The Isle of Pines, at the southernmost tip of New Caledonia, is known as the Jewel of the South Pacific. It is 80km south-east of Noumea and is a place where time stands still. It is just a dot in the azure waters, measuring 14km wide and 18km long, with the obligatory white sandy beaches and soaring Norfolk Island pines. Known as Ile des Pins in French and Kunyié in Kanak, it is as beautiful under the water as it is on land, making it a favourite spot for divers.
New Caledonia was settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century and became a French possession in 1853. From 1864 it saw four decades of being a penal colony. It has a mix of French and Melanesian cultures.
There are beautiful and expensive places to stay in New Caledonia, but you can enjoy all that the Isle of Pines has to offer on a budget.
Camping at Roller Bay is worth considering. The site is new and is sympathetic to eco-tourism. It is on a long and unspoilt white sandy beach and each site has its own water, electricity and thatched-covered tables looking out to the sea. There are fireplaces, a central dining area, showers and toilets. You do need to take your own tent. Magnificent sunsets are provided for no extra charge.
The owners speak broken but understandable English. They will prepare breakfast and dinner, given a day's notice.
If you're planning on self-catering, you need to be pretty organised. There is no supermarket or store you need to go to the once-a-week local market for your fruit and vegetables. You may be able to buy seafood from fishermen. The bakery opens at 5.30am every day. Most days, everything is sold by 11am, so if you sleep in, you may go hungry.
Roller Bay is not far from Kuto Bay, traditionally the island's tourist hot spot. It is a place of white sand, coral, sea and araucaria pines. Swimming is excellent, and at dusk you can sit on the small wharf and watch the local Comanga tribes come to fish. There are also ruins from the French convict period.
Le Rocher is a coral outcrop connected to Kanumera Beach by a sandy causeway. It is one of the best snorkelling spots around.
There is no public transport on the island, so you may want to look at hiring a car or one of the noisy little scooters that are popular there.
Former Australian journalist, Hillary Roots, visited New Caledonia some 30 years ago. She fell in love with the island and a Swiss French resident Albert Thoma, who is her partner. The couple coordinates the island's entertainment for the thousands of people who visit Kuto each year. Many are day-visitors from cruise ships and they want to see everything there is to see. They are entertained by the island's eight tribes who dance and sing. They buy local craft from stalls, and most visitors promise to return for a longer time.