Saturday, February 7, 2009
Île des Pins, New Caledonia
Île des Pins, or the Isle of Pines, is located southeast of Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia. An overseas territory of France, the island is often nicknamed l'île la plus proche du paradis ("the closest island to Paradise") and is famous for snorkeling and scuba diving. The colorful lagoon features many species of tropical fish and the beautiful corals can be clearly seen in the transparent waters. The island is home to many unique creatures such as the Crested Gecko and the world's largest gecko, which when fully grown stretches an impressive 14 inches! First discovered by Captain James Cook in 1774 on his second voyage to New Zealand, Cook gave the island its name after seeing the tall native pines. History shows that he never set foot onto the island, but assumed it was inhabited when he saw smoke. In the mid-1800s Catholic and Protestant missionaries arrived, as did traders looking for sandalwood. In 1853 the French took possession of the island and in 1872 it became a French penal colony housing almost 3,000 political deportees from Paris.