Maré Island – Where the Time Stands Still
I need to confess that I had not heard (or rather paid attention to) about the island Mare, until I booked my ticket one week prior to the departure date of a cruise bound to South Pacific Islands. So it is only reasonable to explain where it is located before I dive into the details of my journey.
Maré Island (or Nengone) is the second-largest of the Loyalty Islands, in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France in the Pacific Ocean which features the world’s largest lagoon and second largest great barrier reef. A former coral atoll, Mare has been lifted about 120 meters and the interior of the island is the former lagoon, surrounded by a rim of higher land that was the ring of reef islets.
The population of Maré is about 6900, of mainly Melanesian heritage (less than 2% of the population is of European ancestry). The indigenous language is Nengoné but French is spoken everywhere. Even though New Caledonia has the currency CFP franc(XPF), AUD is accepted everywhere and change is also returned in AUD most of the places. With the tropical weather, Cruises operate throughout the year, January & March being the rainy months.
Apparently, English signboards started appearing in Mare only after the opening up of the island to the Australian cruise ships way back in 2013.
How to Reach Mare
- Multiple cruise lines operate between major ports of Australia and Mare. P&O and Carnival Cruises are quite popular and I think cruising is the best & hassle free option to reach the island.
- Flights are available from Noumea in Port Vila to Mare.
- Ferry Services are available from Noumea & Mare Island (Tadine bay). Since there is only one Ferry company operating as of now, the schedules are limited and do not run daily. So it is better to book it in advance.
Where to Stay if you are not visiting via Cruise
- Rental cars are available in Mare and can be found here
- Locals are friendly and asking around could help you to organize a local trip, but it is quite possible that they may not explain in detail but will just take you to the places. So better to set expectations.
- At Tadine Bay, scooter hire is available as well.
I was on the Christmas Cruise of P&O. On a bright & sunny day, the ship anchored around 500 meters away from the Tadine Bay. Cruises transport the people to the Tadine Bay via tenders which are nothing but small boats. These boats run from the start of the day till the cruise leaves so that you can get off and leave as and when you want. This flexibility helps you to plan your day better in case if you want to go out only for a short time or depending on the weather conditions. This is great considering that you would not enjoy these small islands overcrowded with 2000 cruise travelers at a time!
The ride from the ship to the bay can get rocky depending on the tides however, we had a smooth one. The impressive first sight of Mare has the coconut tree lined, rocky edges overlooking the crystal clear turquoise water. We were thrilled. When we got off, we were welcomed by the natives singing beautiful welcome songs. Very expected out of an island which is highly dependent on the cruise ship income!
One thing or its absence which I got used to in this trip is the signboards or the incorrectness of it. Since it was not new to me it was more of an awareness than of a trouble!
1. Visit Natural Aquarium
Natural Aquarium was the first stop. However, the ship did not offer any trips here. The polite lady at the counter in Tadine bay advised us it is 45 mins away and directed us towards the right side of the port, the road along the bay. Since most of the cruise travelers had left for Yedjele beach there were only two other families and us who chose to walk our ways to the natural aquarium.
The walk was alongside the coconut farms, tropical wildflowers, abandoned huts & crystal blue rock pools.
There are no clear signboards however with the explorer intuitions, not very difficult to find it. 50M off the road on the right-hand side, the protected aquarium has crystal clear water with the abundance of fishes and is not open for swimming, partially for preserving the reefs as all as for protecting the swimmers from the razor-sharp reefs.
It is a beautiful location, but not a lot to do apart from soaking yourself in the beauty of it!
Wanderer’s Tip: Scooters are available for hire at the bay for AUD $40 for 4 hours (!)
2. Swim in the Yedjele Beach
This is the major attraction in Mare and the cruises usually offer return shuttle service from Tadine Bay to the beach for around AUD $20. Though we attempted to walk from the aquarium to the beach we ended up taking the lift offered by a kind bus driver. We realized the length of the walk (10+km) only after that. So unless you really intend to walk that distance, it may not be a great idea!
Beach as such is very beautiful and pristine and perfect for snorkeling, crowded of course by the cruise ship travelers.
We also managed to drag some curious eyes when we started to scoop out the flesh of the coconuts which they sold on the beach! Being from a tropical place, after we finish drinking the coconut water, we always ask them to cut it open so that we can scoop out the flesh . Looks like that was not very familiar with our cruisemates ! …
Facilities include chair hires, showers, open-air barbeques & beers. The beach has good vibes with the Reggae influenced local music and the cheerful people!
Wanderer’s Tip: If you plan to club the day with a bit of sightseeing and the beach it would be better to reach the beach in the second half as the morning rush would be over by then.
Wanderer’s Tip: There are Blue Bottle Jellyfishes in the water and the beach. If stung, the locals & the authorities are available to provide vinegar or anything else needed (it is not that bad, but better to be cautious)
3. Snorkel the Turquoise Waters
Mare is great for Snorkelling. You can snorkel either at Eni beach or Yedjele Beach. Even close to the shore you can see fishes, not extremely colorful but still, they are there. To see better coral reefs, you have to cross the buoy. Yes, you need to be a confident swimmer for that ( at least more confident than me !).
Wanderer’s Tip: Snorkelling gear is available on the beach for AUD $5 ( no need to pay the exorbitant price, hiring it on the ship). Even better if you bring your own if you are on the cruise visiting multiple islands.
4. Try out the Beer of New Caledonia
There is no beer specific to Mare. However, the local beer of New Caledonia is No.1 which is available in almost all the shops. Wherever I visit since local beer is on my list, had to try one at Mare and I loved it. Not sure if it was the beer or the vibes though!
Wanderer’s Tip: Since most of the costs for food/beer etc come around AUD $5, it would be a good idea to carry smaller denominations. ( if the cruise receptionist is in a good mood, you can get some !)
5. Enjoy the colorful Markets
Everything about Mare was colorful. Be it the container at the Tadine Bay or the turquoise water or the Sarongs for sale!
There are beachside shops and food stalls at the Yedjele beach selling chicken on the skewers(“brochette”), other food items & beer (I didn’t enjoy the french fries though as it was oily & a bit cold)
The ambiance of this primitive island was great with friendly locals, kids making friends with the tourists, the Kanak music, colorful clothes & the smell of open-air barbeque. The stalls offer hair braiding also. By the end of the cruise, you will have a lot of people with braided hair on the ship.
They sold sarongs, dresses & other souvenirs at the stalls in Tadine Bay as well as at the Yedjele beach.
6. Get a Massage
There are a couple of small huts in the Yedjele Beach for massages just like any other island location. Then, why not do a great massage on the Beach?
7. Taste Bougna
Now, this is something I missed.
Bougna is a traditional Kanak dish which is made by wrapping seafood & underground roots( yam, sweet potato, taro etc) in a banana leaf and then baked in the ground oven heated by red-hot bricks. Eni Tours arrange an opportunity to have Bougna. I could not see it anywhere on the beach though!
That was the end of my trip to Mare.
Overall, Mare is a great location to visit.
It was impressive to realize that this location is scaled up for tourist visits with very little investments ensuring the preservation of the land by preventing any major developments ( such as hotels or other amenities). Most of the tourists being from the cruise, the government makes sure they bring in the tourist revenue during the daytime and leave the place by evening!
What I liked the best was the “Island Time”.. how fresh and pristine the beaches were, how happy and lovely the locals were… I am not sure how much of opportunities those kids will get living in an isolated corner of the world, but one thing I am sure is that they were having the fun of a lifetime playing in the beach as fearless souls, even after the blue bottle jellyfish bites!
The ones I could not go
Visiting the wonderful Bone hole/Sinkhole(vertical cave hollowed out in the limestone rocks), Shabardran Terraces & swimming with the turtles at the Turtle Bay are few things which I did not get an opportunity to do. Maybe the reason for a second visit!
Also in my research, I found below spots as well justifying a longer stay in Mare !. I don’t have more information, but could be useful if you are planning for a longer stay!
- Pede bay (a small inlet nestled in the rock, an ideal spot to snorkel), Vanilla plantation in Hnawayac or Tenant, The cultural center and the village of La Roche, The warrior’s leap, Pethoen cave (access by a small trail through the forest where a freshwater cave covered by stalactites is hidden), 3-beach trail, Roh(a historic monument dedicated to the arrival of the gospel on the island), Patho, Kurine, Wabao & Eni beaches.
There are few tours available on New Caledonia website which covers few of these locations.
Wanderer’s Tip: If you are exploring by yourself, it is important that you ask the permission of locals as that is the polite way.
How I found time for this trip?
As this blog focuses on Part-Time Travelers, I thought I will detail how I found time for this trip
Since last year I have been thinking about a South Pacific trip. In my previous article about why cruising is so popular, I have detailed the reasons why cruising is a great idea to travel to these islands. So I decided to use my annual furlough during December on a 10 day Cruise to the South Pacific Islands.
For those who expect some business calls even on holidays, probably cruising is a not a good idea as the connectivity can get tricky. So I chose the best time I could be disconnected from work as well as all online activities (which was a very good idea!)
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