By Susan Turnbull
Susan is an ER nurse on a yearlong sabbatical to travel the globe with her husband, Gary. Susan was joined on this trip by fellow member, Melanie Thomas-Armstrong.
Wallis and Futuna is a French Overseas Collectivity located in the South Pacific Ocean, 280 kilometers northeast of Fiji and 370km west of Samoa. Wallis and Futuna is comprised of three main volcanic islands of relatively low elevation: Wallis (Uvea), Futuna and Alofi. There are also over 20 uninhabited islets.
Ethnically, the people are Polynesian. The island of Wallis was invaded by the Tongans in the 1500s and thus the Wallisian language has linguistic ties to Tonga. Futuna was later settled by the Samoans in the 1600s, who at that time were engaged in the Tongan-Samoan war, and thus, has linguistic ties to Samoans.
The Dutch were the first European explorers to see the Futuna island group in 1616. British explorer Samuel Wallis discovered the island of Uvea (now Wallis) in 1767.
French Catholic missionaries were the first Europeans to permanently settle Wallis and Futuna in 1837. The missionaries converted the population to Catholicism. The missionaries and newly converted kings of the islands asked France for a protectorate. The French agreed in 1888 and it was integrated into the territory of New Caledonia.
Six thousand US troops were stationed there in 1942 during WWII, though it did not see any active engagement. In 1961 Wallis and Futuna split from New Caledonia and became a French overseas collectivity in 2003. As French citizens, they have the right to live anywhere in France.
Before COVID, Wallis and Futuna recorded 100 tourists per year. Infrastructure is not well set up for tourists, but adventurous travelers are rewarded with friendly, generous locals and pristine lagoons which are so far unspoiled by crowds of tourists.
When to go
The best time to visit is between May and October, which see less rain.
Air Calin is the airline that services Wallis and Futuna, currently three flights per week. You can get there via Nadi (Fiji) or Noumea (New Caledonia.) As a TCCer, you could island hop from Nadi to Wallis and then to Noumea. From Noumea, you can reach Vanuatu, Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti. https://www.aircalin.com/en
The Pacific Franc (XPF or CFP) is the accepted currency (same as New Caledonia and French Polynesia.) There are only two ATMs on Wallis and one is next to the supermarché. There are no cash exchange places, so buy some prior to arrival. The airport in Fiji offers currency exchange but did not have any available the day we flew out. Like other French Pacific destinations, it is on the expensive side. Credit cards are not generally accepted so best to carry cash.
For two days it was not valuable for us to purchase a local SIM card. Neither our American nor Australian international data roaming worked there. Hotels have basic WiFi.
There are no buses or taxis on these islands and only limited car hire options. Book early! We were surprised to see a car hire desk at the airport. We pre-booked with Eden Car Hire: email@example.com. Alison was waiting for us at the airport and simply handed us the keys.
Maps were unavailable so be prepared with downloaded offline maps such as Maps.me and have all the places of interest already pinned.
Places to Stay
Accommodations are basic family-run establishments. They respond best when contacted via Facebook Messenger or email. You will get the best results in the French language, so use Google translate if you cannot speak or write French.
The top pick is Hotel Lomipeau Wallis, which has lovely views and a restaurant, but was closed to the public at the time of our stay. We stayed at Hotel Moana Hou (firstname.lastname@example.org) which is also a good location opposite the beach, near kayak hire, the Beach Club and more. Hotel Ulukula Wallis, is located closer to town and Hotel Albatross near the airport was closed on our visit.
Food and drink
Restaurants and seemingly everything is closed on Monday and Tuesday night. You can self-cater a French-style picnic with French wines from the supermarché. This was a real treat for me compared to the usual Pacific supermarket stock.
We were pleasantly surprised to find the restaurant Bord de Mer at the top of the island open on our day trip. The newly opened Beach Club is a nice place to unwind.
Things to see and do in Wallis
Two full days in Wallis will allow you time to drive around the entire island, stopping at all of the sites, which are pretty much churches and the largest Tongan fort in the Pacific.
As devout Catholics, the islands are dotted with impressive churches made of lava rocks with gorgeous ocean views. If a church is locked, just present a kind smile at the priest’s residence and he will unlock and proudly show it to you.
Lac Lalo Lalo (Lake Down Down) is one of the largest inland crater lakes in the Pacific. This is signposted and has a lookout but is otherwise inaccessible.
Wallis is blessed with one of the world’s loveliest lagoons. Hire a boat to take you to the pristine, uninhabited islets for swimming and relaxing. Inquire about the villages along the lagoon. Aka’Aka village is a good place to start and your hotel can organize it. There are kayaks for hire along that same coastline further north on the eastern coast road.
Things to see and do in Futuna
Warning, traveling to Futuna is where your trip may become complicated. Flights often cancel for up to a week at a time and you do run the risk of getting stuck. Domestic flights can be booked via Air Calin. Rumor has it that as of December 2023, Air Loyaut will be taking over.
Futuna is not surrounded by a fringing reef, so take care as you will be swimming in the ocean. You may wish to try and engage a local guide to visit the Mont Puke trail, Loka cave, the cannibal oven at Lafua and the water taro fields.
Poi Basilica was erected on the site of the martyrdom of Saint Peter Chanel, patron saint of Oceania. His reliquary is now there and worshippers from all over the Pacific visit this tiny island to pay their respects.
From Vélé jetty at the south end of the island, you may be able to organize a taxi boat to Alofi island.