THE LOYALTY ISLANDS
The archipelago of the Loyalty Islands lies 100 kilometres east of mainland New Caledonia, separated by a 2,500 metre deep strait. With a total area of 2,500 square kilometres, the Loyalty Islands consist of four inhabited raised coral atolls - Lifou, Mare, Ouvea and Tiga.
The Loyalty Islands were so named toward the end of the 18th century by the British merchant ships that discovered these islands and found these people of dual Melanesian and Polynesian heritage to be 'honest and agreeable'.
Aside from their legendary friendliness to visitors, the islanders have preserved intact their clans, customs, and natural and cultural history.
1842 map of the Loyalty Islands by Andrew Cheyne
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Today the Loyalty Islands offer visitors a pure South Pacific experience with diverse sites of great natural beauty from coconut palms lining curved white sandy beaches, to unspoilt marine depths, plunging cliffs and dense forests.
The islands offer a multitude of leisure activities including scuba diving, pleasure boating, deep sea fishing, excursions, nature walks, and cross-country biking. All tourist facilities are available including car hire, guided tours, banks, post office and medical dispensaries.
Formerly called Drehu, at 1,150 square kilometres, Lifou is the largest and most varied of the islands. Located on the shores of Chateaubriand Bay, the village of We is the capital and main administrative and commercial centre of the Province. Lifou's 10,000 inhabitants live in three tribal districts, Wetr, Lossi and Gaitcha.
The interior of this ancient atoll is a vast forest-covered plateau. Approaching the island from the east or west, wild terraced cliffs pierced by caves plunge into the emerald sea, interspersed by long white sandy beaches. The south coast is also studded with caves and is home to the Bay of Wanda with its marine turtle park. Sandalwood Bay to the west gained its name from the early sandalwood merchants.
In the north is spectacular Doking, where a tribe lives on the side of a 40 metre high cliff overhanging magnificent clear water and extremely beautiful coral teeming with fish. During their annual migration from August to September, whales cruise past these cliffs to scratch off the many small shells that have accumulated on the skin of their backs.
Other places to visit include the Devil's Cave at Tingeting (with a guide), the Chapel 'Notre Dame of Lourdes' at Easo, Mucaweng vanilla plant, the church and temple of Qanono, and a guided tour of the 'Jewels of Luengoni' Cave.
The southernmost and 'most authentic' island, Mare is the highest of the four Loyalty Islands. Its 7,000 inhabitants live in the island's eight districts: Guahma, Tadine, Wabao, Eni, Medu, Laroche, Tawainedre and Penelo. An island of contrasts, there are five-storey high cliffs, basalt rocks, dark forests, and small coves with caves and powdery white sand beaches lining the clear waters of the lagoon. On the west coast between stands of coconut palms and pines, a superb natural rock pool is framed by the coral.
Both the architecture and the regular cultural ceremonies bear testimony to the fact that the islanders are deeply attached to their traditions. One of the most captivating local events is the Yam Festival.
Sites worth visiting included the Warrior's Jump, where legend has it that cornered by the enemy, a warrior leaped across the five kilometre gap in the cliff. The Leperhouse Well, a 50 metre well opening into one of the deepest underground fresh water lakes in the world, the ancient fortifications of the village of La Roche, the Bone Hole, a 40 metre deep limestone cave, and the seawater fed Natural Aquarium.
Ouvea is the smallest of the Loyalty's three main islands, and is known as the 'magic' island. One of the most beautiful coral atolls of the Pacific, time stands still here and the abundant fishing is still the principal source of income.
Sights include the Cliffs of Lekine dotted with caves over looking the bay, Maouli Bridge for splendid views of Lekine Bay and Mouli Island, Fayanoe Beach, a spectacular 23 km stretch of unbroken white beach fringing the iridescent blue lagoon, and the Blue Hole of Anawa, a series of fresh and salt water waterholes providing a sanctuary for turtles as well as swimming pools for the island's children. Also visit the village of Saint Joseph with its church, and Cong-Ouloup Cave, although prior permission is required from the Chief and it is best to go with a guide.
Located north of Mare, Tiga, the 'proud' island is a tiny 12 square kilometre atoll rising from the middle of the ocean. Its humped shape is explained by a legend telling how a sea turtle agreed to carry a rat from Lifou across to Mare, but stopped halfway. Tiga's only tribe lives on fishing and copra production, and there are no facilities for tours or accommodation.
DREHU VILLAGE & NENGONE VILLAGE
Experience the remote beauty of the Loyalty Islands at Drehu Village hotel which has 20 bungalows on the island of Lifou, and Nengone Village with 15 bungalows on Mare.
Both properties are located on stretches of magnificent white sand beaches and the comfortable air-conditioned bungalows can accommodate up to four persons. All have a terrace overlooking the ocean, private bathroom, telephone, TV and video and safe deposit. At Drehu Village, you are just steps away from the beach or the pool, and Nengone Village's bungalows are situated on a secluded creek lined by tropical forest.
The hotels' restaurants off a la carte culinary specialities from the islands or set menus. Exotic cocktails can be enjoyed by the pool or at the hotel lounges.
Snorkelling equipment and table tennis are free of charge at both hotels. Also free at Nengone Village is kayaking. There are bicycles and cars for hire, and at Drehu, one can also hire motorbikes, hobie-cats and sailboards.
Guided tours to the spectacular sites and native tribes of the islands, as well as transfers to and from the local airport or wharf can be organised by both hotels. Additional attractions on Lifou include scuba diving and big game fishing and Mare's sights include a Cultural Centre.
Renowned for their friendly service, the Loyalty Islands are ideal for a few days relaxation and to explore the pleasures of the islands' way of life.
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The Loyalty Islands consist of two large island islands and two small ones. The Island of Lifu is the most northern and the largest of the Group. Its north end is situated in latitude 20 degrees 27' longitude 167 degrees 47' E. and the South end in latitude 21 degrees 3' - longitude 167 degrees 43' E. is about thirty seven miles in length from north to south and varying in Breadth from ten to twenty miles. It has no harbours, but there is a large bay on the N.W. part, twelve miles wide at the entrance, and about ten miles in depth, with very indifferent anchorage at the head of it near the shore among coral patches and on a bottom of coral and sand. It is safe during the S.E. monsoon but ships should always be ready for slipping in case of an attack, or the wind setting in. There are no soundings to be got in the bay until within 500 yards of the shore, where you will find a coral bank studded with dangerous coral patches and from 10 to 20 fathoms water in the clear places where vessel may anchor. The other parts of the island present an iron sound shore with perpendicular cliffs, and no soundings within 100 years of the breakers. The structure of the island is of petrified oral - its elevation about 300 feet, quite level on the top and thickly wooded.
There is a coral reef in the mouth of the bay about three miles from the south head which can always be avoided by having a hand at the mast head, otherwise the bay is clear. Another dangerous reef lays off the north end of Lifu; it bears from the N.W. point of the island N.N.W. distant 8 miles and the sea always breaks on it. I have named it Henderson's reef, in memory of Mr William Henderson.
There is a place on the S.E. end of Lifu, where one or two sandalwood traders have been at an anchor, but no person but an experienced hand among coral reefs should attempt it. The passage in leads through a number of sunken rocks, which can only be discerned from the mast head in the morning when the sun is to the eastward. The anchorage is formed by a small reef which breaks the sea off with the wind at east, but affords no shelter if the wind hauls to N.E. The place is so small, that a vessel has hardly room to swing and will require to moor with chains to the shore. The island of Mari, is a new discovery and was found out about the beginning of 1842 by the sandalwood vessels, through information obtained from the Isle of Pine natives; the N.E. end of it is situated in latitude 21 degrees 12' S. longitude 168 degrees 33' E. and the S.W. end in latitude 21 degrees 37' S. longitude 168 degrees 22' E. It is about twenty miles in length from N.E. To S.W. and ten miles in breadth. Its structure is of petrified coral - elevation about 300 feet, and quite level on the top. There are no harbours in it - but anchorage may be found near the shore in some places. It is thickly inhabited by a wild race, of rather a small stature whose customs and language are similar to those of Lifu. The vegetable productions of Mari, are coconuts, yams, taro, sugar cane, bananas and sweet potatoes.
The island of Lifu, although thickly clothed with timber, will bear no comparison with the Isle of Pines. With respect to its soil the only good ground to be found is on small spot of low land near the shore where the villages are, and on which are several beautiful groves of coconut trees, also yam, taro, banana, and sugar came plantations, these cultivates spots produce more than sufficient to supply the wants of the inhabitants. Behind these plantations, in some places high coral cliffs arise so abruptly that the ascent to the top of them is extremely difficult. On the north east part of the island, the cliffs rise perpendicular from the sea, rendering impossible to land - and near which there are no inhabitants. The greater portion of the interior of the island is destitute of soil, and similar to the low coral land at the Isle of Pines.
With regard to the population, I had no correct means of ascertaining the number, although I should suppose they would amount to about three thousand or perhaps more. The natives of Lifu are generally about the middle size, and exhibit much variety of figure - their complexion is, in general, between that of the black and copper coloured races. Their hair is frizzled, and besides the long bushy beards and whiskers worn by man - they have a great quantity of hair on their bodies - their eyes are generally fine being black and penetrating, and although equally savage with the Isle of Pine natives - their features exhibit rather a milder, and more pleasant appearance.
The men when going to war generally wear their hair wraps up in tapa - at other times they appear to wear no covering over it - but take great pains to have it combed out in a mop lie form. The hair of the women is similar to that of the men and is generally worn long - and has the same mop lie or bushy appearance.
The men both old and young go entirely naked, and the only dress worn by the women is a fringe about 3 inches wide tied round the body, and which does not cover their nakedness - the unmarried women and young girls go entirely in a state of nudity. The natural colour of the hair of both men and women, can hardly be ascertained - for they are in the habit of dying it with lime - which give it a white, red, or brown appearance according to the taste of the individual. The natives of Lifu are very much addicted to stealing, and treacherous and cruel in the extreme, and generally speaking great cowards. They are also much given to lying - and seldom speak the truth even among themselves. The women appear to be kept under much subjection - and are made to cultivate and attend to their plantations. Polygamy is practised among them and promiscuous intercourse of the sexes allowed. Circumcision is not practised here, as at the Isle of Pines. Their ceremonies in regard to respect paid to chiefs are similar to those of the Isle of Pines.
Their arms consist of spears, clubs, tomahawks, slings and stones, the pear is thrown by a sip, and all their implements of warfare, houses, canoes, tapa, drinking vessels, etc. are similar to those I have before described at the Isle of Pines.
They live on yams, taro, coconuts, sweet potatoes, bananas, sugar cane and fish. Their food is generally baked in ovens made by heating stones - although sometimes they boil it in clay pots, and are generally cleanly in their cooking and eating. Shell fish also forms a part of their diet.