The capital of Noumea came as a bit of a culture shock to us; high rise buildings and busy highways replaced the dug out canoes and thatch houses of Vanuatu. New Caledonia is a French administered country. Of course this means an abundance of baguettes, cheese and other European mouth watering delicacies are available; just at equally eye watering prices. The French influence is also seen in the number of yachts and other boats concentrated near the city. It’s no surprise why any local would want a boat; outside of the city New Caledonia is a great cruising ground. Most of the local boats are only able to venture out at the weekend so we were able to enjoy some anchorages to ourselves during the week.
The difficulty with New Caledonia is that you can only check in/out of the country in the capital of Noumea, so unless you have months to spend there, this really limits the amount of the country you can see. Luckily, there are still lots of beautiful anchorages within a day or so sail from the city.
Here are some of highlights from our relatively short time in New Caledonia. At most we had two nights in any of these places. It would have been great to stay in each of them longer but it was late in the season and we needed to be making tracks towards Australia and away from the Cyclone area.
Ouvea is a beautiful crescent-shaped atoll, fringed with a stunning 25km white sand beach. As you can anchor pretty much anywhere along the beach, you are guaranteed to have a large section of it to yourself.
The main inhabitants on this section of the atoll are Kanaks; the original inhabitants of New Caledonia. Many live in the traditional round houses but use modern boats and cars to get around the island.
Bay de Prony
Famed for it’s hiking Bay de Prony has several anchorages. Our favourites were in Bonne Anse, where we took a walk up to the lighthouse, overlooking the Southern Lagoon and Ilot Casy, a small, pretty island you can easily walk around. Both of these places had free mooring buoys available to avoid anchoring near the coral.
The red rock of the main island is really prominent in these areas. New Caledonian soil contains about 25% of the worlds nickel resources. Nickel is the backbone of the New Caledonian economy and has been extensively mined in this area. The visual result is stark, scarred red hills covered sparsely by scrubby vegetation.
Situated in the Southern Lagoon, Ilot Mato was our absolute favourite spot in New Caledonia. There was room for several boats and plenty of sand to anchor on, whilst still being swimming distance from the reef. A family of dolphins visited the bay whilst we were at anchor and the snorkelling was some of the best we have had in the South Pacific. Bright coral, sharks (always a sign of a healthy reef) and a great variety of fish.
Il de Pines
It was a all day upwind slog to reach the Ile de Pines. Florence took continual waves over the bow as we beat to windward in the short chop. Although it took us a while to admit it, it was worth the discomfort of getting there, even though we only had two days to enjoy the island. Despite torrential rain halting our activities for half a day, we managed to fit in a whistle-stop tour of the island via scooter and hike the islands highest peak.
Partly due to our tighter time frame and partly due to our sensitivity to the political situation in New Caledonia, we had little opportunities for in depth interactions with the local people of New Caledonia.
There is a long and complex history of violence between the French settlers and native Kanaks. Our visit coincided with the first vote on independence since the violent protests in the 1980’s. Much progress has been made towards bringing peace but the country is far from united.
Although we were never threatened, we occasionally felt a sense of unease and couldn’t help but feel our presence was unwelcome in parts of New Caledonia. The initial vote has rejected Independence for now. We can only hope that the future of this beautiful country is one of peace, understanding, respect and unity.