Fun family activities in New Caledonia

by Guest Author, Marie Nieves

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Photo credit: Bruno Moure

If you’re planning a vacation to the South Pacific gem of New Caledonia, you won’t be disappointed. If anything, it will exceed your expectations. Many people who have visited New Caledonia feel this way and are excited to return. Most importantly if you’re traveling with kids, you’re in for a holiday that’s not only about all-inclusive luxurious accommodations, but absolutely fascinating islands to explore, and a chance to revel in the world’s most beautiful – and largest – coral lagoon. You’ll also get the chance to get to know a different culture, and a different way of life; so it wouldn’t hurt to acquaint yourselves with this informative New Caledonia etiquette guide beforehand.

Anyway, without further ado, here are some ideas for where to go to or to take your kids for additional holiday fun. No matter how long your stay is, be sure to check them out, in addition to other well-known attractions.

Visit Duck Island

Ile aux Canards is a very family-friendly excursion location and a favorite tourist spot. It’s okay to sometimes stay away from conventional and crowded sightseeing places and enjoy your own DIY excursion, but some are truly worth a visit. Especially if they’re classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a snorkeling paradise that will make you feel like you’ve entered the set of “Finding Nemo”, or at least your kids will. If you’re located in Nouméa, this island is only 5-minute boat ride away from Anse Vata beach. Do encourage your kids to have a dive and enjoy a mesmerizing sight of corals and many other sea creatures, like multi-colored fish, sea turtles and more.

Another breathtaking New Caledonia experience is whale watching. Be sure not to miss it if you’re planning your trip from July to September.

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Photo credit: -epsilon-

Horseback riding

If you ever get tired of snorkeling and lying around on the sandy beaches (as if you would), or a more likely scenario, if the weather is a bit colder, or simply because your kids would enjoy bonding with animals (especially if they like horses), then this might be the perfect option for you. Horse clubs in New Caledonia have courses for all ages and levels. You can visit Thio and the Koné villages or Yala Ranch in Dumbéa, which is not that far from Nouméa. Your little ones can enjoy a few circles on a pony, or if you’re up for a bit of adventure, organized tours over the river and to the mountain range, ending with camping in the mountains might be your cup of tea.

Golfing

Why wouldn’t you want to play golf surrounded by splendid forests, and crystal clear seas? Hey, why not in New Caledonia? It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but since there are so many beautiful golden terrains available, why not check the nearest New Caledonia golf clubs and sign up for a course that’s friendly for your kids and your budget? Your kids can play separately, in kids’ groups, or you can all play together, whether you’re beginners, or if you want to teach them.

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Photo credit: Michael Coghlan

Kite surfing

New Caledonia is a wind/kite surfing mecca for windsurfers. It’s a big step to enroll in this activity for anyone who isn’t professional, even with all the surfing schools and courses. But kite surfing on one of the open shores can be a great way to spend your day. It’s a simple pleasure that will grow quickly on any kid, plus it’s very affordable and available practically everywhere. You can sit back and take a few scenic photos of your kids kite-surifing as a memory. You already have the perfect background.

About the author

Marie Nieves is a student and a blogger who loves unusual trips, gadgets and creative ideas. On her travels she likes to read poetry and prose and to surf the Internet. Her favourite writer is Tracy Chevalier; she always carries one of her books in her bag.

You can find Marie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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Geocaching in New Caledonia

bann_votre_passport_en

Geocachers’ delight: Treasures on Pleasure Island – or New Caledonia, for those of you who like exact locations. Geocaching, as many of you know, has been around for years now (14 to be exact) as well as for about 5 years in New Caledonia.

What is geocaching? According to the official geocaching site, it’s “a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.” In other words: great fun, for kids and adults alike – about 6 million of us worldwide!

 

Imagine my geeky excitement when on the back page of a newspaper I recently discovered that there’s a geocaching game going on in Northern New Caledonia. Way to go, North Province Tourism! Really! What a way to get people travelling the island, discovering its gems, and learning more about the country beyond its amazing outlying island beaches. With just your GPS (or smartphone, with or without the app), you can go off on an adventure to discover North’s most incredible views and wonderful people.

What’s the general idea of the New Caledonia geocaching game?

According to the North Province Tourism’s official site:

The Passport for the North Geo Tour is made up of 20 geocaches, numbered from 1 to 20. You can attempt the full circuit, in either direction. Allow 7 to 10 days if you want to look for all the caches. You can also concentrate on a single region depending on what you fancy.

Set out to look for the best-kept secrets and the most amazing spots in Northern New Caledonia, using the 20 geocaches hidden around the province. As you find the geocaches, complete your Passport for the North, so you can win collector geotags and holidays in the North Province.

Where are the geocaches hidden on the island?

geo4_petroglyphesAll over the island, but the geocaches in the game are found in the Northern Province – in Canala, St. Thomas, Poindimie, Hienghène, Koumac, Ouaco, Foué Beach, Col de Tango, Col de Poya and more. Wow!

The full geocache list is here.

What can you win?

Holiday packages in the North and maybe even a collector geotag. I mentioned a few months ago how much I loved Poindimie. Well, in December, you can win a one-night stay for 2 adults in a beach bungalow in the Tieti hotel with breakfast. That’s just an example! The full list of prizes is here.

How do you win?

Well, you need to find at least 5 geocaches to participate in the monthly random draw (for the holiday packages) and 10 geocaches to win a collector geotag.

geo18_tangoEach geocache found will win you 1 point. When you stay, or dine, in participating hotels and restaurants in the North, you will earn 3 and 2 points each, respectively.

When you have 20 points, you can drop in your completed Passport. The first 100 forms with at least 10 completed caches will receive a collector geotag (the game started in August of this year). A random draw takes place on the first Tuesday of each month, to win holidays in the North.

Even if you don’t collect a geotag or a holiday in the draw, honestly, speaking as a geocaching lover, you’ll win a wonderful way to have discovered the North, just by participating.

And if you don’t manage to get up North soon, you can certainly start in Nouméa or wherever you are. Check out the geocaches at Ouen Toro and Fort Tereka – and elsewhere in New Caledonia (including on Ilot Canard) here!

geo9_hiengheneIf you’re new to geocaching, I recommend reading the tips and tricks and starting with a fairly large, traditional geocache. Take a pen or pencil, and something to leave behind in the cache, and have fun!

We might just see you out there.

 

Making chocolate in New Caledonia

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

If you had told me a year ago that not only can you make your own (healthy, yes healthy!) chocolate in expensive places like islands in the South Pacific (where much is imported and little is mass-produced locally), but that you can do so easily, I would have said, “Do you have another bridge to sell?”

I’m here to tell you that I have no bridges, and I am no salesperson, but I can attest that chocolate can not only be made easily, but that it can be made by persons as young as five. Yes, indeed. (The chocolate we made is also healthier, tastier and cheaper than what you can find in the stores – can you get better than that?)

Just yesterday we attended a specially designed chocolate-making workshop for children by two extremely experienced and knowledgeable people here in Nouméa, Kimberly Grace and Sylvain Broucke. From the beginning, we were welcomed with friendly smiles, enthusiasm and kindness. We were 5 children and 4 adults, excited and happy to be learning something new.

Cacao fruitFirst, we were introduced to the different properties of cacao, or cocoa bean, which provides the basic ingredients for chocolate. We learned about its different parts (cocoa butter, cocoa powder), the fruit it comes from, where it grows (yes, it grows even in New Caledonia, though it is not for sale). Then we learned about the other ingredients we use in chocolate and had a number of interesting taste tests of the individual ingredients (some quite wonderful, others, well, surprising).

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Then onto chocolate making! We worked first in groups through all the steps (melting coconut oil and cocoa butter being more like a science experiment – so fun!), patiently measuring out the ingredients (including learning about flat tablespoon measures), whisking, tasting (tasting is very important!) and setting in the freezer and finishing up in the fridge. We then moved on to working individually, the children choosing which chocolates they wanted to make.

Most importantly, we used organic products and products as close to their natural state (our children now know what refined and unrefined are and why this is important) as could be found (all of which can be found in Nouméa). Truly a boon, when thinking about our health and the curative properties of chocolate. We made a milk chocolate without milk (substituting in almond butter instead), dark chocolate and white chocolates.

We left with our children-friendly recipes in English (including one recipe for treasure chocolate, another super-easy chocolate mousse and a great chocolate sauce), and more recipes for the adults (in English or French). We left, that is, after more conversation, a last surprise taste-test, and packing away our chocolates into our coolers.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Truly a magnificent morning well spent (especially on a rainy day) – and one that you, too, can enjoy by contacting Kimberly and Sylvain at kgbeaudoin@gmail.com. We’d be up for doing the workshop again, if anyone would like to join us (or you can contact them independently of us, of course). I believe the workshop can be done in English or French, that the minimum age for children is five, that each child should be accompanied by an adult and that the maximum number of children is five. The price is very reasonable per participant (3 500 CFP), given the workshop lasts 2.5 hours and all ingredients and equipment are provided. The price doesn’t even cover all the fun you have learning together!

You might like to check all of the above with Kimberly and Sylvain when you sign up. Do so quickly – they’re leaving New Caledonia indefinitely on further adventures in mid-October.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

 

Pikinini Festival: A little fun for everyone

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

With a 2-week school holiday period approaching in a week, and long summer holidays in France, Nouméa appears to be emptying out. Europeans and “metros” return home to see family or travel to neighbouring countries to combat island fever during our winter (July and August, here in New Caledonia). But every other remaining family seemed to show up this weekend for 2 days of family fun at the annual Pikinini Festival at Centre Tjibaou (30 July, 2-3 August).

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

With our first visit to the festival we were pleasantly surprised by the wealth of activities and free shows planned for a single all-day entry of 1,500 CFP (AUD 18 or €13) per person:

  • Bingo for children as young as 3
  • A Kanak dance performance (“Wetr Kreation”)
  • Capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts show with children and adults
  • A clown duo (complete with whip, which was slightly frightening)
  • Japanese tales
  • Fable stories
  • Poetry, dance and yoga
  • A 45-minute, 3- interactive-workshop activity for children 5-12 years (on the history of LU cookies)
  • A 30-minute workshop on creating art out of recycled cans
  • A puppet show about protecting Mother Earth
  • A fun hip hop show
  • An impressive Vanuatu fire show (when night fell and people started walking on, and interacting with, fire)
Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Other shows and workshops were also available for just 800 CFP each (AUD 10 or €7). One could learn a bit of Capoeira or hip hop, get his/her face painted, buy lunch and coffee, watch a rendition of Snow White, hear a chorus sing Disney songs and attend a host of other shows.

The weather was stunning and just perfect for a day outside. We loved watching the Kanak dance performance as well as Capoeira with the group our son is taking classes with (it’s so fun to see young children master high kicks, handstands and controlled movement in space). There was a lot of singing, clapping, smiling and picture-taking. We learned that anyone can have fun at something new!

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

We also checked out the Recycl’Art and did the LU activity. Though we felt they could have been better organised, they were both interesting (I’d send older kids to Recyl’Art and stay with younger kids during the 3 ateliers for the LU activity).

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

All in all, it was a fun day which left us over-stimulated and tired. Although we were unable to stay for the fire show, we heard amazing things about it. So our recommendation would be to go for a whole day – and not miss the fire show. Take plenty of water, cameras and patience for when things are a little less well organised than you might have hoped. You’ll be sure to leave with smiles on your faces and happy memories of a day well spent.

Overcoming shark fear in Happy New Caledonia

Juggling Cat in the HatHow do you spend your Saturday mornings? Cleaning? Sleeping in? Shopping for the week’s groceries? Or walk-dancing, happy-dancing (see below), speed-walking or windsurfing?

Of late, we’ve been spending our Saturday mornings watching our 7-year-old son windsurf with a great windsurfing school (Aloha Wind Surfing, who I’ve mentioned before). Pablo is the youngest and the smallest, and recently, perhaps the most concerned about sharks. Shark concern is not uncommon in children his age (or in adults of any age), but it has been exacerbated by an attack that occurred in Nouméa about 10 days ago, which left a 42-year-old kitesurfer with a 25 centimetre gash in his calf, alive, not kicking.

Unfortunately, the attack took place not too far away from where Pablo windsurfs at Anse Vata. His first time out after the attack, he was deeply concerned and did not feel comfortable windsurfing into deeper, darker waters (where he couldn’t see what was underneath his board). He came back crying, unable to continue. Though the instructor could see he was afraid, he wasn’t able to help him overcome his fear and frustration mounted on both sides.

This week, Pablo did not want to go back – and was adamant. His fear and trepidation was bigger than his capacity of manage “the worst that can happen – I’ll be attacked by a shark, but he’ll spit me out because I’m little and not very tasty”. Talking him down from the edge was no easy task.

When we got to his lesson, we explained to the staff at Aloha that Pablo was deeply afraid of sharks, which they had understood. As children are sensitive to raised voices and frustration, we suggested that maybe it would be best to avoid yelling. To the team’s immense credit, they suggested that maybe Pablo would like to go out in the boat today, and help the instructor. This suggestion brought a huge smile to Pablo’s face! They got him an oar, jokingly, so that he could swat any enemies, and got him laughing.

Photo by Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo by Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

Suffice it to say, Pablo had a great time flying around in the boat, as he called it, rushing off at top speed with the “maitre” (instructor) to help other windsurfing students. He also went out with the maitre on a 2-metre sail and came back beaming. He did it! He’d gone out and there were no sharks. He’d had so much fun – and will be so much more likely to windsurf his next class. He then helped unscrew the bits on the boards and to clean up – involved in the behind-the-scenes work involved in windsurfing. Helping his other classmates, bringing their boards in, Pablo learned more than just windsurfing that day.

Photo by Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

So, hats off to Aloha and hats off to New Caledonia, where even we can join the masses and be “Happy” along with Pharrell Williams, sharks and all!

Arts et etudes: creating community through art

Image Arts et Etudes

Image Arts et Etudes

“To be honest, it hasn’t worked. Not yet.” … “The French just can’t make mistakes, at least not in public. They can’t take the risk. Being humiliated is one of the worst things in the world for us, and yet we do it all the time – in schools, in homes, in work places. We point out mistakes, we ridicule others, we make fun of them for not being, well, perfect.” … “We are in the business of catering to and priming an elite. Look at how we educate – educating the top 5% of the population. Look what happens to the other 95% – and the outliers, including the gifted and the learning disabled. The majority is marginalised. And many are unsatisfied, unfulfilled, unable to believe in and achieve their full potential.”

Little did he know, François was speaking to the converted.

I met François and his colleague, Caroline, some weeks ago, when a friend mentioned a great little art atelier I should take our son to.

“You should check it out,” she said, “Go and visit. You’ll like the feeling of the place – they do all kinds of art activities for kids and they’re doing one next week on ‘land and sand’. Just go visit.”

That first week of school holiday, our son ended up going every afternoon. François had met him during our pre-visit and told him that if he didn’t like it the first day, he wouldn’t have to come back. As a mother, I appreciated Francois’ sensitivity to our son’s hesitation. “We just want you to be happy here. If you’re not happy, don’t come back.”

Photo Arts et Etudes

Photo Arts et Etudes

That first week of art afternoons was a boon. The week was about going out into nature and creating temporary art – art that would not last and that could not be taken home (except via photos – see the slideshow here). The first few afternoons, the children (6-10 years old) went to various beaches and created sand art. The last part of the week, they created land art. They painted coconuts, they built things out of sticks. And in quiet moments, they drew. Caroline could see that Pablo enjoys drawing and encouraged him. She encouraged him to keep coming back, to keep learning, to keep trying. And the next week, he joined the atelier on Keith Haring for a couple of mornings. He learned that Keith Haring kept going in his art. He didn’t stop and rub things out. He kept going.

That’s what Arts et etudes seems to be all about. Supporting kids through the tough stuff (homework, repetitive, rote learning, lack of confidence in themselves and their work) and lifting them up through art.

Art et etudes is an after-school and holiday programme for kids aged 6-17 in Nouméa. The accent is on “etudes”, which is the after-school support for homework during the week. And art is the why you come. It is for the creative (and I think François and Caroline would agree with me that every human is creative) and for those looking for a little extra support. Rather than a population of latchkey kids (which I grew up with in America – we went home alone, hung out by ourselves, did our homework, did stuff around the house), Arts et etudes caters to and creates a creative community.

Art et etudes has been around since 2009. In addition to the after-school support (and Wednesday mornings and afternoons), it provides art classes and “stages” or ateliers in specific areas during the holidays (that happen every 7 weeks here), such as theatre, crafts, drawing, film-making, comics creation, body painting and more. (Take a look at the children and their work on the Art et etudes site for more.)

Artwork Pablo Guiader

To boot, they welcome English-speakers, and there are a handful who come along. François opened it up to English-speakers a year ago, hoping to create a sort of cultural and linguistic exchange. But, as he says above, it hasn’t worked … yet. The French speakers are a bit retiscent, hesitant about speaking, making mistakes.

Part of me wishes I could go along and show the French speakers how many mistakes I make in French!

Arts et etudes is full for its after-school programme (there are about 40 kids and 8 teachers/artists) as are their Wednesday afternoon programmes (30-40 children, with 4-5 teachers/artists), but they do have room in their holiday sessions (and will be open during the summer).

As I spoke with François a few weeks ago, a number of interesting points came up in our discussion:

  1. François doesn’t hire teachers to help with homework. He hires artists, people passionate about their craft, their work. Through their passion, their art, they build a bridge to competency, pride of work well done, and pleasure in work. (Mind you, all of the artists are educated and can adequately assist with homework.)
  2. François is looking to inspire pleasure and a commitment to quality. All of the work the children produce is intended to be of a high quality, regardless of their skill or talent level. They are creating art that will be displayed not just in bedrooms, but in living rooms and kitchens (something that is far from second nature to the French).
  3. When children come for an atelier, the whole child is educated. Work is not just theoretical, but practical and fun. The whole spectrum of the art form is also taught along with its historical and cultural context. It becomes a truly rich experience for all of the learners – including the teaching learners.
  4. There is no curriculum, but the programme is based on the needs and interests in the community and the needs and interests in the teaching artists.
  5. There is no judgement of the children’s art as good or bad. They are encouraged to explore, experiment, apply themselves and learn through doing.
  6. François is starting up another location in Mont Dore in 2014. Slightly smaller in size, it will have the same objectives as the Nouméa location.

If you are interested in what François is doing at Arts et etudes, do get in touch with him and his team at artetetude@gmail.com  Personally, I think they are onto a winning combination for everyone. Don’t you?

Artwork Pablo Guiader

Artwork Pablo Guiader

Learn how to windsurf as young as 7 in Nouméa

Photo JH

Photo JH

New Caledonia has been on school holidays for the last 2 weeks. Schoolchildren are on a schedule of 7 weeks in school, 2 weeks off, a new schedule this year. I’m predicting challenges for teachers and students alike with such long breaks every 7 weeks (increased pressure to get through the curriculum in a shorter period of time, as the primary problem I’m seeing), but I have enjoyed having our son home – and occupying him with sports, reading, piano lessons and all around fun.

Children in Nouméa have a number of options during school holidays, from water sports to art activities to circus school to week-long camps at the local zoo. We’re spoiled for choice!

This holiday, we signed Pablo up for a week of windsurfing the first week, and boy was it fun! From 8.30 to 11.30 Monday through Friday, Pablo was with 11 other children his age and older. He was by far the youngest (having just turned the required 7 years old the day before) and the smallest, but the instructors assured me that he would be fine.

Photo JH

Photo JH

They spent the first morning learning how to put the boards and sails together, what the general safety precautions were, and how to basically get up on the board and windsurf. How fun is that? (Pablo tells us that his father’s recent foray into windsurfing was neither well-organised nor well-instructed, as he didn’t need to put his board together, wasn’t really told how to get on the board, etc.)

They spent the next 3 days practicing what they learned on the first day, falling less and less, advancing further and further into the lagoon.

On the 5th day, they sailed out to an island 900 metres away. The oldest (preteens and teens) kids did great – and got out to the island, despite the windier day (you would think wind is a good thing – and it is when you are experienced, challenging when you are not). Anyone who knows Nouméa knows that wind on Anse Vata can be really something! The younger kids windsurfed as much as they could, and then were picked up or ferried along by a small boat. They all had a celebratory snack on the island together and many windsurfed back.

We were very pleased with the week and plan on doing another week in October.

Windsurfing is challenging for little ones (because a certain amount of weight is required, to balance the board, and muscles are necessary to lift the sail out of the water every time it falls over), but they are also advantaged. They are not afraid of falling in the water (“That’s the funnest part!” claimed our little guy), they can get back up on the boards quite quickly and they are naturally fearless, flexible and energetic.

While out on the Wednesday, 2 students saw sea turtles and weeks before we had a couple of dolphins in the lagoon. Imagine what it feels like to windsurf with some of nature’s most beautiful animals. At 7. Or 47!

Photo JH

Photo JH

With regard to the company we went with, they are Aloha Windsurfing. Though there was only 1 instructor for the 12 students (I would increase this, to make it easier to give individual instruction to the varying levels), everyone did great. Security was number one – the children wore life jackets all morning and water shoes as of the second day (after a couple of people had stepped on urchins and bees). They taught and encouraged the children to prepare, clean and put away the boards and sails and it was great to see everyone working as a team, with the older ones helping out the younger ones. The instructor was kind, encouraging and warm as well as competent and professional.

So if you’re looking for windsurfing lessons for children 7 or over in Nouméa, head on down to the orange trucks on Anse Vata. We’ll be there again once it warms up in October!

Photo JH

Photo JH