Lifou Cruise Ship Port
Cruise ships visiting Lifou anchor offshore and tender passengers to the island. Lifou is the biggest of New Caledonia‘s Loyalty Islands. Our tenders from Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas landed at a barge on the end of a long dock. Once you get to shore there’s a beach near the dock. There are no sidewalks or footpaths in Lifou, but the small roads are not busy and if you walk on the side what little traffic there is goes around you and any dogs that wander into the road. Most vehicles at the port are there for shore excursions from the ship, though a few offered on-the-spot van tours during our visit.
Going to the left when reaching shore leads to all the things the port has to do. Other than a few viewpoints for taking ship photos there’s not much to the right anywhere near the port. You can walk on the road going out that direction, but make sure to stay at the edge of the road in case any traffic goes by. We saw people walking down the middle of the road totally oblivious to a car trying to get by and the driver did not look happy.
Besides a beach there is a hillside full of things to do just above where the tenders come in. Most of the little shacks offer things like massages and hair braiding, but there are also places to get food or drinks and to shop for crafts (local or made in China). One booth made their money with a coconut crab on a leash for tourists’ photos. Coconut crabs are large omnivorous native crabs that can climb coconut trees. They eat many other things besides coconuts. Though the one at the booth looked large in comparison to the average crab it was not full-grown. The leg span of a mature adult can reach 3 feet. This one probably wasn’t even half that.
Some of the little booths have rentals of things for people to do. You can rent kayaks, bicycles, or snorkel gear. We heard an announcement saying glass bottom boat tours were available there too. There is some coral at that beach, mainly at the far end. Someone from our ship said they snorkeled a bit at that beach, but left the water quickly when they saw a sea snake.
For better snorkeling take the hike to nearby Jinek Bay Marine Park. We spent a lot of time snorkeling there and saw lots of fish and coral. We did not see any sea snakes. If you don’t have your own snorkel gear rent it before hiking over there. They did not have any snorkel gear for rent at Jinek Bay when we were there.
From the port area about halfway up the hill there’s kind of a road/trail off to the side of the road that goes up the hill. That path leads to some native style huts, a little dive shop, and other areas of the beach. For anyone planning to spend their day in the cruise port area it may be a good idea to bring your own toilet paper. The bathroom there did not have any during our port stop. It’s also a good idea to bring beach shoes. The sand can get rough if any recent storms have brought up broken bits of coral.
About halfway up the road leading from the beach to the top of the hill on the opposite side of the road from the trail a bike rental place had a handy map of the area. It’s there to let bike renters know what they could go to see, but is also quite handy if you want to find things in the area within walking distance of the port. At the top of the hill a sign points one way for a cave and the other direction for Jinek Bay. It says both are 5 minutes away, but that would take a very brisk walk. Most people will take longer to get to either one, probably closer to 10 or 20 minutes depending on their walking speed. The sign does not mention the church at the top of the island that you can see from the ship, but if you take the road toward Jinek Bay and bypass the turnoff for the bay you’ll get there.
Island currency is in pacific franks. They see enough tourists from Australia that people at or near the port are accustomed to taking Australian dollars. They were quite happy to take American dollars as well, but charged on par with Australian dollars and no accounting for the exchange rate so everything cost a bit more for Americans.
We saw no bugs on the island other than lots of butterflies and a few ants. Bugspray kills coral larvae so wearing it to any beach with coral is quite harmful. Oils and chemicals in ordinary sunscreens also harm coral so be sure to bring reef safe sunscreen when cruising to tropical places. The good news is mineral sunscreens also better protect people from skin cancer so while helping the coral you also help yourself. Just be sure to use one that either says biodegradable or reef safe because the inert ingredients can be harmful even in a mineral sunscreen if choosing the wrong one.
As for bugspray I never bring any on cruises. I’ve taken a lot of cruises to a variety of places and never seen a mosquito at or near a beach. I’ve actually only seen mosquitos once ever on a cruise and that was in a jungle in Mexico. If you’re worried about them, a dryer sheet in your pocket while you’re on dry land helps keep them at bay without posing a danger to the coral. There are lots of mosquitos in the woods near my house. I hike there all summer with a dryer sheet in my pocket and almost never get bitten. Without the dryer sheet I’m the one who gets all the bites even when nobody else gets any. I had a dryer sheet in that Mexican jungle and got no bites at all while other people without dryer sheets did get bit. Bonus – you can still use it in the dryer after you are done hiking around with it.
The walk out to the cave is pretty scenic with lots of flowers on the roadsides. Some of the flowers were full of black and white butterflies. When they stopped long enough to fold their wings we saw orange on them as well. Along the way we saw some traditional huts, one of which was set up for tourists to take photos – and it had a donation jar. The others were actually people’s homes.
If you walk out to see the cave you know you are nearly there when you come to an obvious church on the left and another building not so obviously a church on the right. Just past the church on the left there’s a field with an archway sign for the cave at the far end. Far enough back in the field that you aren’t that likely to notice it from the road. When we were there the open-sided building at the corner of the field was full of people who had a sign by the road about the cave. When we first walked out there in the morning it said $5 for a guide to the cave and we decided not to go in.
After my husband went back to the ship I decided I wanted to see the cave after all. I like caves a lot more than he does. When I went back later their sign said it was $10 for adults and $5 for children. I don’t know if these guys are officially taking money for anything associated with the cave or are just locals who have found an easy way to make some cash, but they let me go by for $5 with no guide.
Nobody I came across in the cave actually had a guide and the people I asked about it had paid the full price. There were no posted signs anywhere saying that it actually cost anything to go to the cave, but the guys with the sign did not let anyone pass without paying. You could probably get to the pathway to the cave from the other side of the church rather than walking directly past them, but they would still see you. I figured it’s not that much money and they probably need it worse than I do even if they are just locals with a scam and not officially associated with the cave. Of course it is possible they actually are legitimate. Plus if they weren’t there most people would walk on by down the road and never even know they had missed the cave since the pathway to the cave was at the far end of that field with a sign nobody would be likely to notice, but the signs those guys had made it obvious that was the right place.
The cave is not far from the road. Their sign said 2 minutes walk, which is far more accurate than the sign that said 5 minutes to everywhere from the cruise port. At first it’s a level trail, but once you get near the cave it becomes quite steep in some places. It’s not accessible for anyone with any balance or mobility issues or walking problems. Of all the sites you can walk to from the port in Lifou this one is the most difficult to get to. Some places on the trail require climbing over rocks and there is a hill laced with tree roots. Parts of the trail traverse narrow ledges. Most of the trail has a rope along the edge, but not all the posts the rope attaches to are stable so holding onto it for balance would be a bad idea.
At the bottom of the tree root hill the trail splits. One way (left) goes to an overlook of the pool at the bottom and the other which at first looks like a dead end leads to the entrance to the area with the pool, which is the cave. The way down to the cave entrance is very narrow so if someone is coming out wait in a wider spot for them to pass by before continuing down.
The cave is a large opening in the rock, mostly inside except the window at the overlook. There is a light on one wall so it’s not too dark. People jump off the walls into the pool. Mostly from the large flat area that is closest to the water, but some from a higher ledge on the far side. Once in the pool they have to climb up several feet of rock wall to get out. As caves go this one is not too impressive. It’s not actually a cave at all, but rather a landlocked cenote which is basically a sinkhole in limestone so the pool goes down quite deep. It’s most noted for nautilus shells divers found deep in the pool that were later determined to be from ancient sea creatures trapped there when the cave lost its connection to the sea rather than something someone threw into the pool.
Notre Dame de Lourdes Church
Where the road to Jinek Bay branches, the left fork leads to the church and the right to the bay. We saw more of the mainly black and white butterflies and some yellow ones on the way to the church. Also a lot of them up by the church. There was a dog sleeping on one of the overlook platforms at this church, and we saw a couple on the porch of the church by the cave as well. I guess the dogs of Lifou like to go to church.
The pathway up to the church varies from a cement type ramp to uneven coral stairs. Some portions of it could be difficult for people who are not steady on their feet.
Notre Dame de Lourdes Church is smaller than you would think when looking at it from the ship. I guess the hill is not as tall as it looks from a distance. It’s a tiny church with a big view.
The little church was built by missionaries who came to the island in the 1850’s. It fills the majority of the space at the top of the hill, but there is room to walk around it and a couple platforms to stand on and enjoy the views. Besides the cruise ship, tender pier, and open water, Jinek Bay is visible from the hilltop.
Jinek Bay Marine Reserve
On the way into the bay there’s a sign that says not to put on sunscreen before going into the water. This is to protect the coral. Oils and chemicals in ordinary sunscreens suffocate and bleach corals leading to their demise and this is a protected area for the coral. Where the road bends to the right when you’ve nearly reached the bay there’s a building off to the left. It’s a free bathroom with toilet paper. This may not sound too impressive, but for Lifou at the time of our visit it was a great find.
Of all the places we’ve snorkeled, only the Great Barrier Reef was better than Jinek Bay. This bay is full of a variety of corals, bigger and brighter than those found in the Caribbean. There are some of the yellow and purple colors found in corals of the Great Barrier Reef, and plenty of brownish or beige ones closer to the colors most often seen in the Caribbean. Standing on corals is not allowed, but there are some broken ones where people have disobeyed that rule. Centuries to grow and seconds to break. Sadly there is quite a large patch of dead coral near the shore, most likely due to careless visitors.
There are numbered bouys about the bay. We found the most colorful coral near number 4 on our visit. Number 2 had a patch with sea anemones and neon bright clown fish. Out near 6 and 7 the deeper water made for taller reefs and number 8 had some big brown and white corals shaped like giant flowers that I have not seen anywhere else.
It costs $15 to snorkel in the bay and there was no snorkel gear for rent there on our visit so you have to bring it with you. They did have some noodles and other floatation devices for those who wanted them, but having one was not required. The water was pretty calm the day we went and I used just the mask and snorkel, no fins. Most other people did wear fins. I never use snorkel vests or other floatation devices if it’s not required because it’s actually harder to dive under the surface than it is to float on top, but for anyone who is not confident in their swimming skills it is good that they have some available.
You pay a lot more than $15 for shore excursions that rarely go to places where the snorkeling is this good so we considered it money well spent. There is no beach at this bay. Entry into the water is via a stairway that goes down from both ends of a platform. All the cruise ship people used the stairs, but some local boys were jumping into the water from the platform and the shore.
People just leave their things on shore while they go into the water and nobody bothered them. I did not have anything of value in my bag other than the required ship’s card and my ID and a small amount of cash. Getting back on board the ship could be difficult without the ship’s card so it was probably the most valuable thing I had. They did not ask for ID at this port. Mostly American and Canadian ports are the ones that will ask, but now and then some other random port does. I always figure it would be sure to be the one where I didn’t have mine if I ever didn’t bring it.
There are little waterproof plastic cases that can be used for small items like cards or cash in places that it isn’t safe to leave your things on shore. I have one on a string that hangs around the neck, but did not use it at this place. Most of the people there were other passengers from our ship and there’s not much crime on Lifou.
Corals here included brain, staghorn, hard, plate, and many others. This is an excellent port stop for snorklers. Snorkeling is my favorite thing to do on cruises. The $15 is good for all day and I actually did come back to Jinek Bay again for a second snorkel session after my husband went back to the ship. Caves aren’t the only thing I’m more into than he is.
Excursions offered from our ship for this port were all lower priced than the average cruise ship excursion at $49 to $55, but still about double the total cost of going to both the snorkel bay and the cave on your own. Going to the church on the hill was free. The ship had a tour to the Cliffs of Jokin, one to a Vanilla House, one to a beach on the far side of the island, a Melanesian encounter, and an excursion to a forest and secret grotto. Because of the excellent snorkeling at Jinek Bay, Lifou is one of my all-time favorite port stops.