The island is around 22°37′S 167°29′E / 22.617°S 167.483°E / -22.617; 167.483Coordinates: 22°37′S 167°29′E / 22.617°S 167.483°E / -22.617; 167.483 and measures 15 km by 13 km. It lies southeast of Grande Terre, New Caledonia's main island and is 100 kilometres southeast of the capital Nouméa. There is one airport with a 1,097 m runway. The Isle of Pines is surrounded by the New Caledonia Barrier Reef.
The inhabitants of the island are mainly native Melanesian Kanaks and the population is 2,000.
The island is rich with animal life and is home to unusual creatures such as the crested gecko Rhacodactylus ciliatus and the world's largest gecko Rhacodactylus leachianus.
The pic Nga is the island's highest point, at 262 metres elevation. River Ouro is the longest river.
Melanesian people lived on the island for over 2000 years before the island was first visited by Europeans. Captain James Cook in 1774 saw the island and renamed it on his second voyage to New Zealand. Cook gave the island its name after seeing the tall native pines. He never disembarked onto the island, but as he saw signs of inhabitance assumed it was inhabited. In the 1840s Protestant and Catholic missionaries arrived, along with merchants seeking sandalwood.
The French took possession of the island in 1853 at which time the native Kunies opted for the Catholic religion. In 1872 the island became a French penal colony, home to 3,000 political deportees from the Paris Commune.
The ruins of a penal colony can be seen in the village of Ouro in the west of the island. The water tower of Ouro which was built by prisoners in 1874/75 and renovated in 2005 is still used.
At the cemetery Cimetière des Déportés near Ouro is a pyramid-shaped memorial and the graves of 300 deportees who died between 1872 and 1880.