Whales and dolphins
06 October 2009 | North Coast New Caledonia
Michael and Jackie
We crossed from Ile Beautemps to the mainland on flat seas with the wind indicator consistently showing zero knots of apparent wind. We strongly recommend looking at Ouvea and Ile Beautemps on Google Earth to get a feel for the immensity of the reef.
We left first thing in the morning so as to arrive in a good light. As we approached Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia the sea went alive with dolphins. Hundreds of spinners heading north breaking water in unison and then individual dolphins spinning in the area. To the west of them they were escorted by humpback whales. They wheeled their way through the water, one of them breaking water about a 100 metres from our starboard hull. The sea was so flat we were able to watch them for ages. Unfortunately we did not get a good photograph of them, watching the display was too engrossing.
We arrived in Hienghene which is a small town with two rock pinnacles standing at the entrance, one called the hen and chickens, the other the Sphinx. The photo shows the view from the stern of our boat. It is a bit like Soufriere in St Lucia. The pinnacles are just the highpoint of a whole area of rock pinnacles, probably ancient volcanic plugs. This is a high rainfall area so the rain has probably washed away the softer sedimentary rock leaving behind the pinnacles. We kayaked around the formations, marvelling at the steep cliffs, fractured rock and the numerous birds. Sadly, our new underwater camera has stopped working, so we couldn't take photos from the kayaks. Still our other cameras still work.
The town of Hienghene is entirely Kanak. The European and Indonesian population left in 1984 following the massacre of Kanak nationalists seeking independence. It is also the area where the Kanak leader, Jean Marie Tjibaou lived. He was killed in 1989 by another Kanak who felt he had made too many concessions to the French. Tjibaou is now renowned by Kanaks and French for different reasons. The French laud him as a wise leader who wanted to preserve the Kanak culture by peaceful means. The Kanaks see him as the father of an independent nation.
A huge amount of investment has gone into Hienghene, perhaps in part a consequence of its role in the independence movement. There is a new marina for 12 boats built to a high specification, but with only three boats. The marina fronts a small attractively designed set of buildings which include tourist information, some shops and a small market. The market has very little fresh produce, a few lettuces and carrots. Further up the river there is a small supermarket. There are modern utilities and a school with sports centre and swimming pool. Aside from the occasional French tourist, recognisable instantly by their white face and rental car, the town is entirely Kanak. People are friendly and helpful but the contrast between the relaxed Kanak culture and the French investment is stark.
We are now heading North to the tip of New Caledonia. Our plan is then to head South down to Noumea, so we will have done a full circumnavigation of the South Paciific's second largest island. The largest I imagine is New Zealand.