A Walk around Kuto Peninsula

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Our favorite walk on the Isle des Pins is at Kuto Peninsula, which follows the shoreline through a forest of Araucaria columnaris pines and pandanus trees, which grow on a base of fossilized coral, many of which are rooted on the tops of ledges jutting out over the water.

During his second voyage in 1774, Captain Cook visited New Caledonia. Jacques Brosse, in his book, Great Voyages of Exploration, 1983, wrote:

“To the south of New Caledonia, he discovered a small island remarkable for its high conifers, which were so crowded together that from a distance they looked like basalt columns. The species belonged to the genus Araucaria, then unknown. These Auracaria columnaris, which measured as high as 70 meters, looked like giant pines, and Cook therefore called the place the Isle of Pines.”

Cook and his carpenter thought these newly discovered trees would be ideal for ships’ masts. On his way to New Zealand, Cook discovered the uninhabited island which he named Norfolk Isle, and on which he discovered the Auracaria tree now called the Norfolk Island pine.

Wikipedia provides the following information:

“Members of Araucaria are found in Chile, Argentina, southern Brazil, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, Australia, and New Guinea. ………. These columnar trees are living fossils, dating back to early in the Mesozoic age. ……… By far the greatest diversity exists in New Caledonia, due to the island’s long isolation and stability.[4]

“It is believed that the long necks of sauropod dinosaurs may have evolved specifically to browse the foliage of the typically very tall Araucaria trees. The global distribution of vast forests of Araucaria during the Jurassic makes it likely that they were the major high energy food source for adult sauropods.[10]”

During our walk, it became obvious that the columnaris pines grow quite well on fossilized coral, and on the windward side of the island. The edible seeds of the trees are similar to our familiar “pine nuts”, and plant themselves plentifully beneath their tall parent trees. Some seedlings were sprouting from holes in fossilized coral heads. Trees felled by the wind quickly decompose and provide soil for the seedlings.

Impressions of many types of coral were clearly visible underfoot. Several small, sandy bays had been carved into the shoreline by the waves, and were filled with white pumice stones which had floated ashore from an ocean volcano many miles away. Patches of living coral colored the water offshore.

The trail ended at the backyard of our friends Cleo and Albert, which is full of convict ruins, and overlooking beautiful Kanumera Bay.