French bless­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Au na­turel: One of the many beaches on the Isle of Pines, a daz­zling bit of the South Pa­cific that lives up to the brochures

Smooth sail­ing: New Cale­do­nia’s turquoise wa­ters are per­fect for boat­ing One of her pas­sions is the is­land’s con­vict ru­ins. Af­ter the brief so­cial­ist ex­per­i­ment of the Paris Com­mune in 1872 was crushed by the Third Repub­lic, many of the com­mu­nards were de­ported to New Cale­do­nia, where some ended up on the Isle of Pines.

By the time they were granted an amnesty in 1879 and re­turned to France, the con­victs had built stone bar­racks, a con­vent for the re­demp­tion of the fe­male pris­on­ers and a wa­ter tower, and left be­hind sev­eral hun­dred grave­stones. To­day it’s a poignant place that has been half-re­claimed by the for­est; the walls of the build­ings are cracked, co­conut palms lance the tum­bled stones and veg­e­ta­tion runs riot.

Roots also or­gan­ises dance troupes as part of her en­ter­tain­ment pro­gram but this is to be avoided at all costs, un­less you are an ex­hi­bi­tion­ist. It’s a quick­step, hip-shak­ing dance per­formed by sylph-like is­land women who don grass skirts and co­conut-cup bras for the oc­ca­sion. I ar­rive late with my two daugh­ters and the only seats left are in front of the dancers, one of whom is mak­ing fla­grant eye con­tact with me. While I do my very best to blend into the grass, she marches over, beck­ons me on to my feet and leads the way back among the dancers.

I do not shimmy well. My hips and sense of rhythm come from An­glo-Sax­ons and af­ter I tread on her bare feet for the third time, my sup­ple friend aban­dons me for a more suc­cess­ful part­ner. My chil­dren are sym­pa­thetic but a par­ent in a state of rit­ual hu­mil­i­a­tion is a pre­cious thing, and from the num­ber of times they rec­ol­lect the in­ci­dent to friends and rel­a­tives, this has been a hol­i­day to trea­sure. Michael Ge­bicki was a guest of New Cale­do­nia Tourism.

Check­list

Creative Hol­i­days is of­fer­ing seven nights for the price of five at Le Paci­fique Ho­tel with flights to Noumea and trans­fers. From $1290 a per­son ex Bris­bane; also avail­able from other states. For travel from April to March 31, 2010. Sea­sonal sur­charges and black­out dates ap­ply. More: www.cre­ative­hol­i­days.com.

www.newcale­do­nia.com.au

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