Lifou, New Caledonia

Lifou Island or Drehu in the local language is the largest, most populous and most important island of the Loyalty Islands, in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France.. First discovered by the Frenchman Dumont d’Urville in 1857, it was soon visited by whalers and traders Lifou and became a destination for Protestant and Catholic Missionaries out to save the local populations souls. In 1864 the islands were annexed by France who in turn established it as an Aboriginal Reserve as it was not believed suitable for extensive colonialization.

Irregular in shape, Lifou Island is 81 km long and 16 to 24 km wide. The island is flat with no hills or rivers, but has abundant vegetation, dense interior jungles, fertile soils, terraced cliffs and breath taking reefs and corals. Lifou Island is a former coral atoll that was part of a submerged volcano. Nearly 2 million years ago, the island was uplifted to its present shape and elevation, today it sits at a mere 60m above sea level at its highest point. Since there are no rivers on Lifou, the water comes from rain that seeps through the calcareous soil and forms freshwater ponds.

The term Kanak is used for natives of the islands and their native language of the island is Drehu, with people descending from Melanesians and Polynesians. With a total of 19 different tribes inhabiting the three Loyalty Islands, six of which are on Lifou.

The Catholic missionaries, who came to spread the Gospel to Lifou Island, landed at Easo in April 1858. In the Drehu language, “Easo” means “smoking fire”: from 1860 till 1870, whalers lit fires there to dismember the whales and melt their fat down to make oil. In 1858, on the promontory overlooking Santal and Jinek Bays, the missionaries built a little chapel, Notre-Dame de Lourdes, which is celebrated each year on 8 December.

We anchored in the bay of Lifou. After a short clearance by the local authorities into New Caledonia and an early lunch we started our Zodiac disembarkation at 12:30 for a short dance presentation near the pier of Lifou. The ladies in the dance were lifeless and looked thoroughly bored - it was not a good omen for what was to follow on our island tour.

After this presentation we started our Lifou tour. This was a long 4 or 5 hour trip, which could have been accomplished more easily in half an hour on a shorter journey. We drove miles to see a vanilla plantation, which turned out to be a touristy bit of jungle where were harrassed and shouted at by local guides, and finally given a minute quantity of cold vanilla coffee in paper cups. We drove on, and stopped at a non-descript view of some cliffs, but were not given time to walk down to the sea. Then we drove to an old traditional Melanesian Village named Hnathalo, the island is full of such traditional huts. Our last stop was the white Luecila beach with white coral sand, where we were plonked for 45 minutes with nothing to do (no swimming costumes or towels with us)- the most memorable thing being the beach house with a plastic straw roof (photo botton left - I jest not, the roof is plastic). I carry away a memory of New Caledonia as being a dirty island with lots of litter, and very few redeeming features - the pig (photo bottom row) was perhaps the nicest thing we saw).

Click on any of the small photos to get a larger version of that photo


The whole thing was a disaster, and the Expedition Leader afterwards apologised, but one bad day out of the many memorable ones we had on this expedition was, I felt, a small price to pay

There was a barbeque onboard that evening, which also turned out to be a disaster as well from our point of view. Dinner service was billed from 7pm to 9pm, we arrived at 8.20. There was nowhere to sit, and nobody to find seating - the staff were getting ready for a presentation which had not been billed. The food was cold, and most of it had run out - not what one expects from a Silversea ship of this class. Then they turned on overloud dance music, so we just had a glass of wine and went to bed. No doubt some of the punters liked both the barbeque and the day's excursions, but both events to me represented more Carnival Cruises approach to cruising, and not what I expected from Silversea.

So all in all it was a day I was happy to forget, though the pig was very nice for a chat.

On to Norfolk Island

South Seas Holiday