The island closest to Paradise
With its white-sand beach that stretches over 25 kilometers, Ouvéa (Iaaï in the local language) is one of the most beautiful atolls in the Pacific. Its shores are delicately washed by pristine waters that display an array of blueish hues. The island is 35 kilometers long and less than 40 meters wide in some places. With a total area of 132 km², Ouvéa only has one road which runs north to south. It winds along the lagoon, and its endless beaches fringed by palm trees, before trailing towards the deep-blue ocean. The lagoon’s pristine waters mirror the beauty and majesty of Lékiny Cliffs. They also shelter abundant wildlife providing Ouvéa’s population with a precious food reserve. The island is partly immerged as it was formed by an atoll that has tipped over. Unlike Lifou and Maré, Ouvéa’s lagoon is not filled-in but bounded by a series of reefs and islets called the Pléiades. Ouvéa and the Beautemps-Beaupré islands were enlisted as World Heritage sites in July 2008.
Ouvéa counts 4,300 inhabitants whose ethnic heritage stems from Polynesian and Melanesian migrations. The Polynesian influence is clearly more present than on Lifou or Maré as the island actually bears the Polynesian name for Wallis Island (Uvea). In the north, the Saint-Joseph customary district and its Takedji Chefferie (chieftaincy) actually count a fairly large community of Wallis islanders. This is why two indigenous languages are spoken on Ouvéa: Iaaï, a Kanak language, and Faga-uvea, which is of Polynesian origin. The island is divided into three customary districts: Saint-Joseph, Fayaoué and Mouli.
In the 1970s, Katsura Morimura, a young Japanese writer, spent some time on Ouvéa. During her stay she wrote a novel entitled “the island closest to Paradise”, a love story between a young Japanese woman visiting Ouvéa and a local man of Japanese descent. Morimura was delighted by the enchanting setting and the warmth of the people she encountered. Though her book was never translated into French, the island has since been known as” the island closest to Paradise”. The author, now dead, continues to entice new generations of Japanese visitors. Morimura’s novel remains a vibrant and inspiring ode to Ouvéa’s beauty.