Bonjour New Caledonia!
Bonjour New Caledonia!
We had a good smooth passage from Vanuatu across to New Cal a couple of weeks ago – took about 48 hours with the wind co-operating most of the way except for a bout of un-forecast headwinds for the last 40 miles – complete with driving rain and poor visibility L However – once installed in the marina in Noumea in close proximity to the top notch boulangeries – all was forgotten.
The cakes and pastries are magnifique ……….
And that classic combo of baguette, wine and cheese is truly unbeatable J
Being back in a 1st world economy always feels a little strange at first. Even in NZ people don’t greet you in the street the way they do in the pacific islands, and it’s the same in Noumea. Everyone is busy in their own lives getting on with their own business. It’s also a first for us to have it so hard to find someone who speaks English. Although not as staunch as their european cousins, the French here are 100% committed to all things French. Asking (even in French) if they speak English brings a fairly lukewarm response, but blunder on in your appalling best travellers phrasebook French and they seek to short circuit their own misery and just answer you in English – Tres Bon!! Once this barrier is overcome, we’ve found people to be very friendly, helpful even.
The French New Caledonian’s are a very sporty bunch in love with the beach and all things aquatic. They swarm into the bays each weekend in their yachts and powerboats, they kite-surf in packs of 60 board-riders, they fish, dive, paddle-board and swim at every opportunity. The beaches are littered with tanned, toned bodies and (god-forbid) it is actually cool to wear speedos! Carl is in his element – previously banned from public viewing (only for under your wetsuit) the ol’ “budgie smugglers” are out – so much better to swim in I’m told J
The “mono-kini” is also pretty standard here although (I know this is an ageist comment –but it’s true) – there really should be an age-limit on this – tanned or not sometimes it really is better to keep your top on!
The indigenous New Caledonian’s – the Kanaks – give off a very different vibe to their indigenous pacific neighbours. With a strong history of anti-colonialism, when Kanaks first see us – being white they assume we’re French which is open licence to ignore us or at least be pretty luke-warm. Sure this is a generalisation but often true. However once out in the islands, people wave and smile but we haven’t found a Kanak who speaks English yet (or will admit it) so there’s not a lot of social interaction with the locals. This is a major difference to our trips in Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu where the time spent with the locals has often been a real highlight of the trip. We have scored some cred however - as a low level sign of disrespect we have replaced the French courtesy flag on Navara with a Kanak national flag. This has caused some local Kanak boats to circle us pointing and waving which is good entertainment for everyone.
We might however put the French one back up when we head back to the mainland as the gendarmes are renown for having a zero sense of humour and glock pistols J
After stocking up on cheese and chocolate almond croissants, we sailed 60nm south to the southern most end of New Cal’s beautiful barrier reef – Ile des Pins (Isle of Pines) or “Kunie” as it is known to the Kanaks. The name is derived from the towering Pine trees which naturally occur in abundance here.
Now we’ve seen a lot of white sandy beaches in our time but the sand here is unbelievable. It’s so white you can’t look at it without your sunnies on and it’s so fine – I would say a similar consistency to baking soda – it is a real marvel and a photographers’ delight.
The lagoons here have very healthy turtle populations, and due to them not being on the locals menu here – they are quite friendly as well. Up until now we’ve had a lot of photos of turtle’s behinds – now we have some other angles as well!
However, the most prolific resident in Kunie is the sea snake. OMG – we have never seen anything like it – the place is absolutely infested with them – YIKES!! The beige and brown model is the most prolific and they are found all over the beaches and limestone rocks during the day. They feed at night in the ocean and come back to land to lie in the sun, sleep and digest their food during the day – as well as jumping out and scaring unsuspecting kiwi’s ½ to death.
Needless to say, all the cockpit drains are now plugged every night before we go to bed, every hatch is covered with mosquito nets anyway, and cockpit boards are at least ½ in. They aren’t afraid of us in the slightest and are known to find a comfy corner of your cockpit during the night or even curl up in your shoes as has happened to friends of ours! And anyone who says they only have little mouths that can’t open very far so they can’t bite you – rubbish ……
Fortunately they’re not aggressive as their venom is more deadly than a cobra with no known antidote L
They come in many varieties – including this fetching shade of duck shell blue…
Nothing to do with the sea snakes (yeah right) but we haven’t spent much time in the water here. Its only 22 degrees which after Vanuatu’s 28 or 29 feels decidedly chilly. In general we have been enjoying the cooler weather here – it only gets to about 25 during the day as we were over-heating and over-sweating big time in Vanuatu. If only we could have New Cal’s air temperature and Vanuatu’s water temperature! I think the soft coral and reef passes of Fiji have spoilt us for life in terms of diving and snorkling. We haven’t found anything on this trip so far to rival Fiji underwater –but we’ll keep up the search!
We are sailing north again tomorrow back to Grande Terre and hope to have the whales escort us like they did on our sail down here. Like Tonga, New Cal is a major humpback congregation and breeding site this time of the year and we have really enjoyed being up close and personal again to these gentle giants. This guy – larger than our boat swam alongside us for a while – always a thrillJ
Within the next couple of weeks we’ll be getting ready to go on weather watch for our sail back to NZ. It’s a shorter distance – about 6 days sail from here – but like always we’re committed to hanging about until the weather looks right.
Hope you are all well and enjoying spring.
Linda and Carl.