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Pined paradise

The Isle of Pines, or Ile des Pins as it’s known locally, is arguably the shining jewel of New Caledonia, a French territory in the Pacific located just a few hours from Australia.

As the name – bestowed on the island by explorer Captain James Cook – suggests; deep green, native Columnar pine trees are generously spread across the island, which, when juxtaposed with clear blue water and white sandy beaches, creates a visually peculiar yet beautiful tropical island experience.

I arrive after a day in the country’s capital of Nouméa and the remoteness is palpable from the moment of the plane’s descent onto the island. As we’re touching down in the evening, only the sight of a lone light amongst the pitch-black reassures me (and my butterfly-ridden stomach) that there is indeed land below.

When one takes into account that the Isle of Pines is just a 20-minute commercial flight from Nouméa’s Magenta domestic airport, it’s surprising how disconnected the island feels from the capital which, while not a thriving concrete jungle, is certainly more bustling than this secluded paradise, with its small population of predominantly indigenous Kanak people (Isle of Pines remains an indigenous reserve, protected by the tribal system); and seemingly untouched landscapes.

Le Meridien Isle of Pines, my accommodation for my visit to the island, is the most luxurious option and is set on the picturesque shores of Oro Bay. The property, opened in 1998, recently underwent a renovation and consists of only 48 rooms and suites, which are spread around the property’s 4.5 hectares of dense, tropical vegetation.

 


Deluxe Room at Le Meridien Ile des Pins

 

The central pavilion acts as the base of the resort, housing the reception, guest lounge with fireplace, bar, restaurant, billiards rooms and library. It is warm and inviting, with large, open spaces; a high, thatched roof; and an island resort-style bar separating the lobby with the restaurant, La Pirogue.

I arrive just in time for a fresh cocktail, which helps to shift me into holiday-mode. The open-air restaurant La Pirogue serves French/Melanesian-inspired cuisine, with speciality products from New Caledonia used where available. The menu includes local Melanesian specialities like Bounga, which consists of meat and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves and stewed in coconut milk; and Isle of Pines escargot (snails), stuffed with parsley and garlic butter. Fish and shellfish are also emphasised, which is good news for seafood lovers (like me).

I opt for the tuna tataki to start, which is served with lobster mayonnaise and kaffir lime. My main course is a prawn risotto with sun-dried tomatoes, served in a lobster bisque (the start of a heavily lobster-themed culinary experience during my time in the Isle of Pines).

My expectations of the food are exceeded; the tataki is fresh and tasty, and the risotto is creamy and full of flavour with big, succulent prawns. Dining in a remote location can sometimes mean sacrificing a high-quality gastronomic experience, but mine saw quite the opposite – it seems the island makes the most of its natural culinary riches, which, when coupled with a French influence, lends to a delightful dining experience.

 


Tuna tataki served in La Pirogue restaurant | Belinda Craigie

 

But it’s not just the creature comforts that make Le Meridien a great option for luxury travellers visiting the Isle of Pines. The resort offers all the usual five-star amenities that enable a carefree flop-and-drop holiday – a fine-dining restaurant, massage and spa services, infinity swimming pool – but also encourages guests to explore the stunning natural surrounds. Just a five-minute walk from the property is a natural pool, which guests can adventure to either by foot, or by hiring a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or pedalo. Snorkel gear is also available for viewing the area’s abundant marine life, whether it be in the natural pool or by snorkelling in Oro Bay.

For those wanting to go further afield, the resort can organise activities such as boat, scuba and snorkelling excursions. I embark on a Nokanhui Atoll and Moro Island escape, where we explore white islets, search for turtles and enjoy a Melanesian-style lunch on a small, remote island.

During lunch, a couple at our table informs us they’ve travelled here from Germany – a good 28 hours travelling time. When I enquire as to why they chose New Caledonia, one of them quite candidly informs me that they decided to spend their holiday exploring the most beautiful place on earth. It’s clear from the wide smiles on their faces that they’ve found it in the Isle of Pines.

 


Serene and secluded at Le Meridien Ile des Pins

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