Wednesday, January 10, 2018
New Caledonia : No spacing so don't even bother me about it :)
A few years ago, I passed on the opportunity to visit a famous South Pacific island, Tahiti, When I had the opportunity to travel to New Caledonia, I jumped at the chance. Isn’t the South Pacific supposed to be exotic and perfect for a vacation? Both Tahiti and New Caledonia are French territories of sorts I won’t get into the politics now. New Caledonia was billed as “even better than Tahiti”. The truth, as you might expect, is somewhere in between the lines. Most likely New Caledonia is popular as it is much closer to Australia making it easy to visit by ship. New Caledonia is an archipelago, fancy way to say a bunch of islands. There is a delightful book where a man and his girlfriend give up their lives in the US to live on a paradise South Pacific Island. If you are interested I highly recommend it. Sex Lives of Cannibals is neither about sex or cannibalism, simply a journal of relocation to the South Pacific.
New Caledonia is in the southwest Pacific approximately 750 miles west of Australia. The official language was French until 1984 when it became or reverted to the Kanak language. Most people I met spoke broken English or French. The Kanak language on this small group of islands can be found in approximately 28 dialects. Quite a mixture of languages on the islands. I thought it was interesting that New Caledonia produces 25% of the world’s nickel. Is this of any value? Sure, we use nickel plating on our US coins.
I traveled there during January one of their summer months as a country in the Southern Hemisphere. The currency I had to learn was the NCF or New Caledonia Francs. When I did my McDonald’s visit, my coke cost 197 NCF. That looks like a lot of money. It is actually under $2. We started our visit in the capital of city of New Caledonia, Noumea. We had to shuttle in to the “city”. I secured “All Day Pass/Hop on Hop off” to get around. I am a big fan of the all-day hop on/off buses.
The first morning there, we visited “Duck” Island to snorkel. The beaches on island countries is typically short. There a lot of plant growth to sustain the island. Snorkeling we found the fish and coral life is colorful and lively. Comparing this to snorkeling off Jamaica and other Caribbean locations, it was much better. Many of the Caribbean locations are not protected and often robbed of many colorful items by tourists. I managed not to swallow much salt water during this outing. The day began breezing and in the low 80s, when we finished with the snorkeling trip it was hot and there seemed to be no breeze at all. The travel hype will read that it is moderate “all year around”. I know hot when I feel it, and this place became uncomfortably hot by midday.
As is often the case, I had a destination in mind within the capital city. I wanted to find a historic building that had at one time been a police station. I decided walking there would be manageable so we set off. This was before I realized how hot it would become. Walking I found a lovely jewel that had not been mentioned in travel web sites. Off Av De La Victoire/Henri Lafleur and Av Du Mal Foch, it was a small-town park with an abundance of very mature banyan trees. This park was less than a block from the historic building I was looking for. The banyans were tall and richly green, their off shoots plentiful. If you are unfamiliar with banyan trees they are related to the ficus but much larger. Most people recognize them from their aerial root systems.
There it was standing on the corner. The building I was looking for a former police station wrapping itself along a city corner. Today this building is home to a small causal local restaurant. I spoke to a woman inside and I drank a bottle of water. She has lived in New Caledonia for 63 years moving there from the US. She decided to run away to the South Pacific and stayed there. Everyone inside the restaurant and bar were friendly and talkative. The bartender did not speak much English but wanted to know a few things about the US. He was quite curious about New York City. He knew someone who lived there and asked me if I happened to know them too. I laughed, this happens traveling where someone asks me a question similar to that question. I suppose all US citizens know each other. A received a strange greeting from one of the customers. A woman in the restaurant named Monika walked up to me and kissed both of my cheeks as a salutation. This is off the beaten path in Noumea. To quote the 63-year resident “we don’t really do fast here, we do low and slow.”
The next day we sailed to Isle of Pines. I was told this was a place that the Noumea’s residents would go for a getaway weekend. We found a most unusual beach to swim and relax at. Most people think of a beach as a place you drive up near, park your car within sight of the water, then walk to the beach and set up. Not so here in Isle of Pines. We had to take a taxi across the island. We visited the only park that was a protected area. We wanted to snorkel and to swim. If you ask me, it doesn’t need much protection. To get to the beach is almost comical.
The taxi across the island arriving by their small airport. Then we had to walk down a hill to begin the trail to the water. Notice I said begin. After this point, it was quite a distance much under water. For me, the underwater portions of this trial came up to my waist in some parts. It was very clear water and mostly not hard to walk in. We had to put our beach items on our heads to pass through the deeper areas. At 5’2” this was very funny on me. There were times where I was a walking torso and head with beach gear on my head. About half of the way to the beach while on this under water trail, a wooden sign displays “Piscine Naturel”.
When we did have sand to walk on, I noticed these tiny red and black crabs. Maybe they were some type of sand flea. They didn’t bother me so I didn’t bother them. When we finally reached the “beach” I was struck by how beautiful it is in color and scenery. Pictures do not do justice to this location. The water was soft blue and crystal clear. It was not hot here instead there was a breeze. I could see fish of all colors and sizes along with other sea life on the bottom and along the coral reef. This was definitely worth the walk out to visit.
Our next stop was Lifou Island. There is a nice resort here for visitors as well as some amazing rock formations. We hired a driver to show us around the island. I enjoyed visiting a local grocery for snacks. Along with McDonalds, I love to visit local shops when I travel. I was most interested in some children we saw at a local historic church. “Selfies” are not something these kids usually do given the lack of internet. I showed them how to make a “selfie” and passed around my iPad. It was a lot of fun watching them take selfies and have a good time.
Our final island to visit was Vanuate, the village of Anelcauhat. I figured that Anelcauhat must be a tiny village. I tried to find information on this island on the internet, but was unsuccessful. Tiny really is an overstatement. The cruise ship tried to shuffle us off to their rented island space. I managed to find a way to escape to the main islands. I called it Escape to Mystery Island.
We hired a private boat to travel to the main island. It was here that I had the opportunity to see and to interact the most with residents. The waters around the island were beautiful, much like Lifou, surreal blue. On the island, the pathways and walkways weave through the vegetation. This island is little more than a strip of land wrapped in some off-shore rocks. On this tiny island, they have a medical clinic for residents. It is funded by a Cruise Line called the Rhapsody.
This clinic looked like a set of Gilligan’s Island. Tidy small rooms with sand floors in some. The doctor was in, he spoke lovely French. He gave us a personal tour of his clinic. One of his priorities was to have the children vaccinated. The other priority was providing “kondoms” to the locals. We met some of those children walking around through the village area. This village area was a collection of huts, once again I thought Gilligan’s Island but a little bit better. We walked quietly in and around them since they are private homes. We met more children, this time playing on what can best be described as a large hammock of roped netting. They were jumping and rolling in it. They did not know any English, and I didn’t know their language but we communicated without any major problems. There was also a boy following us by moving tree to tree. He never became brave enough to come down and meet us.
Visiting the South Pacific has become less expensive. The flight over to Sydney, Australia took us to a China airport. We switched planes there to finish the journey. This is a very long journey to see islands that, honestly, are very like the Caribbean. I was awake 26 hours on the way to Sydney and slept the first day I was there. I don’t know if I will travel there again. I am currently planning a trip to Africa to see the “big” five animals. That will be another story.
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