Beyond the warm South Pacific welcome and the breezy “South of France” vibe, there’s another world that awaits discovery when you’ve made the lengthy trip to New Caledonia. It’s a world that you really need to borrow from if you’re feeling weary or fazed by the speed of everyday life. To access this place of refuge, you’re going to have to get wet… but then, doesn't every painter get wet when he dives into a palette of colours so deep and delicious that he's covered in it by the time he’s ready to step back and admire his work?
If you’ve never seen yourself as an artist, then here is your chance: the under water world off New Caledonia will bring out your inner artist and have you hooked on snorkelling -- or diving, for the rest of your life. You’ll be tempted to film underwater or take photos, and you’ll be tempted to re-live the joy of swimming among coral reefs teeming with life again and again.
Here, in the tropical lagoons off the South Pacific island of New Caledonia, a variety of coral reef ecosystems from mangroves to seagrass beds and fringing reefs, thrives as nature intended. These high-diversity marine waters are home to the second longest double barrier reef in the world, reaching a length of 1,500 kilometers. The countless coral and fish species which make up each type of ecosystem create immense natural beauty and the entire area, known as the "Natural Park of the Coral Sea”, is protected as a regional center of endemism in the South Pacific.
Now that you’ve decided to become the one who “paints”, grab your gear and find the following highlights in these pristine waters:
Lifou's crystal-clear, fish-rich waters -- sea life here is very diverse and colourful withrays, starfishes and reef sharks…it's a paradise for divers and snorkelers. Note that Lifou is located within the Loyalty Islands group off the east coast of New Caledonia. These islands are made up entirely of coral!
In the World Heritage lagoon — the largest in the world — where depths average 20 metres, you’ll find the fringing reefs and “patates de corail” (flat coral beds) that encourage some 2,000 different species of fish, 350 corals and 20,000 invertebrates to come together and play in shallow waters… so shallow that it’s all easily accessible with a simple snorkel and mask.
Oro Bay on the Isle of Pines is home to a beautiful natural swimming pool. “Eavenly" is how one would describe this perfectly formed swimming hole on the famous Isle of Pines. Filled with tropical fish which you can watch with snorkel and mask, this natural basin cut out of the coral, is fringed with the native pines which give this island its name.
In the many passes outside the lagoon, you may be lucky enough to spot reef sharks, manta rays or eagle rays. Turtles abound in the area and can be spotted in large numbers around the islets. New Caledonia also has its own species of nautilus, the "bellybutton nautilus — a sea creature that has not evolved much during the past 500 million years.
There are countless ways to enjoy nature’s artistry off the islands of New Caledonia, but my advice is to pack your curiosity along with your underwater camera and spend at least two weeks enjoying the area by boat. Call in a Dive Guide to get some expert assistance on the days that you go snorkelling or diving. Someone like Sebastien Preuss from “Odyssey" — who has supplied all the wonderful images from my hosted trip to the area in May of 2018.
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