Vao (Île des Pins)
Vao is the main town of the island of Île des Pins, which, together with some uninhabited tributary islands, forms a municipality of the Southern Province of New Caledonia, a French overseas territory in the Pacific Ocean.
Vao is located 6 km east of Kuto, the island’s main port, to which it is connected by a good road that is passable in all weathers. From Kuto, Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia, can be reached by ferry three times a week. The airport of Ile des Pin is located about 12 km north of Vao and is served by three daily flights from Nouméa.
Vao is also one of the eight tribal areas of Île des Pins, and the most populous with 572 inhabitants (435 tribal or résidents and 137 non-tribal or non-résidents, as of 1996).
Facilities and infrastructure
Vao, with its town hall(mairie), is not only the administrative centre, but also the school centre of the island with its three schools. The girls’ school was founded in 1882 and the boys’ school in 1893. The buildings are very well preserved and are still in use today.
In the centre of the village there are shops, the only post office on the island, the tourist information office, a small market hall and the island’s health centre with a doctor, dentist, midwife and nurses.
That the Vao area was inhabited over 2000 years ago is shown by pottery finds made at Baie de Saint Maurice Bay in 1943, now on display at the Musée de Nouvelle Calédonie museum in Nouméa. Fragments of obsidian were also found at the bay, which came from a quarry near Talasea on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea, over 3000 km away. This could mean that trade relations existed at the time between what is now Papua New Guinea and Île des Pins.
In 1860, construction began on the Catholic church of Notre Dame de l’Assomption in the south of the island, around which the village of Vao grew. This is also where the most powerful chief of the Ile des Pins settled. Before that, he lived in Gadji in the north of the island, which was originally the most important village of the Ile des Pins.
Places of interest
In addition to the church of Notre Dame de l’Assomption, built in 1860 and remodelled several times, to which an avenue of araucarias, so typical of New Caledonia and the Ile des Pins, leads, Vao, which is situated on several bays, has a number of other sights.
At the market hall, a monument commemorates the islanders who died for France in the First and Second World Wars. Behind a palisade of carved totem poles is the Chefferie, the residence of Hilarion Vandegou, the island’s most important chief, who administers the island together with seven other chiefs who are subordinate to him.
At Baie de Saint Maurice Bay, where pottery from the Lapita culture period was found in 1943, a monument commemorates the arrival of the first Catholic missionaries on 12 August 1848, surrounded by a circle of carved totem poles from 1987.
In the bay of Saint Joseph, the traditional pirogues are still built in the traditional manner and are still used for fishing. Not far from the bay, also known as Baie des Pirogues, there is a statue of St Joseph, also surrounded by a ring of totem poles, which is a sign of the strong religiousness of the inhabitants of the Ile des Pins.
Above the village, the chapel of Notre Dame de la Salette offers an impressive view over Vao and its surroundings, and is also the site of the island’s cemetery with the tomb of Queen Hortense.
A few km north of Vao is the Grotte d’Oumagni, also known as Grotte de la Reine Hortense. It is said that the daughter of Grand Chief Kaoua Vandegou hid in it for several months in 1855/56, as unrest had broken out after the death of her father. The entrance to the cave is at the end of a small valley with lush tropical vegetation, including impressive specimens of the Alpinia genus and palm ferns.
– Collection of images, videos and audio files
- District Coutumier Ile des Pins
- Pierre Grundmann: Nouvelle Calédonie, p. 179. Paris 2012
- Christophe Sand: Archaeology in New Caledonia, p. 33. Nouméa 1993
- Pierre-Alain Pantz: Ile des Pins – merveille de la nature, p. 81. Nouméa 2008
- Pierre Grundmann: Nouvelle Calédonie, p. 181. Paris 2012
- Michael Brillat: South Seas, p. 81. Munich 2012
- Michael Brillat: South Seas, p. 82. Munich 2012