Île-des-Pins, New Caledonia

The Island that Leaned against Paradise

Baie d'Oro in peace
Still water and no sign of people in one of the most popular bays on the Île-des-Pins.
metro bather
"Metropolitan" bather (from the French mainland) at Baie d'Oro
Baie d'Oro
Japanese bathers snorkel in Baie d'Oro's natural aquarium.
"Tiki" stockade
Detail of the "tiki" stockade, an ethnic expression of the kunie people, predominant in the île-des-Pins
local pirogue
Vacationers board a traditional pirogue.
Pure Tropical Delight
Bathers delight in the translucent water of Baie d'Oro
gaudy fish
One of the many colorful fish that inhabit the Baie d'Oro.
Church of Vao
Cyclists stop their ride to rest in front of the church of Vao.
smiling native
Kunie inhabitant of the Île-des-Pins.
Tropical tour
Visitor Metro da Baie d'Oro strolls along the sand that the flood of the tide makes it increasingly narrow.
In Kunie territory
Young girl scribbles on the wet sand in front of the "tiki" stockade.
Family returns to land on the beach in Kuto.
Divine Snorkeling
Casal observes the colorful underwater life of the Baie d'Oro.
back to the sun
Japanese visitor returns to the sandy beach of Kuto.
"Tiki" stockade sculpture of the Kunie ethnicity.
Unhurried boarding
Tourists go up for a ride in one of the traditional pirogues on the Île des Pins.
Twilight over the South Pacific
Peculiar silhouette formed by a vast colony of Cook Pines at one end of the Île-des-Pins
In 1964, Katsura Morimura delighted the Japan with a turquoise novel set in Ouvéa. But the neighboring Île-des-Pins has taken over the title "The Nearest Island to Paradise" and thrills its visitors.

Around her twenties, the young writer embarked on a journey, seen at the time as more than an alternative.

O Japan he was clearly recovering from the destruction and bad reputation that the nation had to face after the failed attempt to conquer the Pacific.

Morimura gave up on a short experience as editor of a women's magazine. Shortly thereafter, he visited an archipelago that the Japanese were never able to take despite their appetite for nickel reserves on the main island of New Caledonia.

Above all, he was interested in the evasion and tropical exoticism of that place lost in the greatest of oceans.

The Literary Romanticization of Ouvéa Island

Returning, Morimura embarked on a novel. Shortly thereafter, he published it and shared with readers the adventure he had lived. The Japanese remained committed to the regeneration of the homeland, but they longed for pleasurable imaginaries of retreat. The "Closest Island to Paradise" became, in a short time, a bestseller and revealed to them the Melanesian Eden of Ouvéa.

We hadn't read the work when we passed by, but we noticed the presence of Japanese couples, installed on sunbeds at the few resorts doing snorkeling or strolling hand in hand on the adjacent chalky sands.

Divine snorkeling, Baie d'Oro, Île des Pins, New Caledonia

Japanese bathers snorkel in Baie d'Oro's natural aquarium.

However, we realized that Ouvéa had benefited and also a cinematographic stimulus. In the 70s, Nobuhiko Ôbayashi was an up-and-coming director who, while shooting certain ads, Charles Bronson and Kirk Douglas foisted the moniker OB, finding it too difficult to pronounce his name.

From Book to Japanese Screens

In the 80s, Ôbayashi took up Morimura's novel and moved from guns and luggage to the New Caledonia. She stood out from the cast she had chosen, a candid and versatile Tomoyo Harada at the start of her career.

Japan surrendered to the charms of the protagonist and her character Mari Katsuragi. But, above all, to the seductive landscapes of the atoll in which the scenes had been shot.

Many Japanese also fixed, in their minds, the image of the indigenous extra Zacaharie Daoumé who, surprised by the sudden notoriety, would later declare to the press: “I had my picture posted on posters all over Japan but I never left my island there. go."

Family by boat, Kuto Beach, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

Family returns to land on the beach in Kuto.

The Ethnic-Political Rupture of the Prise d'Outages and the Matignon Agreements

In 1988, Ouvéa was the scene of violent events, of great political significance but not in keeping with the Japanese fascination.

Of these, the highlight was the Prise d'outages phase, in which the FLNKS' native independence activists killed four police officers in a village, and took 27 others hostage, half of them, imprisoned in a cave on the island.

Thus, they forced the intervention of the army of the metropolis that ended with 19 of the kidnappers and 3 soldiers dead and generated a mutual resentment that remains to be healed.

The parties sat at the table and signed the Matignon agreements. They ensured the amnesty of those responsible for the abductions and a temporary peace that resulted in the status of special and provisional autonomy in which the territory and the Kanak natives still live today.

Native, Inhabitant Kunie, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

Inhabitant of the kunie ethnic group from the Île-des-Pins.

And finally, the Tourist Fame of Ouvéa and the Loyalty Islands

The conflict had already calmed down when, after reading Morimura's book and seeing Ôbayashi's film, an opportunistic Japanese businessman landed on the island determined to build a luxury hotel to attract a vast Japanese clientele.

A decade of negotiation and bureaucracy has gone by. In 2000, the Paradis d'Ouvéa finally opened its doors after an agreement between the land-owning clan, the provincial authorities of the Loyalty Islands and Japanese investors.

However, after more than 10 years, even if the UNESCO declared, in 2008, the blue lagoon of Ouvéa as a World Heritage Site, its main visitors are still the French from the metropolis who live in Nouméa or family members.

Church of Vao, Baie d'Oro, île des Pins, New Caledonia

Cyclists stop their ride to rest in front of the church of Vao.

The Japanese reach the order of 18.000 a year. As a rule, they fly from the archipelago's capital to spend a day or two on the island. Romantic marriages or re-marriages, without official validity, became popular. Much of it takes place in Noumea.

Of the 300 to 400 held there, some “join” wealthier couples and have an exhaustive nuptial complement in Loyalty.

The Collage to the “Paradise” of the Neighbor Île-des-Pins

The final number turns out to be residual, also due to competition from the most renowned islands of French Polynesia and the recent rivalry of the neighboring Île-des-Pins which, at a certain point in its promotional process, could not resist the temptation and passed away. to advertise also as “The closest island to paradise".

The number of Japanese passengers on board the flight we arrived at proves it. We soon realized why the latter asserted itself as a competitor of Ouvéa, at the very least.

Boarding pirogue, Baie d'Oro, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

Tourists go up for a ride in one of the traditional pirogues on the Île des Pins.

More than likely James Cook was the first Westerner to sight the Île-des-Pins. During his second trip to New Zealand, despite the small size of the island (only 14 km by 18 km), the navigator detected smoke that he attributed to human presence.

He also noticed the strange abundance of pine trees Araucaria columnaris that stood out from the far horizon. Despite being a frequent visitor to the tropical archipelagos of the Pacific, Cook was not indifferent to the eccentric beauty of the Île-des-Pins.

Tiki, Kunie ethnicity, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

Detail of the “tiki” stockade, an ethnic expression of the kunie people, predominant in the île-des-Pins

As we are not, nor the Japanese vacationers who face the immaculate turquoise green-blue coastline of the Baie de Kuto or the peculiar Baie d'Oro that the tide invades and fills like a natural aquarium, bordered by a lofty hedge of Cook pines, as they were called in the meantime.

Baie d'Oro, Île des Pins, New Caledonia

Bathers delight in the translucent water of Baie d'Oro

We see them getting in and out of the water with their watering gear. snorkeling, ecstatic for such easy and intimate contact with the island's underwater ecosystem. Or sharing, as a couple, the absolute but ephemeral joy granted by that surreal place.

Os Matchmaking Sanctuaries from Ouvéa and the Île-des-Pins

Like Ouvéa, the tourist promoters of Île-des-Pins were quick to encourage the celebration of the wedding in their hotel facilities and on the island's beaches. One website, in particular, proudly highlights a recent amendment to French law that requires foreigners to reside on French territory for at least a month.

"It is enough now that visitors are adults, present proof of marital status or that they are not already married, as well as proof of residence." And, as nothing can fail in a fairy tale wedding ceremony, "a certified translator is offered so that vows are exchanged in the mother tongue."

The online Japanese wedding also has the right to a special presentation video that includes images of the ceremony in a small glass chapel almost on the sand and a photo session with the couple on the shores of the idyllic sea of ​​the South Pacific.

Katsura Morimura married twice, but never in the New Caledonia. After her second marriage, she went into chronic depression. He died in 2004 in a hospital in Nagano. Official causes pointed to suicide.

Today, most Japanese visitors to the archipelago do not go through the scene of their romance. Instead, delight in the other Island Closer to Paradise.

Twilight, Pines, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

Peculiar silhouette formed by a vast colony of Cook Pines at one end of the Île-des-Pins

LifouLoyalty Islands

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