On the northwest corner of the island of Lifou, just past Xepenehe, "Notre Dame de Lourdes" stands on the roof of a chapel overlooking the South Pacific Ocean. She's cast out of iron and the chapel is thick walled cement. There is only a narrow flight of stairs and a coral path leading up to this chapel, which makes you admire the dedication of the people who carried the statue and all that cement up here back in 1898.
Some years ago a hurricane blew her right off the roof, down the cliff, and into the sea where she rested for many years. A group of sport divers found her and decided to bring her to the surface using air lift bags. Somehow they managed to get her back up the cliff and onto the roof again - an impressive engineering feat considering the remote location. To plan your pilgrimage to Notre Dame de Lourdes go to the Lifou New Caledonia website.
Lifou Island is the largest of the Loyalty Islands, in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France in the Pacific Ocean. The Loyalty Islands comprise the Province Iles Loyaute of New Caledonia. There are 4 major islands, Ouvea in the north, Lifou in the middle and Mare in the south. 40,000 people live on these islands, with over half on the largest island of Lifou. All three islands began as atolls - a circular ring of islands with a central lagoon. About a million years ago the sea floor bulged under these atolls upwards. Ouvea, on the northern slope of the bulge, still retains the characteristics of an atoll, a circular group of islands with a central lagoon, but it is tilted, with the southeastern side raised up into two long islands and the lagoon getting progressively deeper to the northwest. The coral reefs and islets of Lifou were lifted about 80 meters out of the sea with the central lagoon now a forested plateau. Mare was also lifted right out of the water and also has a central forested plateau. The ancient, uplifted coral has left a multitude of caves, cliffs and sink-holes that are fun to explore. The coastal areas have new reefs around them and there are a number of very pretty beaches. The people of the Loyalty Islands speak French and their own tribal languages, a mixture of Melanesian and Polynesian. Many also speak some English. The physical infrastructure of roads, schools and medical facilities are modern and high quality. The people of the Loyalty Islands honour their cultural heritage and this is especially evident in the construction of their homes, their respect of custom, celebrations and family life. Each island has at least one international standard hotel and the villages offer "tribal stays" with guests staying in traditional styled thatched huts or small guest houses. The islands are only about a 40 minute flight from Noumea and Air Caledonie, the domestic airline, flies to each island several times a day. There is also a high speed catamaran from Noumea, the Betico II, with air conditioned guest rooms for the trip (about 3 hours to Mare, 4 hours to Lifou and 5 hours to Ouvea). Each island has it's own special personality and things to see and do. For full details on the tourism features of the Loyalty Islands visit the official web site www.iles-loyaute.com