Sweet. There is no more accurate word to describe the lifestyle in New Caledonia. The French influence is omnipresent and fill the air with croissant perfumes and patisseries but they are not responsible for the relaxed and benevolent atmosphere for sure. People are over smiling even more than in Australia (which ranked second in the smiling contest, after Thailand). No honking despite the disturbingly constant traffic jam. People say “Bonjour” when they cross you in the street and the cars stop for the walkers when you have no intention to cross; you are just standing on the side of the road. In the supermarket, no rush no hush, no one is aggressive toward each other; and if you ask some information they are very helpful and welcoming.
But this feels like France, no doubt about it, the dirty and uneven foothpaths, graffitis everywhere on the walls as well as chewing gum under your soles and the dog’s presents. All of that to go to the next “patisserie” and its display of little cakes and tarts glimmering under their delicate icing syrup .
My heart went bumping like a madman as were unveiled under my eyes the cheese section at the supermarket as well as the “saucissons” Oh my GOD, They have EVERYTHING, and I realized how much I missed it. I also realized how other countries have a such limited range of products compared to a French supermarket, this is just lavish and obnoxious. How can we have such choice when our worldwide resources are depleted and France is such a small country!
Anyway, I meditate on this important topic while stuffing myself with 5 different sort of cheese (Roquefort, Etorki , Morbier, Comte, Beaufort) on fresh baguette and nibbling at deer saucisson stuffed with peppers.
Anyway, sorry for that, my stomach is not supposed to write.
Noumea is a striking city. Actually it’s more a big wide town than a city. Its numeral bays and its French organization (lack of organization is more appropriate) gives to Noumea an unsettling sense of chaos. The city center around “Place de Cocotiers” looks like a lot of things happened 15 years ago but it has been going downhill since then. Place des Cocotiers is nice though. A long stretch of green stuff (palm tree, coconut trees and shrubs) where youngs kids and teens comes to gather around and have hip hop contest. Impressive.
There is nothing worthy in architecture in Noumea apart from the cathedral in wood which looks over the city center and a few building remaining from the colonial area.bthe rest of the buildings are 2 to 3 storeys maximum and eclectic in styles with a dominance of the 70’s & 80’s concrete ones. Close to the city center, there is bay Moselle with its packed marinas. Then you climb a hill toward the south and there is Baie de l’orphelinat (Orphanage Bay) . Packed with Boats. This is the hell of the moorings and the nightmare of every skipper when the wind changes or a gale comes through. 150 boats at least, most of them close to wreck abandoned to their fate in the only free anchorage in Noumea.
Did I tell you that Inara was a twitchy little thing? Well, her well known and favorite habit is to swing happily around her chain following every little changes in the wind angle. A dancing swinging boat, delicate and shiny in the middle of steel monomarans. Now you would imagine that Benny doesn’t sleep very well at night.
A hill later along the foreshore (still Noumea), you are in Bay des citrons. Here trendy bars and cafes lines up one after the other, this is very animated started at 5pm with a couple of very good restaurants. Baie des citrons is a beach EXCLUSIVELY reserved for swimming (you were able to anchor here few years ago but it changed and that explain what we are anchored in a hell hole). By day, its protected water unrolls a delicate blue turquoise water clear as you see in the postcard. A dream for citizen.
Next bay around is Anse Vata. The bay for sailing with your family and friends (watersport activities). You can count over 20 little sailing clubs (funboard, sailing dinghy, sabot, catamaran etc…) on the foreshore. Nice beaches, kids everywhere.
It’s also where you’ll find the big tourist industry. Huge cattling buildings, family friendly apartments, fast food chains, casinos, fried grease suncream and rock and roll.
Anyway, as soon as we arrived and after we assaulted few “boulangeries “ (bakeries), we booked Ben’s mum (Jenny) for 2 weeks in paradise with us. Well, apparently the resort ticket aboard Inara we offered her didn’t include the sun… (and this option was unaffordable).
Direction Isles of Pines.
On the way we stopped for lunch on the islet Retika. Classic little sand clay island with its bushy top and its turquoise water. We didn’t even go to swim or ashore, too lazy. Then we headed for an anchorage in the very secluded UIE bay. The sight of the foreshore of Grande Terre (New Caledonia main island) is grandiose: high red pointy hills covered with green bushes throw themselves toward the sky as the drapes of a silky dress flowing from above. At the base, coconut trees and secluded beaches complete this sight of heaven. The aqua marine waters around are a delight for the soul and you can imagine the fishes thriving beneath. And until now we haven’t seen a single mosquito!
On the morning, we reluctantly lift the anchor without having spent time ashore (small weather window available to sail south can’t be lost in exploring) and we continued through the woodin canal. After this, there is Bay de Prony where we catch some sight of the mining industry (Modor) before being bullied by a strong south east at 20 knts at the end of the canal.
This unexpected gush of wind makes us run (me) to put the reef in place…and … (clown music) the reef line finishes IN the wind generator causing us a lot of distress to fix this annoying situation (dropping the main sail, juggling with the windgenerator blades and so on…) Circus style; nothing and no one was broken.
Finally after few hours we sight the distinctive outline of the isle of pines and more turquoise coral water to be excited about.
Ok, now we know we got the good stuff, the thing we have been dreaming about for months, the color that makes the pictures you see in the travel agencies photoshopped; this hysterical shade of blue that you think you can find only find under acid or in the creation of some Japanese decorator………. or in the ISLE OF PINES.
You can’t paint this, you can’t take a picture of it, you can only see it and savor it. It’s like a French patisserie, you can’t export it or describe it, it heals your soul and you never get tired of it.
Aqua turquoise translucido fluo impossible blue.
Compared to THAT. The trees looks more green and the blue sky looks faded.
Oh yeah, the blue sky. Hmm hmm….
Well, we got 50 shades of grey but that wasn’t too bad, Even then, the water was fluorescent.
Then, what of the island? The Isles of Pines is nice with a homely pic N’ga at 286 m and still few Pines trees to show that you are at the right place. With a length of roughly 30 km by 15 km wide this is an island at human scale and with hundreds of things to discover as caves, waterfalls, corals, mores corals, beaches and a few villages. We stayed a few days in Kanumera Bay and went scooting around on our bicycles to Upi and St Joseph bay where the Kanaks still navigate their traditional sailing canoes and the yachties are not welcomed to stay.
The main village Vao is exceptionally beautiful and calm. There is no shops more than a couple of local stores, a church, a main meeting hall, a beach. No hotel, no restaurant, no tourists. The houses are lovely with well kept garden filled with fruits trees. At once you can tell how much the people like their places and how they take care of it, no rubbish on the side of the road, everything is quiet, the perfect serenity.
Our next stop leads us to Moro islet. A little low island surounded by an impressive coral ring.
I get a painted blubberlips spearfishing and get myself scratched on coral while waiting for Ben with my fish. It happened that one shark was around when I got my catch and I don’t want to have to fight for my fish with 1000 teethed animal. So I was waiting stupidly on the top of the reef….
We get to know some locals and they leave the barbecue on for us after giving us some tricks for fishing. Apparently it’s squid season.
Now I need to give you a little explanation on how most of the islands in isles of pines are formed: they are corals heads coming out of the water with a height of 2 to 3 meters. Basically, it’s still coral: hard rocky grey bommies that piles themselves on top of each other. Which also makes them very crumbly with a thousand of crevices underneath the slight deposit on which the trees are growing. Not really the kind of island you can go exploring barefoot as the coral takes the aspect of a ragged spikey conglomerate textured like a very sharp apple crumble made out of cold lava.
But that makes very nice overhanging cliffs as the water munches at the base of the coral with its relentless movement. If you can’t still figure it out, just imagine mushroom islands made of grey rock with a very nice greeny stuff on the top and a couple of straight pines coming out of nowhere. All surrounded by the impossible alien blue (Avatar) color. And take that model and spread it unevenly around you 20 times. You have Gadji Bay. What a sight.
We were not anchored for less than 30 minutes than an enormous squid shows his tentacles at the bow. We run to get the squid jig and less than 2 minutes later, not only the bows of Inara were covered in ink but the bloody animal was safely in the bucket. Yoohoo!! Fried squid tonight.
Despite the threatening rain, BenAnna jumped in the dinghy for a bit of proper fishing. Two hours later, soaked to the bone, we came back with only a correct size Mosey’s perch (fingermark) to go with our squid. (courtesy of Ben, “the provider of the day”). I personally missed plenty of catch due to my lack of listening to Ben’s advices (hook too small, line to weak, shark suspected to grab my catch at some point…)
On the next morning, 3 or 4 specimens were lazing by the bow. We got a giant one but he got away so his successor was a bit smaller. We will not grow hungry in there apparently.
Nonetheless, the weather is damp, the rain never stop and everything is wet, mold starts to grow under our armpits. We manage to go exploring the islets around and that’s all.
We lifted the anchor to go back to Noumea the day after. A quick stop at Prony Bay allows us to get familiar with a warm spring (definitely not “hot spring” as expected). And a little bit of rock climbing along a stream in the afternoon.
The following days were dedicated to bring Jenny safely to the airport and bid her farewell; feeling very sad and sorry for the weather which was absolutely a catastrophe for her dreamed holidays. We replenish Inara ready for the big “Tour”. (Tomme Noire, Beaufort, Cantal, Comte, Coeur Basque, Fourme d’Ambert).
Back to 2X2 mode again (2 hulls, 2 people). We decided to go back to isles of pines to finish all we expected to do there. The weather is soon looking better and we stop first in the canal woodin where I catch a very nice Bec de Cane (YUM) (photos enclosed) . Then a couple of days lead us to snorkel in the Prony reef and now this is the true and not exaggerated account of what really happened:
We were quietly spearfishing in the reef, Ben and the dinghy being more than a 100 meters from me. For some reason I look behind me and I see a 2.50 meters shark following me. We know those ones, the white tip reef shark are mainly inoffensive unless you have something they like; fish.
Well, this one was following 5 meters behind me, never got that before. And not afraid at all. I stressed a bit and came back to the dinghy as fast as I could with the shark well in line with my spear.
Then I met back with Ben who tells me that he was followed by 2 of them as well. We have been advised.
15 minutes later, I heard the sound of Ben’s speargun firing and I see him with a good size Dawa (Unicorn fish) and the shark coming straight at him. I come close to him and escort him to the dinghy. The shark unafraid was coming in front of us to try to get the fish and then on our right side and behind. I was in mode “bodyguard”, fending Ben from any possible attack. I could perfectly see that the animal was unsettled by the fact we were 2 of us (and I wasn’t in the mind of letting him having a piece of my skipper). He couldn’t get in our blind spot, so we went back safely to the dinghy (Ben holding the fish out of the water). No doubt about the fact it would have take its chance if it would have been only one of us.
That how I saved Ben from a shark attack. J
The rest after that is bait piss, we changed anchorage and climbed to the light house, got soaked and caught a magnificent giantnomanosore squid (picture in the dinghy).
Now in Isles of Pines, sipping a fresh beer at the resort and using internet for free.
Ah, and everywhere we go, we have remoras as pets now.