Nouvelle Calédonie

Oct 13, 2016| 0 Comment

We have been looking forward to our return to New Caledonia, for it’s a place we really like.  Located a bit further south, its climate is just that much cooler.  A sheet is needed at night, and we can cuddle up for extra warmth without sweating all over each other.  The First Mate likes that.  Islands are scattered throughout the area, and the white powdery beaches are inviting.  If one stays away from the tourist areas outside of Nouméa, it’s not hard to find a spot alone and isolated  The people are friendly, smile readily and who cannot brighten up at the sound of an uplifting “Bonjour!”

New Caledonia’s history runs similar to that of most of the Pacific.  The indigenous inhabitants of these islands called their land Kanaky.  They themselves are Kanaks, a word taken from the Hawaiian word Kanaka meaning human.  It was Captain Cook who gave the islands the name by which they are now known.  Landing on the northeast coast of Grand Terre, the largest island, its mountains reminded him of the Scottish Highlands or Caledonia as the Romans first called Scotland.  Missionaries arrived in the early 1840’s, and in 1853, Emperor Napoleon III of France, concerned about and envious of England’s growing colonies in Australia and New Zealand, annexed New Caledonia.  In 1866, the Loyalty Islands were added to the domain.  Setting up penal colonies was the initial plan, but in 1864 when nickel was discovered followed by copper and cobalt, attitudes changed.  New Caledonia was found to be a mineral-rich land while the river valleys and coastal plains proved excellent for cattle and sheep.  The rush was on.  Mining operations were set up.  Land was claimed for ranches, and as has happened across the Pacific, the original inhabitants of the land were little thought of as forcible relocations to remote and unproductive areas ensued. Unable to grow their simple root crops, food shortages and starvation loomed.  Uprooted from ancestral homes, their way of life threatened, they fought back.  A sad and bloody history of conflict erupted and lasted on and off until the late 1980’s.  Many Kanaks still want self-government and independence.  France does not want to let go of its possession.  Adding to these two conflicting interests are 4th and 5th generation white settlers who consider themselves New Caledonians.  A large Asian population, brought over to work the mines and the land, now also considers itself New Caledonian.  These two groups are not French nor are they Kanaks, but they want to be heard, too.

France has made concessions over the years.  French citizenship was given to those born here as well as the right to vote.  Representation in government, though minimal and controlled, was forthcoming.  Since the final uprisings, huge sums of money have been invested in infrastructure and schools.  Subsidies abound.  Mollified by this largess, peace has been bought, and with the tourist industry a large contributor to the economy, it behooves everyone to keep it that way.

France has put its stamp on these islands, and its influence is readily apparent wherever one travels.  There is, however, a divide between the two major populations.  To experience “France in the tropics”, one visits and stays predominantly around the city of Nouméa located on the southeast point of Grand Terre.  If one wants a feel for the Kanak way of life, one must either go to a small village on Grand Terre or to the outer islands.  As travelers to this beautiful country, we plan to fully enjoy the bustle and bounty of the French side and will be ready to relax in the quiet peace and beauty of the outer islands.

Monday, October 10th – 0630 –With the sun rising by 0530 and with a good 4 hours yet to go to arrive in Nouméa, the anchor is on its way up by 0630.  The day is overcast with rain threatening.  As we motor out to begin our passage up Canal Woodin, a light misty rain falls.  The dreary motoring is enlivened somewhat by passing landmarks and sites we recognize from our visit in 2012.

There’s Porc-Épic, the little island we nicknamed “Bad Hair Day.”  Its “do” has not improved.





Nearing the area of Nouméa, the coastline is richly indented with harbors and bays.  Anse Vata is the high-rent district of Nouméa.  We recall walking through this area one evening in search of a good restaurant.  Luxury hotels and gated apartment complexes run up from the beach and into the hills.  Beautiful beaches line the coast, and it is here one goes to ogle the beach scene.  Baie des Citrons comes next, another area of fine beaches.

By 1120, we are lining up on the red and green poles marking Petite Passe, the narrow entry into Nouméa Harbor.  The Captain radios Port Moselle Marina to request a berth on their visitors’ dock.  Unfortunately, the marina is full.  “Anchor out,” we are told, but doing so is not as easy as it sounds.  Nouméa Harbor is jam-packed with boats.  French ex-pats live very well over here, and with such a wonderful water playground at their doorsteps, why not have a boat? Three marinas are in the area, and they are all full with only Port Moselle Marina offering a dock for transient boats.  Three extensive fields of mooring balls handle overflow from the marinas.  Boats anchoring must find spots in and around the moored boats, and that must be done with caution due to the way that moored boats on a short tether swing differently from a boat on a longer anchor chain.  Yellow poles define the boundaries of the mooring fields and delineate the wide areas to be left free for the many tour boats, ferries and recreational boats moving around the harbor. 

Much like lining up on the white out-of-bound poles on a golf course to see if one’s ball is in play or not, one must trace the imagined line between two yellow poles to make sure one’s anchored boat is not swinging out into the channel.

Where to anchor?  The closest area to Port Moselle Marina is too full and too tight.  Baie de L’Orphelina, around the corner, is crowded, and we know from past experience that there is not much room due to the wide channel allocated for ferries and the small French naval base.  We decide on the area straight out from the entrance to Port Moselle.  It is not an ideal location, but it will do.  Hopefully, we can get on the tourist dock in a day or two.

With the yellow Quarantine Flag raised, The Captain heads ashore with his documents.  The First Mate remains on board since technically only the captain of an uncleared boat is allowed on shore.

Hours later, he returns having only partly completed the clearing in process.  We have been cleared through Customs, but we are not cleared through Immigration due to the head-scratching fact that the department’s hours of operation are from 0700 – 1100.  What a rough work day!  The Captain will have to return tomorrow morning.  The Quarantine office, however, was easy.  They will not be coming out to our boat to inspect for illegal food, weapons or contraband.  Instead, if The Captain will just bring in a plastic bag or two of refuse and illegal objects and deposit it all in that bin over there, they will cross us off their list.  That, too, will be done tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 11thBoth of us head ashore in the morning.  The Captain sets off to complete clearing in while The First Mate walks into the marina office to check on available dock space and to procure a pass that will allow them to use the dinghy dock, unlock the showers and get on the internet.  No dock space yet.  Check back later this afternoon.  That task done, it’s the internet she really wants.  Family needs to be notified of our arrival, and the blog is again ready to publish.  She spent hours on passage trying to coerce iWeb into good behavior but to no avail.  She knows not whether it’s the program itself or if she has somehow hit a hidden programming button, but finally (gotcha!) she was able to find a way to circumvent the fault and edit her blog in a way that is somewhat acceptable.  Oh, how she hates the diabolical minds of inanimate objects!

The Captain reappears.  Check in completed, we are legal.  We return to the boat to drop off computer and documents and then head back to shore to hit those fabulous markets right off the pier. We circuit the fish market admiring all the many varieties of fish, shellfish and crustaceans.  What a display and so many of unknown identity!  The First Mate promptly calls this a “unicorn fish”.  Doesn’t it look like a fish version of an equine unicorn?  Of course!  The Captain bursts her creative bubble by telling her blandly that it is so named a unicorn fish.  “Well, great minds think alike,” she smartly tells him!


14 days of produce, meat and fish must be bought.  The First Mate has her list and sets to work.  Most people who shop at these markets buy only what they need for a day or a few days at the most.  There are no shopping carts to haul your groceries.  In our case, the dear Captain follows the First Mate around as she goes from stand to stand checking off her list. He pulls their wheeled cart, which so many cruisers have lusted over, and carries several big bags. Every time The First Mate buys an item, she turns and hands it to The Captain. It takes two to shop which is a fact that The Captain reluctantly has accepted, though he continues to grumble. With the amount of goods needing to be bought, the weight of it all and the distances to traverse – not to mention getting out to and on the boat, she cannot do it alone — plus she likes the company.

Stopping at the marina office before getting in the dinghy to return to Avante, we are told that a berth is available.  Super!  We quickly dinghy back to the boat, deposit our purchases, secure the dinghy and motor into the marina.  How delighted we are to be in the marina and close to the action of town!

No dinner aboard tonight.  Fully legal now, we head ashore.  Where to?  So many excellent little French cafés.  We decide upon a favorite:  Le Chaumière.  Will it still be there?  We walk through the Latin Quarter, turn the corner at the Pizza place we remember, and there it is!  There are 1-plat, 2-plat and 3-plat options.  We each order the 2-plat option.  Frog legs in a lemony cream sauce start our meal followed by a succulent braised lamb shank for him and a beef bourguignon for her.  Finished, we cannot eat another mouthful.  Now to the price.  $90 USD for our delicious 2-plat dinners accompanied by 4 glasses of very good French wine.  What a dinner!  The icing on the cake to our French experience here in Nouvelle Calédonie is the current favorable exchange rate of our American dollar.

Wednesday, October 12th Was it thought that all shopping was done?  Not by a long shot.  This morning it is to the grocery store we are going, and here, too, French Nouméa excels.  Bright balloons pull us into this Pacific island emporium.

We revel in a huge selection of fromages, pâtés and saucisses.  “14 days,” they caution themselves.  Remember just for 14 days.  Even The Captain thinks this store is uniquely special.  After he completes his own list of wines (French, mais oui!), tonic, and juices, he happily ventures off to find items on The First Mate’s list.  What other treasures might he find along the way?

Our Kiwi friends, Lyn and John Martin, are at anchor aboard s/v Windflower in the Baie de L’Orphelina. Several boats from their rally to Fiji are also here.  A further reason the harbor is so full of sailboats right now is that it is coming on the end of the cruising season here in the tropical South Pacific.  Many boats are in harbor getting needed repair work done, provisioning and keeping a watchful eye out for a good weather window to either New Zealand or Australia.  With an alternator needing repair, Lyn and John are in for all three reasons.  Knowing this will be the last time we will see them until we return to New Zealand next year, we plan an evening out together.  Sally and Malcolm from s/v Cop-E-Cat join us.  We meet on Avante for Sundowners and to make a group decision on where to go for dinner.  The Captain and The First Mate, waxing on about last night’s dinner, find they have “salivated” the group into a unanimous decision.  So we end up for a second night at Le Chaumière, but how can we complain?  It’s another fabulous dinner, improved only by the addition of friends.

We had thought to spend another day enjoying Nouméa, but tomorrow the weather is looking good for the journey we plan to make back down Canal Woodin, out the pass and across to Ile des Pins.  There we will wait for a good weather window to cross the 100 nm to the Loyalty Islands.  We know we will have more time to savor Nouméa when we return prior to our passage to Australia.  Thus, after this brief stay enjoying the French side of Nouvelle Calédonie, we set off to explore the outer islands where more of the Kanak side will be found.

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