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A Visit to New Caledonia’s little church, Notre Dame de Lourdes

… This is a Guest Post by blogger Silke Elzner of Happiness and Things …

Cruising has become the latest fashion in travel, and it’s easy to see why once you start looking into this mode of travel in more detail. For me and my family, it’s the perfect way to travel: the mix of luxury and relaxation on board the ship paired with the adventure of arriving in a new destination every other day, just waiting for you to explore, is perfect.

From Sydney there are a number of cruises that will head towards the islands of the South Pacific, one prettier than the next. However, there is one island in particular that I would like to talk about a little bit further.

Lifou Island is part of the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia, a former coral atoll that today presents itself as a lush, tropical paradise with steep cliffs, deep green forests and strikingly beautiful sandy beaches. There’s only around 10,000 people living here, called Kanaks, so when a big cruise ship arrives at Easo Bay there is a busy commotion at the pier welcoming the visitors with traditional tribal dances, food and craft.

One of the most striking things you will see when arriving in Lifou Island, however, is the old missionary chapel which is perched on a cliff high above the sea.

The chapel, or little church, is called “Notre Dame de Lourdes” and was built by Catholic missionaries who arrived on the island in 1858. It’s a wonderful example of missionary architecture in the South Pacific, a solid cement walled building with a single entrance and narrow pointed windows to both sides.

On top of the building is the cast iron statue of St Mary, enjoying the best views of the South Pacific Ocean. The walls of the church are painted a bright white on the outside, fitting wonderfully into the lush green landscape and the backdrop of the deep blue sky.

I’ve been told that the statue and the roof were blown off by a cyclone some years ago and rediscovered by sport divers who found it on the bottom of the sea.  With determination and dedication they managed to get the statue ashore and carry her all the way back up to the top of the mountain, a laborious feat that probably wasn’t easy the first time around in the late 19th century and certainly no less so in modern times.

Imagine the degree of devotion and commitment by the missionaries and their first converts who carried not only the cast iron statue but every other piece of the chapel up the mountain in stifling heat.

How to Visit Notre Dame de Lourdes

Today, visitors to the island are more than welcome to walk up the path to visit the church. And if it’s not for the religious aspect or the admiration of architectural elegance, then it should be the gorgeous panoramic views that would make you attempt the steep but not impossible ascent.

Your reward will be the views of the blue Pacific to the right and that of Easo Bay with its bright blue water and the white sandy palm fringed beach to the left. When descending you will also catch glimpses of the turquoise Jinek Bay which is a wonderful snorkelling spot.

To get to Notre Dame de Lourdes from the Easo pier you need to follow the only tarred road leading left towards the church. It’s a leisurely ten to fifteen minutes walk past the turn off to Jinek Bay until you reach the end of the road. A sign will confirm that you have reached the right place. From here, just walk through the two carved tribal totems that serve as guardians of some sort, and take the footpath up the coral cliff.

There’s handrails and some concrete steps, but you will have some stretches where you need to be a bit more careful when making your ascent. It will only take you a couple of minutes to climb up to the top, but don’t underestimate the heat and the sun. Allow yourself pauses to catch your breath and to enjoy not just the views but also the tropical flowers and vegetation around you.

You will probably want to go inside the chapel once you have reached the top, and chances are you can do that. You will find that the church is mostly empty bar a bench, an altar and a Madonna. I find that its simplicity is really humbling and invites you to reflect.

Before returning to the beach, take a few moments out on the shady viewing platform right outside the church. Don’t you feel rather insignificant and small in this remote part of the world?

The generations of people who have come here to live and pray, the lives that have been lived and the loves that have been lost? If there’s just one thing you are planning on doing on Lifou Island, then this is a very good choice. It’s a steep climb well worth the effort that will guarantee you memories for the rest of your life.

This has been a guest post by Silke Elzner of the Sydney travel and lifestyle blog, Happiness and Things. Check out Silke’s site for more of her travels around Australia, the South Pacific and the Mediterranean.

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