Idefix in Baie de Kuto

It’s funny how people usually set out to cross the Pacific Ocean and visit its islands, expecting to spend countless days relaxing on fine sandy beaches under coconut trees, getting up only to cool off with a bath in clear waters. Well, for the most part it’s not like that. Many of the islands we’ve been to didn’t have any sandy beaches, when they had beaches at all. Often the people, towns, foods, showers, etc. were more interesting to us than sitting on a beach. It’s quite easy to list all the sandy beaches I’ve been to since leaving Seattle:

  • Alameda: cold and windy, water murky and freezing, beatiful view of San Francisco
  • Hanalei: beautiful, but thieves may steal your clothes/wallet/dinghy/car while you’re swimming.
  • Waikiki: hotels, the water smells of sunscreen from the thousands of tourists
  • Ovalau (Tonga): peaceful desert island, didn’t swim, bits of trash on the beach, stayed an hour and left when the mosquitoes threatened to carry Shirley away.
  • Sisia (Tonga): another desert island in incredibly clear water, spent less than an hour on the island; nice beach but you can’t wade in without stepping on coral. Snorkeling off the boat was amazing.
  • Nuku (Tonga): cold water, swam for 5 minutes, got bit by a giant ant, very windy. Snorkeling off the boat was wonderful.
  • Baie Papaye (New Caledonia): cold water, had to pay to get to the beach, cut my foot on junk in the water.

As you can see, we didn’t go to any beaches in Fiji or on Fanning, and Niue doesn’t even have beaches, being all cliffs and rocks. However the Isle of Pines was different.

The magnificent Plage de Kuto

Our stay in the Isle of Pines revolved mostly around beautiful Kuto beach, one of the prettiest I’ve seen, with turquoise water and impossibly fine white sand, shaded by coconut trees and towering columnar pines. The water is colder than one might expect for the tropics, but I could still bathe, swim, and play with the waves for half an hour at a time before feeling like I wanted out. At anchor in the bay, sea turtles were popping up for air all around the boat (it’s sometimes unsettling how much they sound like a person gasping for air), and Shirley got a kick out of feeding the remoras that took up dwelling under the boat. They’re a slightly repulsive fish, with the strange flat area on their forehead, and their habit of attaching themselves to other creatures and feeding on leftover scraps or feces, but they swim well in a sinuous, shark-like motion, and are entertaining to watch.

Dugout pirogues in Baie de St. Joseph

We managed to tear ourselves away from the beach enough to see some of the island, hiking through the bush to Pic Nga, checking out creepy ruins of the 19th-century penal colony, and hitch-hiking to the town of Vao. We thought we’d seen about all we could when our new friends Don and Priscilla, a couple we’d met in Nouméa, sailed into Kuto on their boat Chatauqua, hired a car, and invited us to join them on a tour. Priscilla outdid herself researching sights and activities and we got to sail on beautiful Baie Upi on a traditional dugout pirogue, checked out some impressive caverns, and toured a vanilla plantation.

Idefix floats two fathoms above her shadow at Ilot Brosse.

Ilot Brosse lies a few miles from Kuto Bay and looks remarkably like a hair-brush lying on its side, with columnar pines playing the part of dark bristles. Reefs encircle the island, and we threaded Idefix past coral heads into the sandy shallows alongside the island and I took advantage of the clear water to scrub her hull under the watchful eye of a cuttlefish. There were one or two other boats, but they eventually cleared out and we had the small island to us. Makeshift barriers probably erected by the tribe kept us from wandering up from the beach, but we did get to see a handful of the local sea snakes (tricot rayé), and a beautiful sunset, complete with the famed green flash.

Eventually the weather turned to clouds and rain and I came down with a sinus infection (I’m now being treated by a retired German doctor on a boat across the dock), so it was time to make our way back to Nouméa. Before leaving Kuto we sailed by the Tabarlys on Eclipse, back from a tour of the Loyalty Islands. If only we had a little more time… but it’s time to start thinking about heading on West. I’ve been keeping a close eye on the weather forecasts and it seems like we have a decent weather window for the next week. Today I walked across town to the border police, customs and port captain’s offices to get or clearance, so we are committed to leaving this weekend. Hopefully the weather will be clement for crossing the Coral Sea.