OUR TRIP to Mare began with something of a baggage transportation crisis. Eight people, their luggage and a rather rotund tour guide simply will not fit into a mini bus, no matter how hard you shove.
But these are not called the Loyalty Islands for nothing. A quick call to a nearby relative with a dilapidated old van and the problem is solved. As we soon come to realise, our aforementioned guide is a man with considerable influence in these parts.
Jean-Claude Enoka is the head of his tribe, a pastor at the church and can allegedly bake a delicious five-tier wedding cake when called upon to do so. But today he’s a tour guide, showing us around Mare, one of the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia.
We only have a day to explore this island of only 10,000 people but thanks to Jean-Claude, we take in all the highlights. There’s the Saut du guerrier or ‘Warrior Jump’ where a local miscreant fled from his pursuers by leaping 30 metres into the sea. We stop at a picturesque Catholic church, which is more than 100 years old, and Turtle Bay, one of the many idyllic beaches and swimming spots dotted around the island. We do a very quick drive past of Yedjele Beach, which is throbbing with cruise passengers recently unloaded from a Carnival cruise ship, buying cheap ($5) beer and souvenirs from the local hawkers who have arrived to service the masses.
We spy two teams of brightly dressed ladies deep into the second innings of a cricket match and feed bread to the fish at the Natural Aquarium, but it’s Le trou de Bone (the Bone Hole) that really steals the show. Put simply, it’s a massive trench in the ground: no-one knows how it was formed or even how deep it is. As natural wonders go, it’s right up there.
After a morning spent exploring, we crave some local cuisine and Jean-Claude takes us to a restaurant called Waterloo. It’s as rustic as you can get – and absolutely delightful. Large plates of seafood are quickly demolished before the piece de resistance arrives in the form of a steaming, aromatic pile of banana leaves. This is bougna, a local favourite of yams and chicken cooked in coconut milk. The only thing tastier than this is the fresh fruit which follows, which you suspect has just been picked off the trees surrounding the restaurant.
WHERE TO STAY
The three-star Nengone Village Hotel is the only hotel on the island (home stays are available and there’s basic, backpacker-style accommodation at Waterloo). It has a pool overlooking both the ocean and the beach and the bungalow-style rooms are clean, modern and comfortable. Dining is a highlight – I had a beef dish cooked in paprika which was simple delicious and the coconut ice cream was some of the best I’ve ever had.
Subscription successful! Thank you for subscribing.