Sarah had wanted to swim with Manta Rays since seeing friends photos: we tried in Fiji 3 years ago but the Manta didn’t show up. The tourist office in Noumea said that Ile des Pins was one good place to try but you had to go to the reefs of the off-lying islands which meant an organised tour, as we were limited in where we could anchor. The weather forecast was good for Thursday so we booked our place with the hotel on the beach and packed our swim gear and sun cream.
Nine o’clock the next morning saw us on the beach by the restaurant: the boatman was in reasonable time but some of the guests were on island time. When we set off it was far faster than Serenity can go and we had the prime seats at the front of the boat. We zoomed round to Vao for some photo opportunities and had been on the water less than half an hour when the second boat did a sudden u-turn and stopped. The skipper had spotted a Manta Ray. We went across and joined them and the ray swam along between the two boats periodically surfacing to have its photo taken.
The statue of Totems in Baie St Maurice is a statue surrounded by carved totems. It commemorates the first mass held on the island
Sadly we were prohibited from anchoring in the bays near Vao
The first Manta Ray we saw. The boat next to it gives you an idea of its size. We reckon its wingspan was about 12ft
We weren’t allowed into the water with that ray, but 10 minutes later we were closer to shore swimming with turtles - the boatmen clearly knew where to find them. Then after a tour of the bay we headed out into the lagoon. It was amazing to us the speed at which they drove the boats across the shallow reef: they knew just where the water was deep enough for us. We caught sight of a dolphin jumping which we always enjoy but was a real treat for the other people on the boat then, just as we were approaching our first island stop, another Manta was spotted. This time we were allowed in the water and Sarah swam along side it for a short while until it decided it had done its bit for tourism and headed off at speed. Sadly Phil had problems with his mask and didn’t see it. We had picked our day well and the sun was hot enough that you didn’t get cold in wet swimming clothes back in the boat.
Swimming with the turtles. This one had barnacles growing on its back! Sarah was too busy looking to get pictures when she was in the water with the Manta Ray
We had a hour on Ile Brosse, where there was shallow reef close to the beach: great for snorkelling and, following some other people along the beach we found the sunny cliffs where the Tricot Rays were basking. These are stripped kraits: highly venomous sea snakes that are very timid and have small mouths so are therefore not a great danger to humans.
The reef just off the beach at Ile Brosse
The beach on Ile Moro was the scene of our picnic lunch. Langoustines and grilled fish cooked on a barbecue by our boatman and served on a table under a shelter complete with table cloth! We found the food very bland, or maybe we haven’t got our taste buds back yet. Full from lunch and with the sun behind cloud we didn’t bother swimming again but enjoyed a walk along the beach before our ride home: bumpy and wet in the front of the boat this time as the afternoon wind had kicked up a swell.
The picnic site on Ile Moro
Langoustine and Parrot Fish with French bread and salad
Relaxing before lunch
Our transport for the day
On Friday there was a good south easterly to take us back to Grande Terre and we set off about an hour behind Rebell with just a poled out Genoa set. We were followed by a French boat that had been anchored next to us. As we were leaving Ile des Pins behind Sarah looked back and saw a whale breaching apparently close to the French boat. This is the time of year when humpbacks are found in New Caledonian waters. We saw it blowing and coming out of the water several times more before it disappeared - a great end to a great week away.
We got to Anse Majic, in Baie du Prony, in time to pick up the last mooring buoy and had a peaceful night there before continuing round to Ile Uere, just south of Noumea, on Saturday. On Sunday George, the lovely weekend security officer, found us a spot at the far end of the marina which is now packed with boats coming in from Fiji and Vanuatu.
We’ve spent the week since then preparing the boat for entry to Australia, where the Biosecurity at the border is the strictest we have come across yet. The foods you can take in are very restricted and they will check all the woodwork for insect infestations. As well as our normal pre-passage checks we have emptied and cleaned every locker, spraying with insecticide as we go. It’s a long time since Serenity has been this clean. We’ve done all the paper work required pre-entry and booked our spot in a marina for our arrival. We are now looking for the right weather for the 800nm to Bundaberg in Queensland.