Hienghène will spoil you for beauty
We had torrential rains last week, which among other things, took the life of a 6-year-old boy. As families mourned, a baby was born in a fire station, as the rains flooded the roads blocking the mother’s trip to a Nouméa hospital.
Before the rain rent the island, we traveled up to Hienghène, in northeast New Caledonia 2 weekends ago. We had already postponed our trip by a week, due to rain, and decided to risk getting up there and back before the rains started again. During the 6-hour car trip (with an hour’s break), we were spoiled for beauty, crossing the mountains, surprised by even lusher, greener forests than we’ve found in other parts of the island, the unexpected lagoon views and towering black calcium formations (“The Hen” and “The Sphinx” among others).
Landing at the Koulnoue Village hotel (the old “Club Med”), we were surprised by the lack of a warm welcome (“If you want to eat here this evening, go see the people in the restaurant to reserve.”) and the general lack of information about the hotel and any activities (“See the folder in your room.”). Some of you may remember the service and warm welcome we loved in both Poum and Maré, and so will appreciate our slight surprise. As everyone had been so friendly on the drive up and in the approach to, and in, Hienghène (waves, smiles, friendly honking horns), and as we had heard so many wonderful things about Hienghène, and were admittedly tired, we just trundled off to the restaurant to reserve and to our bungalow to read the folder.
But the beauty of the place!
Admittedly the hotel is run down (more so than Hotel Malabou in Poum, we felt, and most any other place we’d been to in Caledonia), but slanting palms framing a lagoon grow on you pretty quickly. We went for a walk, watched the sunset from our lagoon-facing terrace, donned insect repellent and lined up for dinner. I do so wish hotels would serve dinner before 19.30, for the sake of children and families, but this hotel’s answer was to screen “Epic” on a big screen for the kids at 20.15. Ours was exhausted and falling asleep at the table.
We knew we were in high season when we saw how busy the hotel restaurant (a buffet) was that Saturday night. My goodness! If you didn’t rush the buffet, you ended up with chipolatas as your main (which was indeed my case, as I have a horror of rushing anything, particularly when there are large groups of people or lines). As we’ve been to other buffets here in New Caledonia, I was disappointed by the quantity and quality. But again, we were tired, and only too happy to trundle off to bed early.
The best part of our stay in Hienghène was the half-day excursion we did the next day with Babou Ocean Side. Again, my goodness! This time, for all the best reasons. We loved this excursion (which, by the way, was not in the hotel folder, but had come highly recommended by a friend. Among other excursions, Babou Ocean Side offers a half-day island and snorkeling tour. This was a boat ride to a small islet, an hour-long guided tour of the islet where we learned so much about 25 plants and trees, coffee/tea/biscuits and then an hour-long snorkeling guided tour, complete with wet suits, masks, tubas and flippers. Of all the excursions we’ve done in New Caledonia, this was by far the most educational. We really recommend it!
Our tour guide (Thomas) was friendly, knowledgeable and responsive. We did have an unfortunate incident with a hermit crab (of which there are many on Ilot Hienga – or Yeega) – in which Thomas put one in our son’s hand. The hermit crab decided all of a sudden to pinch our son’s palm and hold on for dear life. I can tell you, it took us a while to pry the hermit crab off, during which time our son was, well, in tears. Afterwards, he built a hermit crab prison, beach side, and we’re happy to report that his hand is fully recovered!
All in all, we loved Hienghène. Would we go back? Probably for another tour with Babou Ocean Side (with whom you can also dive, learn about the mangroves, trek in one of the rivers, learn more about the Kanak tribes as well as the calcium formations). We’ll probably stay in Poindimie next and visit Hienghène from there – looking forward!