Musts: Ilot Signal and Le Ponton
December in the South Pacific is admittedly worlds apart from December in the Northern hemisphere. While friends and family the world over are bundling up and getting ready for the holiday season, we are donning bathing suits and making for the islands (or islets, as the opportunity presents itself).
Though last weekend was cloudy, we decided to follow through on an outing that had been planned weeks before – an outing to Ilot Signal, followed by lunch and an afternoon on “Le Ponton” (or pontoon in English – a floating landing stage large enough to have lunch on, more on this to come!).
Ilot Signal is a marine reserve in the lagoon, offshore from Nouméa, just a bit further away than Ile aux Canards and Ilot Maitre. It took us about 25 minutes to get there by taxi boat (a covered zodiac) from the Baie d’Orphelinat.
Ilot Signal is a wonderful islet with beautiful white sand beaches, good snorkeling and a rich variety of flora and fauna. As it is protected, one can see a host of different sea birds (and in our case, a giant nest). You can walk around the island in an hour or less (we did it in less than an hour with our 6-year-old), guided by helpful signs in English and French and a raised path in places.
We spent the morning there and felt like we were on Gilligan’s Island or Koh-lanta. Still rough, protected and pristine, one couldn’t help but feel shipwrecked, with all the initial excitement being shipwrecked would bring. We snorkeled at high tide (always recommended) and visited the islet. Enchanted by our various finds on the islet, we decided this would be a lovely return spot later in the summer.
Our fun did not stop on Ilot Signal. Our taxi boat came back for us at 11.30 and took us out to Le Ponton (about 15 minutes away), a floating platform anchored on the inner edge of New Caledonia’s Barrier Reef.
My oh my! I had no idea such a place existed! So close to the Barrier Reef, we were spoiled with clear, clear water, millions of tropical fish and amazing coral. I felt like I was back in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef!
As for the platform itself, it has an underwater viewing area, tables and a three-course menu to keep at least 50 people happy and well fed, bathrooms and platforms for donning snorkeling and diving equipment. Who knew? You can easily reserve day trips out with lunch included at http://www.leponton.nc/. The staff are friendly, helpful and well-versed in the lives and care of sea snakes (as one of them showed us by playing with a live tricot rayé and gently biting its back).
Mind you, the platform is floating on the water. So it moves. And that takes a little getting used to. But it is incredibly magical, being able to swim with thousands of tropical fish (do click on this link to see just how beautiful it is – my photos cannot do it justice).
The water was a little cold after a while (to the extent that my fingers went white and I couldn’t feel the tips) , but I didn’t want to get out of the water for the life of me. Our 6-year-old couldn’t believe his eyes – or his luck! His father was in underwater heaven.
In sum, we’ve found our new underwater paradise – and we’ll be back. Just over half an hour away from Nouméa, we now know where to go when life becomes just a little too strange on this funny, tropical island.