You need to go swimming with turtles in New Caledonia

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The world’s oceans are home to many amazing creatures, but few are as majestic as the turtle, so it’s not surprising that snorkelers and scuba divers often seek out sites where they’ll be likely to encounter one of the ancient creatures.

Sharing some snorkelling time with a turtle is a surreal experience and the incandescent waters in the bays, beaches, reefs and lagoons off the islands of New Caledonia are some of the best places to do it. Four of the world’s seven species of sea turtles call the islands’ home, and keen snorkelers have a good chance of swimming with turtles, especially around the quieter bays and reefs.

But before you join the gentle giants of the sea for a swim, it is important to remember to always use a reef-friendly sunscreen to avoid damage to reef systems and animals. And, as these are protected animals, you should never touch them and always keep a respectful distance to keep them from being frightened or intimidated.

One of our best turtle experiences was on Amedee Island, a tiny coral atoll located around 24 kilometres south of New Caledonia’s Noumea. Home to France’s first metal lighthouse, which is one of the tallest in the world, this pretty patch of the Pacific is paradise on earth. But its main attraction is the abundance of marine life that has seen it and its surrounding lagoon classified on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Here we barely had to step a few metres off the white sand beach to be swimming amongst graceful green sea turtles, attracted by the seagrass around the island. We spotted more than six individual turtles, each happy to swim alongside and below us for loads of time, as long as we kept a respectful distance. Indeed it was us, and not the chilled turtles, who would end each encounter, and it proved such an awe-inspiring experience. In fact, it still rates as one of my then eight-year old son’s favourite travel moments.

A two-hour drive from Noumea, the colonial town of Bourail is famous for its retina-searing turquoise water, stunning white sand beaches and the incredible marine life filled Bourail Lagoon. But a visit to breathtaking Turtle Bay – a protected site where turtles migrate to lay their eggs – is the main attraction for fans of the majestic reptiles. While you must always keep a respectful distance from turtles and their nests at all times, if you time your visit right you will find the waters around the lagoon and bay teaming with turtles.

One of the New Caledonia’s most startlingly pretty islands, the Isle of Pines is like another world, with waters 100 shades of dazzling blue, endless stretches of beach lined with lush palm trees, sandy coves and bays. There are numerous diving sites along the reef as well as great snorkelling in the waters of Kanumera Bay. Dominated by its sacred coral rock, there are often turtles spotted loitering about here. But for the ultimate turtle experience, we joined a local boat tour to Turtle Bay, a feeding ground for both giant Green Turtles and Loggerhead Turtles.

If the turtles are feeling sociable, like they were on our visit, your local guide might allow you to join them for a swim. The turtles are particularly affectionate with the guides and come to say hello when they hear the boats. Lovers of marine life may also be lucky enough to spot reef sharks, manta rays and dolphins in the clear waters, as we did, on our scenic boat adventure around the bay.