The Isle of Pines is an island in the Pacific Ocean, found a little more than 48 kilometres (30 miles) from the mainland of New Caledonia, where you will find the better-known capital of Noumea. Situated to the north of New Zealand and east of Australia, it is a popular port of call on cruises departing from these countries.
First sighted by European explorer Captain James Cook in 1774, this archipelago of New Caledonia earned its name because of its similarity to Scotland. The Isle of Pines could not be more different, however. The Isle of Pines might be small, but it contains every element of what we might believe paradise looks like. Spiny pine trees thrive along the perimeter of the island and are a handy reference point to find the coast. That coast is defined by sand as soft and white as talcum powder and crystal clear water. It's also small enough to fully explore during your shore excursion.
Under Napoleon's instruction, New Caledonia was seized by France in 1854 and became a penal colony. The Isle of Pines fought off French colonisation and tourist attractions pay homage to this independent spirit. New Caledonia remains a French overseas territory but power is gradually being handed back to the local population.
Today, the indigenous Melanesian population of fewer than 3,000 has the final say on the way their land is used, ensuring an authentic and undeveloped experience. There are sacred rocks and totems scattered throughout the island, and you're never far from a smile.
You won't find mass tourism. You arrive in a bay that has little more than a small-scale hotel/hostel that doubles as a cafe. The bay is home to a population of sea turtles, and has a long deck over water so clear that you can see them swimming beneath the walkway.
The coral reefs surrounding the Isle of Pines mean ships drop anchor and tender passengers onshore. It is a short journey to the jetty where you will have immediate access to two of the stunning bays of the island: Kuto Bay and Kanumera Bay, with snorkeling available at both.
Your welcome to the Isle of Pines is low-key and authentic. Locals perform tribal dances on the sand shore, and stalls with local goodies are set up for passengers to peruse. Some cruise ships will have a photographer present to take snaps of you against the idyllic backdrop.
A 15-minute walk to the right of the jetty is Kanumera Bay, a postcard-perfect beach with white sand lapped by turquoise water. There is a sacred rock there and many places to lay down a towel and sunbathe. The water is shallow and protected, the ideal place for children and tentative swimmers to cool down.
It is a relaxed island, but you should take the usual precautions you would on a beach at a home. Leave valuables on the ship or have someone look after your items if you go for a swim.
Because most of the activities on the island involve swimming or snorkeling, it is a good idea to come with no more than swimwear, sarong, sunscreen, waterproof camera, towel and a small amount of cash for lunch and gifts.
The Isle of Pines is tiny, a mere 19 kilometres (12 miles) wide, and there's no public transport.
On Foot: Two stunning bays are within walking distance of the jetty where passengers arrive.
By Tour Bus: On arrival, there are tour operators that offer a visit to up to 10 attractions on the island in a mini-bus or bus.
By Bike: The hotels and resorts on the island rent bikes, so head to the nearest property to the jetty, the Kou-Bugny hotel.
By Car: You can rent a car for the day from the nearby Kou-Bugny hotel.
The currency is the Pacific Franc, and it's a good idea to arrive at Isle of Pines with cash. Luxury hotel Le Meridien will accept credit cards if you fancy lunch or a drink there. For currency conversion rates, see www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.
In a nod to their colonial heritage, the locals speak French as well as the local Kanak language. Key English words are understood, but start by speaking French, if possible.
The food in New Caledonia is impressive, and the Isle of Pines is no different. A fusion of French tradition and tropical Pacific ingredients makes for a delicious meal every time.
The Isle of Pines is barely developed, so the options are mainly limited to hotels and resorts that have dining establishments. One exception is Snack Kohu, a milkshake bar and bakery that serves reasonably priced sandwiches. (+687 461 023; open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday)
Bougna is the local specialty. It is intended to be shared between two, but could easily feed six. A sweet and mellow casserole baked for hours under the ground, it contains root vegetables, yams, sweet potato, coconut milk and meat cooked inside banana leaves.
You can support the Melanesian community by buying from vendors' stalls. Shop for sandalwood carvings or wood designs, as well as the essential oil of the fragrant tree. Another item to look out for is the pareo, also known as a sarong.