Well it's a nice change (and it feels like a well-deserved change) to have consistently and reliably good weather - although the temperature in New Caledonia is noticeably cooler than up north in Vanuatu, especially at night. But the days are beautiful and at night a light blanket on the bed does the trick. With the exception of one day (Monday this week) we have had days of severe clear with full sun and just a few innocent fluffy trade-wind cumulus rolling quietly past, not molesting the innocent navigator below with showers or high winds.
We filled the fridge with lots of smelly French cheeses and stocked up on AOC wines, all at fantastic prices, and spent last week up in Baie de Saint Vincent, a vast complex of bays, inlets and islands up the west coast of Grande Terre. It's like a huge version of Broken Bay-Pittwater-Hawkesbury, or a smaller form of the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. Dozens of islands, small and large, are dotted around a virtual inland sea twenty miles from one extreme to the other. There are sheltered anchorages that provide calm shelter in flat water of moderate to shallow depth; some are good for SE trade winds, some for westerlies, and a few are good for almost any wind that might crop up from any direction.
There is an unnamed anchorage on the West side of Presqu'ile d'Uitoe where one snugs up in the lee of the peninsula away from the prevailing SE winds, and where one is also protected from most other winds by Ile Mathieu a half mile to the West, and by various reefs which guard the entrances. It is so quiet there that it is almost like being parked in a garage with the door closed. This is especially so at night, when the trade winds close to land always die off to a light breeze, or are even replaced by a gentle puff of land breeze falling off the cooling mountains inland. Here we anchored in 4 metres, great holding over sandy mud and broken shells, and went ashore to explore. A steep grade led up to a peak which gave spectacular vistas over the anchorage and as far as the fringing reef miles out on the horizon (Le Grand Recif Exterieur - the second biggest barrier reef in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef), and back inland to the central spine of huge, rugged volcanic mountains that run the length of Grande Terre. The mountains are so sheer and rugged that you can really understand why, with Scotland in mind, Captain Cook named the land "New Caledonia". Nestled in a quite extensive smooth small plain at the foot of the mountains is Tontouta airport. This is protected all around by the mountain chain and long-defunct coastal volcanic peaks and ridges; Tontouta was developed by the US during World War 2 as a base for bomber missions and also for fighter sorties and forward supply during the Battle of the Coral Sea and afterwards.
Above the anchorage, some way up the rise at the head of the bay, is an interesting isolated home with a couple of small associated huts and storage buildings. It has a pretty garden with Scarlet O'Hara bougainvilleas and brilliant hibiscuses. An old Australian-born woman lives there. She came to New Caledonia during the war, where she met and married a Caledoche - a French New Caledonian. They lived in Noumea and built this remote country home on land in the bay, and later on they bought most of the remaining land on the bay. He is now dead but she has stayed on living there. Maybe homesick, she has planted hundreds of Australian eucalypts on the hill around the house. They are beautiful, but strangely out of place in their environment here.
The sunsets out over the lagoon here are breathtaking and we have put a photo of a particularly impressive one from this week in the photo gallery.
Coming down the coast towards Noumea we spent the last night in Baie Maa - described in the cruising guide as one of the best trade wind anchorages in New Caledonia. This is quite shoal throughout, with nothing more than 8 metres depth from a half mile out right in to within a hundred metres of the shoreline. Ashore there we climbed to the top of Pointe Campenon (the headland which protects the anchorage to the SE) and took some lovely photos of the coastline looking down SE towards Noumea. The long, sneakily extending reefs snaking out, just below the waterline, from all the headlands and islets down the coastline were very impressive - they provide good respite from trade wind swells, protecting the anchorages: but they are also a trap for the unwary navigator and there are wrecks at several such locations up and down the coast.
Now we are back in town and our son Tom and his girlfriend Amanda are arriving on Sunday to spend a week with us. We are tidying up the boat and organising a few excursions for them, and no doubt we will be able to fulfil some of Tom's gourmet fantasies while they are here! Tom is also bringing a spare part for us, so we have more than one reason to be glad to see them!
We'll keep up the posts while we are here in town - cheers from us for now.
Don't forget to check the photo gallery - click here.