To the Tjibaou Cultural Centre after our daily swim.
We’ve been snorkelling right in front of our doorstep in the mornings watching black and white striped fish which I think is the Scissortail sergeant fish, yellow butterfly fish, clown fish, schools of small fish (perhaps anchovies), sea cucumbers and the purple, pink, yellow and white corals.
For an idea of the kind of coral we saw, go to the interactive image at http://newcaledonialagoon.com/newcaledoniacoralspheres.html?s=pano21 although there is more white coral now.
I’ve learned a lot today. Firstly, Mike’s street French is better than my book French. Secondly, a lot more about Kanak culture at the wonderful Tjibaou Cultural Centre designed by the Genoan architect, Renzo Piano.
Cultural education starts right at the entrance with this lascivious creation story next to a wooden carving of the being it talks about. I’ll leave the wooden carving to your imagination!
“A long time ago, all the men wanted to have sex with an Olal woman who enjoyed lovemaking. But this woman didn’t feel well. In Wisal, a village situated in the region of Willit, a giant heard this story. So he went up Mount Tuvio clearing a path with his penis. Then he ran down to Olal to plant his penis inside the woman. Carried away by his own momentum, he broke the reef with his penis. Half the reef moved west to Magam and the other half went east to Barereo. This is how Olal pass was opened. The giant and the woman threw themselves into the sea then. They both live outside the reef of Olal Bay.”
No, I did not make this up.
Sud Caledonien road trip to the Parc de la Rivière Bleue.
Today we went for a drive exploring the coast to the village of Plum and where the mountain roads in the east lead us. Along the way to the coast, we stopped at a refreshing water fountain where people were filling their bottles. We stopped at an empty beach full of stones and dead white coral. The sand is black here.
As advised by a friendly ex-pat British living there, we had to turn back to the roundabout to take the road to Lac de Yate and La Chute de Madeleine. It was a winding road around the mountains but the view was spectacular. We could see wind turbines in the distance and back burning by the fire brigade and the military. We passed rivers where the locals were swimming and picnicking. All around was low bushland and pine trees on red earth, reminding us of the red centre back home. It’s not what we thought we would see in New Caledonia but it has shown us a glimpse of how diverse this tropical island is. To learn more about the biodiversity in New Caledonia go to https://newcaledoniaplants.com/
The lake is artificial but striking to view as it is surrounded by mountain peaks with dark clouds dropping rain as they roll through at intervals. The sunken forest has left twisted and mangled grey and white branches across its expanse. Unfortunately, the national park entrance to the waterfall was closed on New Years Day but it was a good drive and picnic at the lake. Sadly we also passed remnants of chrome mining from the past and from one mountain view we could see the mining industrial area in the distance. Nickel? All around us through these mountains were dirt red tracks for hikers and mountain biking.
In the evening, the fireworks from the Sainte-Marie artificial islet revived my delight over fireworks. Magnifique! Practically everyone in Noumea came out and it still wasn’t crowded. It started with a longish speech in French which we didn’t understand but it sounded beautiful. A few metres in front of us the fireworks display charmed us. There were smiley faces fireworks. There were snake light fires leaping into the water, wriggling and leaping up again out of the water. It’s one of the best fireworks I’ve seen in years. It was so close! And the crowd was so polite and orderly. After that everyone just left as quietly as they came. Isabelle’s host said they always had it on the 1st January in New Caledonia and sometimes a few days later if it rained. New Years Eve is a time reserved for family here. At least, it didn’t compete with my birthday. Bonne Annee!
Île de Canards – Duck Island – was our destination on the last day of the year. There are no ducks.
On the 31st December 2017, the glass bottom taxi boat to the Ile de Canard was the better option as you could see the fish. And in fact, it was cheaper than the modern water taxi service of which had queues. A ten-minute ride takes you to a tiny island set up with red umbrellas, a bar, a cafe and nothing else but that is not what we came for.
We came for the snorkelling and swimming and luckily we came early in the morning before the French and Australian tourists all disembarked an hour later. We had the underwater snorkelling trail mainly to ourselves following the marked buoys with attached information on the coral and fish we saw. It took about an hour. We were warned to stay out of the fragile area in the centre even though the coral there had more colour. There was a lot of white coral with intermittent bursts of colour which means that this is evidence of bleached coral. There was a global bleaching event last year but my marine biologist niece, Elissa, tells me that they are still alive if they have no algae on them. It has a chance to recover perhaps. Mike thought that the reef in Lemon Bay had more colourful coral. He was right.
Hiring two beach chairs with an umbrella will set you back about $AUS45 and renting a snorkel is about $12 per hour. No wonder the rental scheme was set up.
We were accompanied by our lovely new French friend, Isabelle, who is travelling around the world solo before her thirtieth birthday. She has already been on the road for three months. It reminded me of my solo travelling days.
We finished the day with another swim in the pool and my birthday seafood dinner in a festive, friendly restaurant, Le Bilboquet Plage. There were long tables set up for groups of locals. They were all dressed colourfully with flowers in their hair and glitter on their bodies.
Baie des Citrons – Lemon Bay – was the highlight today.
We picked up our car from a friendly local at Europcar who was so pleased to see us because we were the last customer before she shut shop. All businesses close down for the next two days on 31st December and 1st January so we stocked up at the supermarket. However, we couldn’t buy any wine. The rule is that from Wednesday to Saturday you can only buy alcohol before 11.30am. We will have to wait for our next opportunity!
We snorkelled and swam in the picturesque Baie des Citrons (Lemon Bay). Mike brought the snorkelling gear so he dunked in first. We saw pretty fish, purple coral and a sea snake! When we asked the information centre where we could purchase snorkels, she said: “Why would you buy them when you can rent them!” True enough, there was not one snorkel to be found in any beach shop at Anse Vata.
We had lunch at Uncle Ho Vietnamese restaurant in Lemon Bay but were confused about the bill. First, they brought out the wrong order. Then they served us tofu with noodles instead of the tofu salad we ordered. We hadn’t been sure if that was their version of a tofu salad. Mike disputed it because it was their error but they still charged us more despite their apologies. The food could have been tastier too.
We ended the day relaxing with the lapping waves and breeze on our little beach again. It gets dark pretty quickly by 7.30pm and it’s light early from 5ish! The sun drops and rises in seconds closer to the equator but the sky showed us pink and purple hues before it set.
Our first day in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Working out the buses was a good half day orientation for us. It’s a chance to travel with the locals as well. Look out for information on Lignes de Bus. Bus 42 in front of Le Stanley Hotel in Ouemo gets you to the central bus stop in town. Bus 11 does the loop along the coastal road of Rue de Garnier to the pretty and touristy Baie de L’Anse Vata and back. Bus 70 follows the Route de L’Anse Vata that runs in the middle of town passing hotels, supermarkets, shops and car rental businesses.
Today’s highlights were the Marche near the central bus stop where we bought fresh fruit and vegetables. There was a mix of cheap and expensive options. Lettuce and bananas were pretty expensive but parsley and mangoes were a good price. Perhaps because some of it was imported or considered a scarcity.
Swimming in the hotel pool, having a go at the Aquagym class and reading on our little beach were the rewards at the end of the day. The sandy beach and lagoon waters are right out front of our sliding door! It’s hot and humid most of the day and then the wind picks up in the afternoon. We will definitely be swimming here every day this summer holiday!
Check out the highlights we experienced during our short stay in the following posts.