Isle of Pines, New Caledonia, revisited

One of the nice things about revisiting a place is that you have a better idea of what to do and see.  The first time we visited the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia, Caroline, Doc Martin, and I walked around a little peninsula looking for a snorkeling area away from the other 2000 visitors.  After a short walk with our gear through the columnar pines, we ended up right where we were trying to avoid... the snorkeling spot suggested by the crew of the Celebrity Solstice.  The water was a bit turbid and there were not a lot of fish... not ideal snorkeling conditions.  We ended that trip with a walk to the other end of the beach (where you are stopped by a "private beach" sign - a resort).  Caroline and Doc Martin snorkeled out a bit, and Caroline came back with two thumbs up... we have to try this site on our next trip.

That next trip was yesterday.

Isle of Pines.  The first time we visited, we walked around the peninsula at the top, to eventually snorkel around the small islet pictured center right.  This time we swam from that islet to the spit of land showing center left. 

We don't have photos from this snorkel (note to self - bring waterproof camera next time), but it was fabulous.  There was a very healthy coral reef here (mostly branching hard corals), with limited bleaching.  We saw Nemo and his father, cuttlefish, and even one or two sea snakes (Caroline and I disagree whether we saw the same one twice, or saw two separate snakes).  The damselfish were protecting either their nests or foraging territories, swimming right up to you and staring you down.  

There were lots of fish, both big and small.  No sharks, very clear water, and relatively warm.  We both snorkeled for an hour with only a neoprene or fleece top and caps.  

Although the Celebrity Solstice sells snorkeling sets on-board, they give no instructions on their use other than what you'll find on the package.  I guess the "National Geographic" brand name is supposed to give credence to the quality.  I couldn't find out where FAIC Watersports, which distributes this line of masks, snorkels, and fins, gets them.  I do believe it is irresponsible for the ship to sell this equipment to just anyone, even people who can't swim.  Just yesterday I watched one severely overweight person with mask, snorkel, and reef shoes dog-paddling in water way over her head.  At the very least, the activities director could provide a "snorkeling 101" session in the pool or theater.  There are just some things people need to know before they go.  Drowning always ruins a vacation.  'Nuff said.

After our snorkel, we returned to the Solstice for lunch.  Then we took the tender back to the Isle of Pines for our afternoon hike.  Our goal?  The highest point on the island.  Luckily, the trailhead was only about a mile from the dock, so we walked down the road with Google maps as our guide.  There was good signage, and soon we found ourselves on the right path to Pic N'ga, elevation 262 meters.

The trip to the top took 1 hour and 5 minutes.  There was one stretch of about 150 meters that was very, very steep, the kind of steep that is faster to go up than down, since you are being careful not to tumble down the hill.

Caroline at the top of the steepest climb.

Here's the neat thing.  We have no doubt that Caroline's great uncle Noel Krauss trekked this trail many years ago.  He was a bug collector, and there were so many butterflies - we saw thousands - that he had to have sampled some of these.  On "top" of that (pun intended), peaks tend to have unique flora and fauna.  Caroline had to cross Noel's path here.  We've renamed the hill Butterfly Mount (La Montagne de Papillon), in his memory.


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