Kuto, Ile des Pins, New Caledonia

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The Isle of Pines—Île des Pins in French, or Kunié to New Caledonia's indigenous Melanesian people—is located 60 kilometers (37 miles) southwest of Grande Terre, the main island of the archipelago that makes up New Caledonia. With less than 2,000 inhabitants spread across its 152-square-kilometer (59-square-mile) size, Île des Pins brims with enough natural beauty to have earned it the nickname “l'île la plus proche du paradis” ("the island closest to paradise"). Its principal draws are its beaches, especially those around the bays of Kuto and Kanumera, where one can swim with colorful tropical fish, while the island’s name, bestowed upon it by the English captain James Cook, refers to its abundant soaring pine trees, which can reach up to 60 meters (197 feet) in height. The official administrative area (and only village) is Vao in the south, but the port of Kuto serves as the island’s chief gateway and offers accommodation, restaurants, shops and more. Isle of Pines was a penal colony for some 3,000 political prisoners from Paris in the 1870s, and traces of that history are visible in the shape of overgrown prison ruins.