Route: Noumea – Kone - Poindimie – Hienghene – Houailou – Bourail – Paita – Yate – Farino.
25.04.2016 - 11.05.2016
And now for something completely different, New Caledonia. The heat and humidity as you leave the airport reminds you that this is a Pacific island 2000 km north west of New Zealand, and that much closer to the equator. It’s French speaking and they drive on the right, so something else to get used to after 10 weeks in New Zealand. On the plus side, we now had lovely patisseries in every town.
We picked up our hire car at the airport, a small Dacia Sandero, and set off on a journey of discovery. After the initial misgivings of our car we found it to be a real workhorse, if a bit sluggish, that served us well for the whole trip.
Our plan was to see as much of the island as possible and this we pretty much achieved during our two-week stay.
We started with two days in the capital, Noumea. This was by far the busiest part of the island, with around three quarters of the 300,000 populations living in and around the city. Other than a fairly interesting city historic walk, Noumea didn’t have much to offer us, although the waters around it did. We had a great morning snorkelling off of Ile aux Canards.
From Noumea we headed up to the northern region of the island and our base for four nights at Poindimie. We were now in a completely different environment, lush forests, sandy beaches, more traditional living (most of the indigenous Kanak people live in this region) and sparsely populated.
Our first day was a bit overcast with scattered showers, but this didn’t stop us from hiking up to a look out, which provided great views of the coast and valley below us. We thought we had made it up and back in the dry, but got caught in a tropical downpour just before reaching the car.
The next few days provided us with great weather and we took advantage of this to explore the beautiful north eastern coast, which included a cable ferry to cross a river at one point.
We also managed to do some fantastic snorkelling on the barrier reef that lies a few km of the coast of Poindimie. One of the best snorkelling experience we (actually only Anne) did. I highly recommend to do the Randonnee Palmee.
Snorkelling photos are courtesy of the dive master
We loved the north, but time constants meant we had to move on to see the south and central regions. Our drive south down the east coast to our next location of Paita was a day to remember. The route was possibly the most beautiful we were to take on the island, passing through tropical landscapes, empty beaches and isolated villages, the scenery was a joy to behold even if the road was a bit challenging.
Our next and final base was just outside the busy little town of Paita. We had rented an apartment for the week in an area called Mont Mou, which was 10km out of town up on the mountainside. This turned out to be a beautiful location and slightly cooler than at lower elevations. From here we were able to explore the south and central regions, with the highlights of two provincial parks, the Bleu Riviere in the south and Grandes Fougeres in the central mountains. Both parks were equally beautiful but very different, plus we got to see the endangered Cagou (flightless forest bird) in the Bleu Riviere Parc.
In addition to all this, we were able to watch the making of a TV episode of “Everyday Gourmet”, an Australian cooking series, aired on Channel Ten and starring Justine Schofield. Although we didn’t know it when we booked the accommodation, one of our hosts, Christophe Lange, was a famous New Caledonia Chef and he was featured in the episode, all taking place just outside our apartment. Because the show was being recorded in English and Christophe was uncomfortable explaining cooking terms in that language, he was very nervous. So I (Malc) had a quiet word with Justine to say I would do my famous sausage, mash and beans, if Chris couldn’t continue. Fortunately, it all went smoothly and wasn’t called upon.
In no time we were at the end of our trip and rather sad to leave, especially having to get up at 05:00 for a 08:00 flight. Maybe, we will come back some day, it is a beautiful place.
But for now it’s back to New Zealand, for a few days in Auckland before heading off to western Canada.
Personal Observations & Interesting Facts
Overseas French Country and May bank/public holiday
For all the non-French people reading this, you are probably not aware of how many bank holidays there are during the month of May in France. And therefore of course, in New Caledonia.
Labour day is on the 1st of May, followed on the 5th by Ascension day (which commemorate the ascension of Jesus to Heaven 40 days after Easter), then on the 8th its V day, and finally on the 16th its Pentecost day. Now this year, the 1st and 8th fell on a Sunday, so not really having an impact on business hours. Ha, but here we go, the 5th happens to be a Thursday, so why not just have the whole week until the 10 May as public holiday instead! Which is great for the New Caledonian workers, but not so great if you happened to be a tourist on a 2-week visit. Fortunately we stocked up with food and petrol before this all started.
Good side of being in a French culture is that bakeries and patisseries are always open at least in the morning. And such good bread and cakes, not to mention the other goodies.
Alcohol: when to buy
If you ever go to New Caledonia, be aware that you can only buy alcohol on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, all day Thursday. Or it might be easier to say, only when the children are at school!
New Caledonia is one place in the world where you can still smoke everywhere, which made me realise how I had got used to not having the smell of cigarettes when visiting restaurants or pubs.