The term “jaw-dropping” is grossly overused in travel writing and marketing, and I can count on one hand the number of times my jaw has involuntarily dropped due to the sheer beauty of what I am seeing.
That was before I visited Luecila Beach in New Caledonia. The beach overlooks the second-largest reef in the world, which positively glows all shades of aqua and turquoise, even under cloudy grey skies. It was beautiful, despite the foul weather when I arrived. When it started pelting rain, I sat under a thatched-roof hut and watched the storm over the reef. I couldn’t believe my eyes as the clouds cleared, the blue skies returned and this impossibly dazzling scene grew more stunning with every minute that passed.
Pure, white sandy beaches, azure waters, lush green foliage and now bright skies in the happiest shade of blue I have ever seen. Behind the beach are a few small, colourful buildings including a church, and dozens of staggering palm trees. It was a short drive from the main town, and around a half-hour drive from the port, where our cruise ship was waiting.
The island of Lifou is very different to Noumea, on New Caledonia’s Grand Terre. It is the most undeveloped destination I have ever travelled to, the only place where nature has been allowed to revel in its glory without too much interference from humans.
I was happy to see that all of the tours offered when we arrived in Lifou were led by local tour guides, who were enthusiastic about sharing their slice of the world with visitors. It’s encouraging to see the local community embracing your visit, rather than resenting it, which is something I had worried about a little, as cruise operations are not always beneficial for the local economy or community. Visitors spend a short time on land and as a result, don’t pay for as many meals or any accommodation, but inundate the population. Not always good.
Lifou seems like it was one of the few places which benefits from not having masses of overnight visitors, leaving the main town further inland and the masses of land dotted by occasional houses free from meeting the needs of the overnight traveller – no resorts, no big hotels, no touristy restaurants. Just the markets, where women prepared their New Caledonian take on French cuisine such as beignets and crepes, and native dishes.
Bigger cities, like Noumea, could probably benefited more if we’d been able to stay overnight or few a days – something I would happily do in the future, because I loved it there.
Cruising raised a few ethical question marks for me, but I am happy I was able to visit a destination as beautiful as Lifou, respectfully learn about the local culture and contribute to local cooks & tour guides, without necessitating the building of high-rises, Irish pubs and all-inclusive resorts.
Like most things in life, ethical travel is not black and white, but it’s an important conversation to have. I’m not perfect, but I try to make decisions with positive impacts wherever I go – which is why I don’t support most animal tourism, particularly riding animals like elephants and donkeys. What ethical issues concerns you when you travel? How do you respond? Let me know in the comments! 🙂