Quick, a taxi boat to Ilot Maitre!
It was a beautiful 4-day weekend in Nouméa and afar in New Caledonia this early November. With a number of events on in and around Nouméa, one was spoiled for choice.
There was a “Fete de Boeuf” in Paita which attracted over 20,000 visitors for a programme such as this:
9:00 – Official opening
9:30 – Herd of bathing animals (pool)
10:00 – Butchering of a calf (marking, castration)
10:30 – Country show
11:00 – Calf testicle tasting
11:15 – Equestrian games
11:30 – Couples racing
12:00 – ‘Beef on the spit’ and Paita bean tasting
12:30 – Calf-testicle-eating contest
13:30 – Rodeo
Other activities included visits to the villa museum, fairground attractions, pony rides, helicopter rides, vintage cars, food, local products, a crafts market and meat sold on site.
On the other hand, there was a lovely weekend event that renacted the arrival of 18,000 Americans in 1942, complete with baseball, fireworks, GIs and 40s music in La Foa. Apparently some 4,000 participated in the event.
But our choice, rather spontaneous as it was, was to dash out and take a taxi boat to Ilot Maitre, a wonderful little island just 10-15 minutes away by boat. It is a coral reef reserve and as advised by local friends, it is best to go when the tide is high and there is little to no wind – if you want to enjoy a wonderful day snorkeling in these pristine waters. Which is what we wanted – so with little to no wind and high tide, off we went!
You can get to Ilot Maitre either for the day with a package deal that includes a copious buffet lunch, access to the resort pool and deck chairs (and there is a special during the week for only 5900 CPF per adult through the end of November – which unfortunately was booked up when I called), leaving from Port Moselle. Or you can zip over on a taxi boat with your picnic lunch from Anse Vata. This turned out to be our best option.
When we arrived, and walked off the boat, our son cried, “It’s so beautiful!! Look at the water! It’s so clear! Can we live here?”
True, the water was particularly transparent that day and we could see fish swimming just under our feet as we walked down the plank to the island.
I was particularly taken by the stretch of resorts on the island and the expanse of blue before and behind them.
Mouths hanging open, as only newly arrived Parisians mouths can, we marveled at the white sand, the underwater life, the beautiful weather and heart-stopping blues. As soon as we found our friends, we donned our snorkeling gear and into the water we went. The tide was high, which allowed us to get out to the coral reefs quickly and easily. Our son snorkeled for the first time in his life (we couldn’t believe how easy it was for him to use the tuba!) and we delighted in the warm November water.
Best of all, however, was the turtle a friend pointed out to me while we were swimming. She (the turtle) was huge and graceful and peaceful. She was nibbling on the sea grass and swimming, unperturbed, through the water. We stayed with her some 10 minutes before leaving her in peace. Only to then see Picasso triggerfish, black and white striped fish, beautiful turquoise fish, and tiny yellow fish. I lost all sense of time, watching life that way.
Back on land, our little guy was fascinated with our tree neighbour, a tricot rayé (a local, lethal sea snake), who happily napped inside the tree the whole time we were there. He and his father were very pleased with themselves when they returned from a walk with a tricot rayé snakeskin in their hands …
After lunch and 2 more snorkeling sessions, it was time to go home. We packed up our things, promised ourselves we would be back soon, and ran to the boat. On the way back to Nouméa, the boat slowed to show us a dugong swimming in the waters, another first for us.
Returned home, I was exhausted, which is relatively rare for me. Perhaps it was the sun, the sea, the excitement, the swimming. The next day my arms, wrists and hands broke out into a rash. The itching was pretty intense. A little research on the web seems to indicate that I had come into contact with sea lice while snorkeling. I had felt a number of stings while swimming, but as they were not that intense, and my husband had felt it too, I didn’t think much of it. A few days later I had a rash under my bathing suit as well. I’d never heard of sea lice, and by this I mean the larvae of sea anemones or jelly fish, not the sea lice that fish (and particularly salmon) can have. As you can’t see them, there isn’t much you can do beyond get out of the water if you feel a sting (which is thankfully what our son did). After the fact, treatment includes using cortisone creams (I used aloe vera), keeping them clean and not scratching them. They can last anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks. It’s pretty uncomfortable in the beginning, but I would not take back that day for anything.
The views, the experience of swimming with a sea turtle, the peace that overcame us all as we snorkeled together for the first time as a family (okay, so my son’s flippers kept hitting me in the head, but we soon remedied that), all of those things far outweigh a few “itchy bits” (as our son calls them).
Ilot Maitre, we will be back!