Isle of Pines
Across a strait of shoals and coral banks, 70 km southeast of Grande Terre, is the stunningly beautiful Île des Pines, famous for the white beaches of Kanuméra/Kuto. In 1774, Captain Cook named the 18-by-14-km island for its extraordinary 60-meter-high columnaris, but the Kanak name is Kwenyii (Kunié). Centuries before, the chiefs of this enticing isle had arrived from Aneityum in present Vanuatu, and the Kwenyii people were always great traders, sailing far and wide in their big outrigger canoes.
British Protestant missionaries landed in 1841, but were killed a year later when they became involved in a dispute between sandalwood traders and the Kwenyii islanders. Subsequently, the island served as a French penal colony. Today this southernmost island of Melanesia remains largely untouched—a tropical paradise of the first order. During the Festival of the Yams, which coincides with the yam harvest in March or April, you'll see pilou dancing and formal presentations of yams. A good variety of birds can be seen on the Isle of Pines. The post office, bank, and clinic are in Vao, while the gendarmerie is at Kuto.