Lost with the locals

JULIA CARLISLE
Last updated 05:00 22/07/2014
Lifou, New Caledonia
House of Travel

NEW CALEDONIA: In New Caledonia, the indigenous people very proud of their land and heritage and are happy to share it with the tourists.

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I'm sitting on a coconut tree branch looking over the white sand and tropical blue waters.

But what really makes me smile is watching my two kids frolicking in the waters with two local kids from the island.

The Carnival Spirit has docked at Mare, one of New Caledonia's many tropical islands.

We've left the ship's opulence and our well-maintained cabin for a day.

After a 20-minute mini bus ride we've been abandoned on a strip of paradise, and it's magical.

My daughter and son look like little tourists slapped with sunscreen and wearing bright rashies, while the local kids have beautiful dark skin and big smiles.

It doesn't taken for new friendships to form and my kids introduce me to their new friends Rene and Victor. The fact that my kids have French grandparents helps the all-important sandcastle building conversation.

But as the other kids from the ship join in the beach fun of collecting coconut shells to add to the castle, it's easy to see kids don't need to speak the same language.

Our day on Mare is one of four days on our nine-day Carnival Spirit cruise when we can get off and explore New Caledonia.

We've already been to Isle de Pines, Lifou and the capital Noumea.

In New Caledonia, the indigenous people are known as the Kanaks. They are people very proud of their land and heritage and are happy to share it with the tourists.

On every island locals set up make-shift markets and sell hand-made products such as wooden goods, plenty of tasty food, or you can just unwind with a massage lying on a palm-leaf mat in a little hut for about $15 for 30 minutes.

It's also the sort of tourism that feels quite environmentally sustainable. Thousands of tourist traipse around the pristine island, but only between about 8am and 4pm.

Hopefully it's a way to avoid strips of hotels and bars being built, while keeping the tourism dollar coming in for the locals.

As soon as we hop off the safety boats that bring us to shore, the island way kicks in.

The smell of a beach BBQ lures us in. My husband and I order a "brochette" (chicken on a skewer) and a cold "biere" and sit back and soak up paradise while the meat cooks on the open flame.

The day is spent lying under a palm tree, with sporadic adventures into the tropical waters to snorkel with the kids.

Being lost in Mare for a day is brilliant.

We are truly sad to have to leave but Rene's dad has sold out of Brochettes and beer, and the sand castles have been flattened.

My son leaves his blow-up floaty for his new friend. I swap addresses with his mum and promise my kids will write to their new islander friends.

We return to our cruise ship and don't want to wash our towels that carry the wonderful smell of the BBQ smoke.

It's a day that won't be forgotten. 

IF YOU GO:

Fares on Carnival Spirit's eight-night cruise to the Pacific Islands from Sydney, departing August 29, 2014, are priced from A$889 (NZ$960) (subject to availability, conditions apply) per person quad share and include accommodation, main meals, and onboard entertainment.

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For more information and bookings see a travel agent, contact Carnival Cruise Lines on carnival.com.

The writer was a guest of Carnival Cruises.

- AAP

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