A quick trip to New Caledonia

Araucaria columnaris, New Caledonia

New Caledonia is a French island territory (an “overseas collective”) east of Australia and north of New Zealand.  It is in the process of getting its independence, which I believe is scheduled for a binding vote in November, 2018.  I wouldn’t call it a speck in the South Pacific, but there had to be some luck in early explorers finding it (both Kanak, the original people, and European).

We had 3 days in New Caledonia... 1 in the capital city of Noumea (the most populated city),  and 1 each on the island of Lifou, and the Isle of Pines.

Noumea is the largest city in New Caledonia, with about 200,000 residents.  I don’t know how the wealth is distributed, but New Caledonia has about a quarter of the world’s nickel reserves, so mining exports are important.  No excursions were offered to the nickel mines, but I did get 1 photo from a distance... the gray clouds emanating from the smokestacks made them pretty visible.

In Noumea, I just wandered around the city, walking about 5 miles, and returned to the bus for transport back to the ship just when the skies opened and a deluge of rain fell.  I did see my first cat, a socialized but free-roaming neighborhood cat named Papa or PawPaw. 

Many more Kanaks than people of European descent were sitting quietly in the city center’s parks.  Obviously, I missed a lot of the city, but the overall feeling to me was a tired city with uneven sidewalks, mixed with an influx of a couple thousand cruise tourists wearing their room key cards around their necks, and graffiti abounding when you left the main streets.  

I think it would be a hard city to use a bike for transport.  I did see 1 bike lane (it seemed to end at the morning market) and I did see a woman leaving a youth hostel on a mountain bike.

Ironically, I had been reading a book about Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (The Whale Warriors, by Peter Heller),  In the Noumea morning market, I chanced upon a fellow wearing a Sea Shepherd shirt.  I assume this is/was a crew member, since there is a branch of Sea Shepherd located here.

Lifou was much less populated (about 20,000 people live here).  While Noumea was a stop for sight-seeing and shopping, Lifou had a relaxed country atmosphere.  We walked about 4 miles, and turned around only when a few fellow cruisers going the other direction warned us of the dogs just up ahead (and showed us the rocks in their hands).  Our son Wesley walks and runs in areas in northern Peru with very aggressive dogs, but he also walks and runs carrying a machete, and most dogs there that charge people have had an experience with a machete and know to avoid it.  Alas, I failed to include a machete in my luggage, so we decided not to confront the dogs.  

We did find a “Hanauma Bay” like area, with a charge of $15 AUD for snorkeling. We skipped this, but a number of people we talked with later had very positive reviews of the snorkeling here... we may try it out in the future.

ADDENDUM:  On our 2nd trip to Lifou, we decided to try the snorkeling at Jinek Bay (admission $15 AUD).  Was it ever worth it!  This may have been our best snorkeling experience, ever.  We were in the water for an hour and forty-five glorious minutes, with awe-inspiring reef fish and corals galore.  Giant clams, barracudas, groupers, and schools of wrasse and surgeonfish.  Wow!  There are buoys signifying... safe swimming areas?  But we snorkeled throughout the bay.  Highly recommended!  And the variety of Christmas tree worm colors, and the sea anemone colonies with Nemo were fabulous!

The Isle of Pines has a population of about 2000, and really is a stop for swimming and snorkeling.  The reason for the “Pines” name is that THE Captain Cook was struck by the unique and abundant pines of the island.  These pines grow in a slender and columnar formation, and are striking in appearance as you approach.  Caroline, Doc Martin, and I walked about 2-3 miles along the coastline through the forest.  There’s a sparse understory, so travel is relatively easy, and we saw hermit crabs and African snails regularly.  Although we were hiking to find a secluded snorkeling spot, we ended up at the same place as a thousand other people.  The reef (mostly staghorn coral) was nice, but not spectacular.  In fact, overall I am underwhelmed with the snorkeling we have found in both New Caledonia and the Great Barrier Reef.  Where are the reefs that look like all of those south sea reef photos???

NO cats, other than PawPaw.  We now have 2 sea days until we return to Sydney, then it is off to Hawaii for a month.


Morning Market in Noumea 

An unpopulated island in New Caledonia at dawn.


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