2019 New Cal Dejeuner a Pont Germain

Tue 10 Sep 2019 02:14

Dejeuner a Pont Germain

We were getting hungry by the time Francois came to pick us up having driven through a shallow part of the lake. The dam was built in 1958 for hydro- electric power and is now also used in the nickel mining industry. The Perignon bridge we had walked across is made entirely of rubber oak trees, ‘She Oaks’ in Vanuatu, as it does not rot, useful as it is often submerged in the rainy season.

We had two more stops before lunch, one of a flora type and the other a very special one of the fauna variety in which we hoped to spot a Cagou ground dwelling bird with distinctive grey plumage and orange legs and beak.

Do you notice on the pretty round leafy plant that Francois is cradling where the formation is all in pairs, maybe to ensure it has a backup for survival, Alison and Randall where are you when we need you!

You will also notice that on numerous plants the new growth is red including the Flame of the Forest as we know it in England; these new leaves contain a UV resistant chemical to protect them from the sun, pre-human Piz Buin.

We pulled in beside a tiny sign saying ‘Cagou’ and started out on a little walk through the pretty forest along a well-worn track and I cynically wondered if Francois was ‘having us on’, doubting the likelihood of seeing a Cagou in this vast forest despite them being unafraid of humans. Well it appears they are only too happy to let humans do a little uprooting of the undergrowth to find them a few bugs. Their lack of shyness and the fact they have lost the ability to fly and lay only one egg each year are all factors attributable to the lack of predators on the island. Just the same as plants have no thorns and their foliage is soft, without prickly ends to the leaves.

Forty years ago there were only 60 Cagou left on the island after the predation of humans and dogs, but now due to careful protection there are over 1000 and growing. Our hopes were fading as we finished the forest loop and started back along the road to our vehicle. We peered into the dense woodland and I spotted one. Francois immediately started upturning leaf piles at the side of the road which brought the little fellow out, hence the photos. They are territorial and any trespasser might well be killed in a bloody fight. The long grey feathers lying down its back are raised at times of threat into a beautiful crescent enough to shiver the timbers of any intruder.

We were delighted to have seen this unique to NC bird especially after bird lover Phil who we met in Vanuatu had recommended them to us.

Our next stop was lunch at the Pont Germain BBQ site where it looked as if each tour guide had access to his own area and took a pride in maintaining it. Francois sent us off to entertain ourselves while he did the cooking and after thirty minutes exploring the banks of the river we were all seated around the table, as you can see, the others tucking into venison steaks and sausages and me opening a little foil package of fish cooked with herbs and vegetables all accompanied with three types of salad carefully prepared by Francois.

“If you’d like to walk down the road while I clear up I’ll pick you up in a few minutes.” Robert walked with us while Taka and Azusa lingered behind and came across another very shy Cagou and got some good photos. This one was orphaned before he learned not to fear humans, when his parents were killed by a dog. We hoped he would one day find a mate to keep him company.

At the start of our journey home Francois stopped to show us the incredible hooks on the end of the climber and then we were looking up the immense and familiar height of a very healthy Kauri tree still thriving at 1000 years of age.

From the lookout at Guepyville Pass we had contrasting vistas on both sides, one over the flourishing wetlands and the other towards hills and with a Kauri plantation in the foreground, Cook’s quintessential Scotland don’t you think.

An existence to imagine was the thousands of families, parents and children who used to spend their long days chipping away at the rock, eking out a living from the traces of ore they found up in the hot hills. In the 1800’s mules and donkeys were used to transport the ore to crushing plants and the shipping wharfs. The miners must have preferred working in the cooler months of the winter when the Australian High Pressure system reduced the temperature to around 23’.

There are now 270,000 permanent inhabitants in New Caledonia and 54% of them are under 25. There is a big problem with young Melanesian men who kill themselves in car accidents and refuse to wear seat belts.

As we sped downhill Francois pointed out how the abundance of eucalyptus trees makes the scenery look like Australia and indeed a lot of it has come from that massive neighbour, thirteen types of eucalyptus alone including the white paper ones with their bark hanging off like shedding skin. Imported deer are a problem in the dry forest so hunting of them is allowed under licence.

During our amazing day with Francois we had seen and or heard these birds; the Blue Goshawk, the Falcon, the Whispering Kite, the Yellow Breasted Robin, the Red Headed Honey Eater and the second biggest pigeon in the country.

Half way down the Mont D’Or road we pulled in to a natural spring to clean our shoes as the red ore rich soil permanently stains anything it touches. Francois dropped us off 10 hours after picking us up and if we were weary he must have been even more so, which is why he now gives of his skills and knowledge just twice a week.

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