20 June 2018 | Hienghene, NE Coast of New Cal.
The kanak flag (foreground) and the French tricolour are New Cal.'s joint national flags
We're back in Hienghene, this time anchored in its reasonably well sheltered bay. This was the end point of our 'Grand Tour de la Grande Terre' by bike in January. The weather up to today was giving a good impression of a sodden NZ summer day, with grey skies, drizzle, intermittent rain and, this morning, a lot of wind gusting down the valley of the Hienghene River, but now it's lovely again!
Hienghene Village and the Hienghene River -anchoring in which is unfortunately 'interdit!'
There is a small marina in the river, but it has got rather silted up, so is a little too shallow at low tide for us. Before the 1980s, you could anchor in complete security in the river, but that is now 'interdit.' Hienghene has for many years been one of the centres of the anti-colonial and pro-independence movements, more recently led by FLNKS (the Kanak Socialist Liberation Front). Hienghene was where Jean-Claude Tjibaou, the FLNKS's capable and charismatic leader, was mayor until he was shot dead on the island of Ouvea by someone more radical than he was. It was also where 10 Kanak villagers from up river were ambushed by Caldoche (Caledonian born French settlers) anti-independentistes and killed. The 1980s were a very turbulent period in this French colony's history as the Kanak population was gradually reasserting itself after 120 years of colonial thuggery, marginalisation and theft of their ancestral land.
Touho Market's 'Marche Mamans' pose for a photo
Pro independence symbol in the middle of a roundabout on the RP3 near the Touho Lycee
Hienghene suffered from white flight after the kidnapping of gendarmes on Ouvea, the slaughter of FLNKS militants by French troops in reprisal and the boycott of New Cal's first independence referendum by FLNKS supporters in 1988. Hienghene was, and still is, at the heart of Kanaky and few Kanaks around here were, and are still not, keen to stay under French colonial control
There has been an attempt by France to mitigate the worst excesses of colonialism and the huge disparity in wealth and income between the French and indigenous communities over the last 30 years. There has been a lot of new infrastructure put in place, such as hospitals, schools, training centres, sports facilities and of course every Kanak is treated theoretically the same as any French citizen. As a result of progressive changes in the political process in the territory since the1980s, pro independence parties now control both the Northern Province, in which Hienghene lies, and the Islands Province, where the three Loyalty Islands lie, but the money and power lie in Noumea and the Southern Province. The last poll taken on the likely result of the independence referendum on November 5th this year had it at 80% "Non" and 20% "Oui." A result that returns the present status of New Cal. as a French territory may not be welcome in Hienghene and much of rural Kanaky.
When we came by here by bus in the late 70s, it had a thriving, albeit small, tourist industry, justified because the coast along here is by far New Cal's prettiest, with big mountains plunging straight into the sea, waterfalls cascading down through the jungle, white sand beaches amongst the coconuts and offshore many small coral islets.
Hienghene's outer bay with the iconic rocks, the Sphinx to the left and La Poule to the right
Saraoni, just a little blob in Hienghene's Bay. In the middle distance is the Tanghene /Ouaieme traverse - our nemesis from 1979!
La Poule Couveuse - the Brooding Chicken -is Hienghene's famous limestone harbour landmark
Lovely Tibarama Island,10 miles south of Touho off the Poindimie Coast
Tibarama is unusual for a cay as it has Caledonian pines and coconuts!
Hienghene, despite attempts to boost its lost tourism potential, and make the community more self sufficient financially, is almost dead commercially. There's a small hotel in the village, 2 small stores, the ex Club Med, on the coast near here, now just another overpriced rather rundown small resort, and a single dive centre / campsite. Even the cruise ships that constantly ply other scenic South Pacific sites have abandoned Hienghene after a 5 year flirtation. If this was Tasmania or NZ, the place would be heaving! If it was Croatia, or France, it would be wall to wall tourism. It's New Cal's most iconic tourist centre....with virtually no tourists!
Like many other places with recent political instability, the casual visitor is basically inoculated. Wherever we have been in New Cal., the Caldoche west or the Kanak east, we have encountered only friendliness, smiles and waves. To be honest, it's hard to know what lies beyond the friendly veneer as our level of communication just isn't quite good enough to find out. We don't mind. We're the only boat in this very scenic bay, once again. Once the rain clears, there is plenty of walking to do and the reefs near here are apparently full of life, some of them being strict marine reserves.
Since the last blog we have spent a couple of weeks in the little historic mission village and bay of Touho, 20 miles further south. We managed to squeeze into the tiny marina there after the owner of the only free berth gave us the green light. We were able to take the bus over to Noumea (a 6 hour, 300 km trip) to recover Alison's old U.K. passport and meet with the Parsun outboard reps from New Plymouth in NZ who had come up to New Cal for a week's holiday. They confirmed our outboard had a broken small end bearing, a manufacturing defect, and promised that the motor would be replaced under warranty...once it was brought back to NZ! Oh, well... at least the ancient Mercury motor we bought for a song in Noumea a month ago seems to be surprisingly reliable.
Saraoni squeezed into the 8 berth Touho 'marina'
The Saraoni ranch, nicknamed "Swamp Hill" by us after we bought it 13 years ago, 2 acres of hill, gorse, manuka, swamp and cowshit near Kaitaia, has now been sold after 2 years on sale and we are actively looking at new boats to buy. Saraoni may be on sale itself sooner than we thought. Plan A is to get it back to the Penguin Pad in Tutukaka at the end of the sailing season, but if someone has the cash, and we have another boat in mind, we might just seal the deal up here! Stay tuned!
Saraoni in Hienghene bay with La Poule in the background. All yours (Saraoni, that is) at a reasonable price....just make an offer!