Loyalty Island

The four raised coral islands, Mare, Tiga, Lifou and Uvea, which lie about 60 miles (100 km) to the east of Grande Terre, constitute the New Caledonian province Iles Loyaute. Together, these isles have a land surface of nearly 775 square miles (2000 sq km), and a population of about 19,000 Melanesians with at times Polynesian influence. The islands are relatively flat, have no rivers and lower precipitation than Grande Terre, so vegetation is accordingly scarce.

The Loyalties were first chartered by captain Dumont d’Urville. But the European influence was always weaker than on Grande Terre, so traditional social structures survived better. Visitors should respect this at all times. The inhabitants are relaxed and friendly. The beaches are some of the best in the entire South Seas.

Mare, 251 square miles (650 sq km), is a raised atoll, whose interior is lowerlying than its coast. The cliffs on the southern coast to the south of Medu reach the 377 foot mark (118 m), which is the highest point in the Loyalties. The fertile basin in the middle of the island is ideal for agriculture; fruit and vegetables are even exported to Noumea. The airport was built near the old Catholic mission of La Roche on the north coast, the main town and port Tadine lies in the west. Five miles (8 km) to the south of Tadine is a wonderful beach called Ceigeite.

Lifou, the largest of the Loyalty Islands (463 sq miles/ 1200 sq km), is also a raised atoll. Many caves were carved into the coral limestone. Great cliffs and fine sand beaches mark the contours of the island. The highest elevations are in the south (max. 345 ft/108 m). The main town and administrative center is We, situated on a dream beach on the eastern coast. To the west of the airport Wanaham, in Hnathalo, are two imposing buildings. The first is the mission church built in 7 883 and still boasting its original interior furnishings; the second is the case of the big chief of Hnathalo surrounded by palisades. The delicate little chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes (1898) quaintly stands on a spit of land overlooking the Baie du Santal on the east coast and offers a terrific view of the island. We is connected by a good road to nice beaches near Luengoni, Mon and Xode in the southeast.

Uvea (surface: 51 square miles/132 sq km) is only raised in its eastern section. The lagoon, protected by a barrier reef and a chain of islets, consists of nearly 16 miles (25 km) of breathtaking sand beaches along a turquoise sea. The narrow, crescent-shaped main island is connected to the island of Mouly in the south by a bridge. Another fabulous beach lines the Baie de Mouly. The east coast is harsher, the ocean roars in to break upon cliffs that reach a height of 130 feet (40 m). The main town is Fayaoue (or Fajawe), 3.5 miles (5 km) from the airport.

Polynesian seafarers reached Ouvea in the 18th century and settled in the northern part of the island. The ethnic tensions between Melanesians and Polynesians were exacerbated in the 19th century by conflicts between Protestants and Catholics. In 1988, Uvea became the symbol of the Kanaka’s struggle for freedom: it was here that a small group of Kanaka were surrounded by hundreds of elite French soldiers and massacred.

Tiga, another raised atoll with a surface area of almost 5 square miles (12 sq km) and a population nearing 350, is the smallest of the Loyalty Islands.

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