French Paradise in the Pacific

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Relaxing over a cocktail…Escapade Island’s overwater bungalows in silhouette, as a giant orange sun stretches across the horizon, setting within minutes….that’s how I remember our family holiday in New Caledonia.

Overwater bungalows are the island’s signature trademark, the jewel in the crown of this Pacific resort. As children are not allowed to stay in them, we were happily accommodated onshore, but loved watching and photographing these picturesque thatched huts, as the sunset turned pink, then orange, then flaming red across the clear waters of this world heritage-listed lagoon.

Escapade Island Ilot Maitre is a 20 minute ferry ride from Noumea’s port. Easy to get to, it’s a slice of French paradise in the Pacific, just three hours flight from Australia.  Although, Noumea’s low-rise skyline is still visible, Escapade Island is resort-life, with the impression of being in the middle of nowhere.

The island is small and it will only take you about 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other. But there is more than enough to do for families.

Family fun on Escapade Island - Ilot Maitre, New Caledonia
Family fun on Escapade Island – Ilot Maitre, New Caledonia

Sea turtles are visible to the eye in the lagoon which has been UNESCO World Heritage-listed lagoon since 2008. We took the chance to introduce the kids to snorkelling for the first time.  Snorkelling gear is available for hire from the beach kiosk, along with pedalos and jetskis. The kids were able to wade in the shallows and peer more closely at the sea turtles as they got used to the strange sensation of breathing through a tube.

A pedalo ride came free for the children with our accommodation booking and we spent a lovely hour meandering around the bay.

Two pools linked by a water cascade flank the restaurant’s outdoor area, fringed with picture postcard palm trees and overlooking the lagoon. Crisply blue, against the lagoon’s aqua shades, the pool’s water was a little chilly in October but the tropical vibe and poolside ambience were just too enticing to resist jumping in.

Ordering cool drinks from the pool bar was a great novelty for the kids (as well as parents!) We spent much of our time relaxing on deckchairs, watching the children swimming or swimming ourselves.

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Striped sea snakes in beige and black are often found sunning themselves across the resort’s footpaths but there were none to be seen in the lagoon when we were there. A tourism symbol for New Caledonia, they are known as sea kraits or  ‘tricot rayé (stripy sweater) and although venomous they apparently rarely bite – and only if disturbed.

My kids adored the buffet breakfast and dinner and fondly recall the wonders of its delicacies, praising the way in which they could serve themselves to as much as they wanted. The attentive restaurant staff speak French and English, there is a wide variety of European and Asian foods and a skilled sommelier on hand to advise on an array of international wines.

The beach kiosk also serves some light snacks, if you feel like a break from the full buffet meal. We also brought a few supplies from the mainland that we kept in our fridge, pantry such as cheese, instant noodles, crackers, Nutella and bread.

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There is free ferry transport back to the mainland several times a day for guests, so if you can muster the energy to leave paradise even temporarily, you can always go into Noumea to stock up on supplies.

Our bungalow was cute, with everything we needed. However, as we chose a single-room hut for the family to save on costs, that meant little privacy for parents.  The room included a double bed and two singles, bathroom and a living area section of the room which contained lounge chairs, a TV and fridge but no cooking facilities.

Tourists visiting Escapade Island Ilot Maitre are a mixture of different nationalities – French, Australian, New Zealand, English and Japanese. Some stay for several nights or longer but many simply make the day trip over from the mainland for picnics, snorkelling or to use the resort’s pool which requires a special pass.

Escapade Island is so easy to get to that you could even manage a day trip there during your onshore cruise ship stop – a more affordable, accessible alternative to some of New Caledonia’s more far-flung islands.

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