14 September 2017
Jane warm and sunny
We had lovely two day sail from Vanuatu to New Caledonia in company with two other buddy boats "Jams" and "Blue Bie" we became great friends. Noumea the Capital is the only port of entry for cruising boats. It is on Grand Terre, the main island, on the southwest side. Grand Terre is 400 km long by 50 km wide. Encircled by a barrier reef almost 1,600km long.
We stopped a couple of times on our way to Noumea as we had to navigate the reef and passes at slack tide. Our first anchorage was Port Boise where we caught a large tuna to share on the way in, a lovely protected spot with ochre-coloured mountains and cliffs. Next spot was Boone Anse, also protected, but the view of the nickel factory was a bit of an eyesore. New Caledonia is the third largest nickel producer after Canada and Russia. Their other exports are prawns and coffee.
New Caledonia is divided into three Provinces, north, south and the Loyalties. The Loyalty Islands run down the east coast, the famous Isle de Pines is part of the southern province, with the Belep Islands being in the northern province. As we did not have much time we stayed in the southern area where they are protecting the inland lagoon reserves. Just stunning.
The Kanak people, part of the Melanesian group, are indigenous to New Caledonia. The country has two national flags, one for the French and one for the Kanaks. The Kanak social organization is traditionally based around clans, which identify as either "land" or "sea" clans. 94% of the Loyalties consist of Kanaks. One day we would like to visit these islands as they are supposed to be delightful. It is easy to charter a boat in the city, so they are on the potential "to do in the future" list.
Arriving in Noumea felt like being in France. We were back in a French Colony where the majority of the people speak French, although there are 28 Kanak languages, with four main ones. Lots of cigarette smokers and the usual smell of toilets gave the air that added French "je ne sais que".
We had a lot of fun in Noumea where we managed to get space on the dock at a very reasonable rate. Evenings were spent drinking lovely French wine (the rose wine even had pink corks) and indulging in wonderful food that the French are so well known for. One wonders how they keep so slim; we certainly put on a few pounds when we were there. The city and the people were charming and elegant. It was lucky we did not spend too much time in the country as the French Pacific Franc does not go far, however it was good to be able to fill up our freezer with lots of yummy goodies (including cheese, cheese, cheese) that we will be able to share with the kids when they arrive in Fiji.
The weather was cooler as we were there in their winter, however most days were sunny with the temperature around 23-24 degrees. The seawater was a bit nippy and with suckerfish taking a liking to our boat I did not swim as much as normal. The fishing was excellent in the areas allowed and we caught tuna to fill our freezer and had to stop fishing. We also saw a lot of whales in the Lagoon.
Our aim was to spend time in the Isle de Pines. So we checked out and moved a few miles south to Isle Mitre where our friends were kite boarding. Seemed rude not to bring ours out so stayed a day to enjoy playing with them before we moved onto Isle Mato. Isle Mitre is lovely with a delightful resort and a huge shallow grassy reef on the eastern side, where kiters and turtles happily spend time together. Isle Mato is uninhabited and gorgeous, a recommended spot. Then it was down to the Isle of Pines for four days where we linked in with our friends "Free Spirit". We had a couple of excellent last French meals ashore and waited for the perfect weather window to head back to Fiji. Luckily the French are pretty relaxed on people leaving.
The Europeans first settled in New Caledonia when the French established a penal colony on the archipelago. 22,000 criminals and political prisoners were sent to the islands and once they had completed their sentences they were given land to settle. The Isle de Pines was one of the islands and parts the prison can still be seen. There were a couple of resorts on the island, but they were low key, as is most of the accommodation in New Caledonia. Their infrastructure is excellent with fabulous interisland ferries, flights and internal transport. Think the French are keeping quiet about what a great tourist destination New Caledonia is.
Having moved south we had an excellent, fast sail back to Fiji in less than four days, Ta-b in her usual fashion did us proud. Now it is time to enjoy the Musket Cove Regatta and our kid's visits. Amy and Luke arrive 18 September for two weeks and Edwin and Iva 8 October for two weeks. We are getting very excited about seeing them and sharing our last few months on board. Ta-b is on the market and we have had a lot of interest. We are hoping that she will soon be with loving new owners, who will enjoy her as much as we have.
Live, love and laugh says it all