our nine-day Carnival Spirit cruise that we can get off and explore New Caledonia.

We've already been to Isle de Pines, Lifou and the capital Noumea.

In New Caledonia, the indigenous people are known as the Kanaks. They are people very proud of their land and heritage and are happy to share it with the tourists.

On every island locals set up makeshift markets: buy hand-made products, wooden crafts, plenty of tasty food, or just unwind with a massage while lying on a palm-leaf mat (about $15 for 30 minutes).

It's the sort of tourism that feels environmentally sustainable. Thousands of tourists traipse around the pristine island, but only between about 8am and 4pm.

Hopefully, it's a way to avoid building hotel and bar strips but keep the tourism dollar coming.

As soon as we hop off the safety boats, the smell of a beach barbecue lures us in. My husband and I order a "brochette" (chicken on a skewer) and a cold "biere", sit back and soak up paradise while the meat cooks on the open flame.

The day is spent lying under a palm tree, with sporadic ventures into the tropical water to snorkel with the kids.

Being lost on Mare for a day is brilliant. We are truly sad to leave but Rene's dad has sold out of brochettes and beer, and the sandcastles have been flattened.

We return to our cruise ship and don't want to wash our towels, still carrying the wonderful smell of the barbecue smoke.

It's a day that won't be forgotten.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Aircalin, New Caledonia' international carrier, has four departures a week, Noumea ex Auckland, with connections to Mare. Carnival Spirit cruises to the Pacific Islands throughout the year.

Further information: See newcaledonia.co.nz.

The writer was a guest of Carnival Cruise Lines.

- AAP

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