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.

Best northern New Caledonia experience ever with Brousse O’thentik

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Looking for a bit of the “back of beyond”, marooned on a desert island, with only a knife, matches and a little salt and pepper to get you by? Have we got the adventure for you!

A few weeks ago, we ventured back up to Poindimié for a long weekend. It’d been a while since we’d been up north, and we missed it – the crashing waves at night (and the niggling feeling, “Will we be swallowed up whole in our slumber?”), the fresh air, the friendly people, the break from everyday life. With the aim of doing some geocaching and discovering the Poindimié area a little more, off we flew on our next island adventure.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Casting about for something to do on our first full-day visit, our hotel (Hotel Tieti) advised against visiting the waterfalls (nearly all dried up due to a drought), but suggested a walking adventure or a tribal visit. We opted for a bit of both with Alain, of Brousse O’thentik. Though we had visited the Oua Tom tribe 18 months before, this visit was as instructive, if not more so. Unfortunately, we were unable to meet the chief (and faire la coutume – offer our gifts, show respect and ask for permission to visit his lands), but Alain spent all morning with us explaining many of the Melanesian traditions and customs (and showed us the lands anyway (leaving the gifts with the chief the next day), ending with a lesson on making bougna and properly throwing a fishing net).

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

In the north, the tribes live very simply. Ernest (the chief), had for example, only just purchased a kitchen stove (as you can see in the photo). Retired, he and his family had lived for years with an outdoor fire to cook their food. No electricity, no warm water, no running toilet, no washing machine (and he is considered prosperous, as he is a chief and owns quite a bit of land, which he cultivates with bananas, root vegetables, coconuts, etc.), a visit puts our lives into perspective. No books, no toys, one mattress, one hut where the four family members sleep, a hose for a shower, no refrigerator, no car, but organic food (he uses natural, rather than chemical, pesticides), access to fresh fish and a strong community.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

We were very impressed to learn more of Kanak law during our visit. The Kanaks have their rules and punishments in addition to the French law, and to my mind, they are much stricter. Alain gave us an example. Recently some youth stole the pastor’s 2 pigs. According to Kanak tradition, the pastor is a highly respected member of the community. Any harm to him or his property is gravely punished – the only more highly respected member of the community is the chief. Just after the 2 pigs were stolen, the 200 members of the tribe were summoned by the chief: he pressed them to identify the guilty parties (or to come forward). Eventually, 2 young men came forward. They were publicly beaten within an inch of their lives.  Alain tells us they were right to come forward early, for it they had not, if they had ever been found out, they would have been banished from the tribe. To regain their place in the tribe, they would have had to replace the pigs, repay the pastor via work or other ways, request forgiveness of the pastor and the chief and the community, and make an offering to each member of the tribe. Alain explained that rather than face banishment, youth (and adults) go away to work to be able to repay their debts and rejoin the tribe – as being ostracized results in much harder lives (homeless, without work, no support, hungry, etc.).

Having learned so much with Alain, we decided to spend another day with him the next day. Brousse O’thentik provides cultural visits in the north in an “a la carte” fashion. If you want to go biking and learn how to fish for shrimp, Alain will take you. If you want to go hiking up the mountains for an incredible view of the lagoon, he’ll take you (and you’ll learn about all the plants on the way). Is canoe-ing and net fishing your deal? He’ll take you. How about doing stand-up on wooden rafts or discovering the waterfalls or discovering the countryside on a horse? Alain and his brother offer all of these visits at reasonable prices – and he is not only professional, but funny, personable and a fountain of knowledge. Does he do these visits in English? He assures me he’s been working on his English. If you speak a bit of French (even if only a little), my guess is you’ll be able to communicate and you will learn a lot from him (he has a pedagogical, hand-on approach, which accompanied by gestures, will make sudden sense in context – throwing a fishing net, climbing, doing stand-up, cleaning fish, etc.).

So what’s this adventure I’m talking about?

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Well, before the adventure (and the one I have for you), I am somewhat ashamed to say that I didn’t know how to:

1. Fish with a net

2. Make a meal on a desert island.

Many of you may be experts in the field, but fishing and cooking with nothing are not among my skills – well until now. We had a survival course of sorts during our one-day outing with Alain to Ilot Tibarama the next day.

We met Alain at the dock at 7:45am with protective shoes, bathing suits, sun protection, snorkeling equipment and plenty of water. He provided all the rest (breakfast, lunch supplies, a few wooden bowls, chopsticks, a net, more snorkeling equipment, table, coffee, water, lemonade, matches, salt and pepper, a knife or two) and off we went to a sliver of an island (I like to think of it as “Gilligan’s Island”), 5-10 minutes away by boat.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

When we landed, we off-loaded the boat and said goodbye until 4pm that afternoon. Things stored away, off we went around the island in search of fish (which Alain taught us to look for, not on land or in water, but from the tops of trees). Parrot fish dine on coral and when eating in shallow waters, their beaks dip down and their blue tails stick out of the water – this is what we were looking for. We were also looking for schools of sardines. Unlucky at 8am, we collected coconuts and wood for later.

Back at “camp”, Alain taught us to clean some fish he had brought, in case we were unable to catch any ourselves (we did later that day, but after lunch). They had been caught 2 days before on another outing. Cleaned fish, we chopped it up for Tahitian salad, which is a raw fish salad. Table installed in the water on the beach, we chopped and seeded cucumber, chopped a carrot, sliced half of an onion, squeezed a lemon, and checked and double-checked the fish for bones.

 

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Then, we learned how to make coconut milk. Alain cracked open the big coconut exterior (this is bigger than the coconut you are imagining – it is its exterior). You want the brown coconuts for this, not the green ones – and you’ll need to make sure that when you shake them, you can hear liquid sloshing about. Once he had the coconuts out, he cracked them in two with a machete – best to do with a very sharp knife or a hammer at home. This is the hardest part done. Then, we grated the coconut flesh into a bowl. Finally, we put the flesh into a tea towel and squeezed it over another bowl – out came the most delicious coconut milk you have ever tasted in your life! Who knew?

Having “cooked” the fish in lemon juice, we now added the carrots, onion and cucumber, and added the coconut milk last of all. Et voila! Tahitian salad!

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

We then set to grilling fish on the fire in papillottes (wrapped in aluminum), made with the wood and fronds we had gathered, and shortly, everything was ready. Tahitian salad, freshly grilled fish, another salad prepared by Alain, lemonade, water, and my, it was the most delicious meal made fresh we’d ever had.

The afternoon saw more fishing adventures, and this time, we learned how to catch parrot fish with a net. Having spotted schools of parrot fish, Alain went gingerly out into the water and placed a huge net around an area. When he gave the signal, my husband was to make a lot of noise splashing his hands in the water and shouting, to drive the fish into the nets. My son was to throw rocks to scare the fish into the direction of the nets, and I, wearing white, was to run up and down the beach waving my arms (apparently white – moving quickly – can be picked up by the fish and scares them as well). What a sight it was! A communal effort, and after several tries, we caught 4 fish and threw a 5th one back. We replenished the stocks and would feed another family.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

With time at the end, after coffee, for some snorkeling in pristine waters, the day was one of our best yet. Our little Robinson Crusoe experience had taught us some new skills, brought us together as a family, and made us a new friend. We learned even more about Kanak traditions and customs and walked away the wiser in body, mind and spirit!

If this sounds like something you’d like to do – an all-day outing on a desert island, learning about life in New Caledonia and gaining some survival skills – or if any of the other activities mentioned above strike your fancy, do contact Alain at Brousse O’thentik (email: brousseothentik@hotmail.fr | mobile: 97 59 69). Tell him I sent you!

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

Elections, an acid leak and Poindimié

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

It’s been a busy few weeks in New Caledonia.

Sunday saw the provincial elections much of Caledonia has been waiting for, resulting in 29 seats going to anti-independence leaders and 25 seats to the pro-independence leaders, narrowing the gap between those for and against independence for New Caledonia (you can see the full results from the election here in French). Next we will see if the 54-member Congress will see the three-fifths majority it needs to issue the first of three public independence (self-determination) referendums in the coming months.

Last Wednesday, the Vale nickel mine located in the south (Goro) had an acid leak (110,000 litres of effluent, some of it containing acid), the 6th in 5 years. Bad enough to close the plant and raise local tempers, we are waiting to hear what happens next. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) New Caledonia has said that risk management at the plant seriously needs to be addressed or the plant should be closed down; the area may not survive a 7th accident. Since the weekend, local residents have blocked access to the plant and are calling for its definitive closure. Kanak chiefs from the south were meeting about the matter today.

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

In the middle of all this, we travelled up to the north-eastern coast of New Caledonia – to Poindimié. Cut off from the rest of the world, apart from public wifi access near the Reception at Hotel Tieti, it was next to impossible to know what was happening more than 10 metres ahead of us. This was our first visit to Poindimié and I have to say it was our best stay up north yet. Personally, I love the north and like to go up there as often as we can. I have enjoyed Hienghene and Poum and will most likely return to Poindimié again now that we had such a great experience there.

What did we like about it?

  • Just over 4 short hours outside Nouméa, and we feel like we’re in the Back of Beyond. With only 3 hours up to Koné and then 1 hour and 10 minutes across to the east coast through the mountains, the trip was more manageable than making the trek up further to Poum or to Hienghene. It actually felt quite quick!
  • The beach bungalows at Hotel Tieti are large, modern, clean and beautiful, with large terraces overlooking the lagoon. Complete with a shower and full bath, we felt we were in the lap of luxury itself. To us, Hotel Tieti was hands-down the best northern New Caledonia hotel yet.
  • Our meals were copious, a full, hot breakfast was included in the price of the room, and in our case, service was fast and pleasant.
  • The beaches in front of the Hotel Tieti are long, quiet and empty (even on a long weekend – though I’ve been told they are slightly busier in January and February, during the high season).
  • A 5-minute boat ride separates you and Ilot Tibarama, where you can dive and snorkel in what seems a tropical fish aquarium. A tiny isle, you can spend all morning there or part of the afternoon. We opted for the afternoon as a 7:30 departure felt a little too early.
  • In addition to diving and all-morning snorkeling outings with Tieti Diving (including a diving initiation for children 8 and up), you can also hike, hire guides, visit Kanak lands and the tribes and learn more about the region.
  • With such close proximity to the lagoon, we heard nothing but the crashing of waves at night.
  • Plenty to explore, quiet to enjoy, Poindimié was the perfect combination of activity and relaxation.

For those of you who are not familiar with cagoodeal.nc, there are constant deals on the Hotel Tieti listed there  (an example of 1 night free for 1 night paid here, good through 30 June), which makes a drive up north definitely worth considering. If you end up going, or have been to Poindimié and would like to share your thoughts, please do. I’d love to hear from you!

Ilot Tibarama 2

Hienghène will spoil you for beauty

Photo Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes

Photo Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes

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).

Photo JH

Photo JH

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!

Photo JH

Photo JH

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.

Photo JH

Photo JH

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!

Photo JH

Photo JH

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!

Photo JH

Photo JH

Maré: An island of surprises

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

Of the 3 Loyalty Islands in New Caledonia, Maré is now my favourite, having visited it last December. There is of course out-of-this-world beautiful, which you’ll find in Ouvéa. There is some of the most amazing snorkeling you’ll ever find  (at the Baie de Jinek), a great vanilla plantation, wonderfully friendly people  and long, white beaches in Lifou. But Maré:

  • Has a simply astounding, savage beauty about it
  • Has a plethora of amazing fish right off the beach at the Nengone Village Hotel (and the water is deliciously warm in December)
  • Is not immediately obvious (you’ll only find signs to the “natural aquarium”, the Nengone Village hotel, and maybe the airport if you look carefully, as an example of what I mean by “not immediately obvious”)
  • Requires you to interact with the locals (it’s the only way you’ll find anything; and asking permission to visit sites is a must)
  • Is unpredictable (you never know what or who you’ll find)
  • Feels much closer to true island life than other islands (when you run out of eggs, or the cook doesn’t show up, well, you have toast; when there’s a gas shortage, you ask about the only open gas station and you drive less)
  • Is authentic, charming, real, wild
  • Has reserved, friendly people who aren’t particularly driven by money or business (our car rental company was happy to pass us onto a competing company when they couldn’t deliver the car because their childcare provider had not shown up for work; we stuck with them and were happy we did, as they are a small company and we wanted to work with them).
Photo JH

Photo JH

I’ve heard that Maré started to receive more tourists in 2013 with the Australian cruise ships. For the moment, you can’t tell. While we were there, we didn’t see a ship, nor tour buses, nor an increased infrastructure (toilets, trash cans, signs in English [or very many signs at all, for that matter]). We didn’t hear or speak English, as we’ve done at Ile des Pins and Lifou. All of this, I felt, added to Maré’s authenticity, rather than detracted from its caché.

I’ve heard that some visitors have come away thinking Maré has nothing to offer, that there is nothing to do there. This was not our experience – quite the opposite! The first thing we did when we arrived at our hotel was speak with reception about their recommendations for what we should do and see in Maré. We had of course read the guidebooks and had a list (and remembered our trip of 2006), but our experience shows that the locals usually have good (and better) ideas, especially in places off the beaten track. We were surprised that reception told us we could skip the tour the hotel offered, as we had rented a car – that we could get as much out of our visit, by driving around and asking questions (for directions, for permission to visit the sites) as we would by taking the 2-hour tour.

And  right they were!

Photo JH

Photo JH

The only difference was that rather than have everything pointed out to us, and rather than be driven to the sites we wanted to see, we had to find them, ask questions and learn from the locals and our books. Just the kind of adventure we love!

If you go to Maré, here are the things we highly recommend:

  • Feed the fish at the “natural aquarium
  • Visit the caves at Padawa (ask a local to take you or show you where they are)
  • Imagine the underground world at the Trou de Bone (again, ask a local where it is – it’s not sign-posted)
  • Marvel at the Warrior’s Leap
  • Snorkel with the fish at the beach at Nengone Village hotel
  • Walk the 3-beach trail
  • Visit one of the tribal lodgings in the north of the island (we loved Seday)
  • Swim with the turtles in the Bay of Turtles
  • Walk the beaches at Patho or take a book, read under the palms, and watch the world go by
Photo JH

Photo JH

We were there only 4 days, but we would have loved to have stayed longer. The absolute highlight of this trip was swimming with the sea turtles in Turtle Bay. Interestingly enough, you won’t find mention of this bay in the guidebooks, nor of the turtles. It was one of the locals who told us where to go at high tide (the bay just north of Baie de Tadine, at Mebuet), when they would come in. There were between 5 and 7 of them, from young to old. Several times, we were swimming with more than 1 turtle at a time. At high tide, they come in quite close to the beach.

As we absolutely love swimming with turtles, we spent 2 afternoons doing so in Maré. We watched them eat the sea grass, our son gently cleaned their shells for them, we hung out and observed them. The older ones are quite happy to have you rest quietly next to them, in respectful observance. The younger ones will take you on a tour of the bay. We were very careful to not approach them too closely, scare them, or block their paths, swimming alongside or behind them at all times.

Several locals explained to me that the Kanaks do not swim with the turtles – that only the tourists do (though the Kanaks watch them from above). For the longest time, the locals did not know there were turtles in the bay (as they do not swim in shallow water – they fish deeper waters), and were surprised to see that they are in fact there all year ’round. This is somewhat odd, as this is egg-laying season – the locals did not understand why they were coming consistently to the bay, even in the warm season. After several hours, 2 days in a row, we could say that they were eating. They also appear to be very comfortable in the bay – there are very few people (even in high season). I hope it stays this way – for the sake of the turtles.

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

One local did say that the Kanaks consider swimming with the turtles almost “taboo”. I asked if we were allowed to do so. He jokingly said no. He laughed. Culturally, I couldn’t read his response, and he could see the concern on my face – the last thing I want to do is be disrespectful! He smiled and said it was okay. This being said, I would highly recommend that you ask the locals, should you wish to swim with the turtles, if you have their permission. Another local told us of several killings on the island – in which people had gone off on sacred paths without permission or a guide (including at Shabadran) – and of one recent case in which the body of a local teacher (from France) has never been found.

Photo JH

Photo JH

Ouvéa: The island closest to paradise

Photo JH

Photo JH

Can you get more beautiful than Ile des Pins? I didn’t think so. Ile des Pins, is after all, my favourite place in the world. But after a 2-day stay in Ouvéa (admittedly very short) at Christmas, I have to admit: Ouvéa is the “island closest to paradise”.

Photo JH

Photo JH

The turquoise blue of the lagoon and its many hues is unlike anything I’ve ever seen (except in 2006 [and then was reminded of it again in 2013!] – and again, I am a great lover of the turquoise waters found at Ile des Pins.  The white-flour sand is exquisite – so very fine, so very soft (finer and softer than you’ll find on the other islands). If you take a tour of the island (offered by the hotel), you’ll see the range of blues found nowhere else in the world. If you walk to the Pont de Mouli (Mouli Bridge), just 10 minutes from the hotel, you will swim with rays, turtles and sharks. We also snorkeled with Picasso (trigger) fish and the little black and white-striped fish called “les desmoiselles”. Just remember to swim on the left-hand side of the bridge; the right-hand side is sacred and not to be ventured into.

Ouvéa is one of New Caledonia’s 3 Loyalty Islands, and probably the least visited of the 3. I say that, only due to the price of getting, staying and eating there.

  • The 40-minute round-trip flight cost 23,650 CFP (€198 or AUD 301) for one adult.
  • For the hotel (and there is just one hotel on the island: Paradis d’Ouvéa), which is on the luxury end, the nightly rate for 2 adults and 1 child (breakfast included) was 28,930 CFP (or €242 or AUD 368).
  • The lunches/dinners ranged from 6,000-7,000 CFP (or €50-59 or AUD 80-89). You can get sandwiches and things at “snacks” which are cheaper, but the hotel does not offer sandwiches to take away on picnics.
  • The Christmas eve (haute cuisine) dinner was a one-price menu of 11,933 (or €100 or AUD 152) per person, with a small discount for a child. Delicious, and offered with live entertainment of local music and a Melanesian dance performance, it was however limited for children (we could not order anything outside the set menu of foie gras, lobster, beef, etc. for our son whose tastes are much simpler).

With prices like these, Ouvéa is out of reach for large families or those on a budget.

This being said, if you live in or come to New Caledonia, and can afford a trip to Ouvéa, I highly recommend it – if only for its natural beauty. I was speechless our entire time there. How can something this extraordinary exist? Such blues, such whites, palms, coconuts, fresh air, unpolluted, pristine – and empty. So very few people shared the 25-kilometre-long beach with us. Why? Where were they?

The people (and there are only about 4,300 of them – 99% of them locals, 1% European) are friendly, and reserved. It was the first Loyalty Island, however, where I felt a division (the tourists stayed near the hotel and the locals in other parts). But I’ve heard that if you are able to spend more time and gain the trust of the locals, they are more than happy to speak with you about life on their island.

If we ever have the budget again, or can get a special deal on the flights/hotel, I’d like to drink in Ouvéa at least one more time in my lifetime. If only to confirm it wasn’t a dream.

Photo JH

Photo JH

Northern New Caledonia: A haven!

Photo JH

Photo JH

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to post. Such is the way with work, with school holidays, with being caught up in the whirlwind of routine, even in the South Pacific. I do apologise to my regular readers. I have not fallen off the edge of the Earth (though as of late, you will have found me under water) – just busy. I hope to return to my regular weekly posts, as I do missing checking in with you and reporting on life here  (and boy do we have life to report – 3 car accidents this week, taking the life of a 2-year-old and a young fire worker as well as another 33-year-old man; a pronounced move to make the sale of guns that much harder as we’ve had 8 deaths by guns so far this year; and oh yes, bushfires in Koumac and La Foa).

An adventure up north

But, back to life on this beautiful island. Last weekend, we braved our (or my, rather) fear of New Caledonian road accidents (you are 4 times more likely to die in a road accident here than in France) and drove up to the north of New Caledonia. We were told to expect to do it in 5 hours (from Nouméa to Poum – for those of you who know the island well). We left at 8:15, had 2 short breaks that amounted to about 1 hour’s break, and arrived in Malbou at 14:30 – so just over 5 hours.

There are several great things about the drive up north:

  1. The incredible mountain views – and the green, green, green of the rainforest/forests;
  2. The sense that you are in the back of beyond (our first traffic light, between Nouméa and Poum was found in Koné, a good 3.5-4 hours north of Nouméa);
  3. The kindness of the people the further north you get (with waves and horn-honking with passing cars and trucks);
  4. The ghost-town feel of the one-road villages/towns that you drive through and would miss if you blinked;
  5. The silence and isolation (with so few people on the roads).

I had been concerned about the state of the roads, having driven down south to see the whales (and not having enjoyed the hole-ridden roads), but was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the roads in the north. Once we got past La Foa and Bourail, it was as easy as pie. The road between Koné and Koumac was as good as, or better than, any you’d find in the United States (we’d been told this road was wonderful – and we were not disappointed).

Malabou Beach Hotel

In view of the fact that it was a 3-day holiday, we were only able to reserve 2 nights up north. A month in advance I had started calling around and everything had been booked (such is the fate of a small island and not enough facilities for the population). But we were more than happy to arrive at the Malabou Beach Hotel and to have 2 nights stretched out in front of us.

We loved our stay at the beachfront hotel for the following reasons:

1. The food was excellent! The dinner menu was especially copious – an all-you-can-eat buffet of fresh seafood (caught locally), beautifully cooked vegetables, brochettes, salads, desserts. The head chef was particularly accommodating, offering not just comments on the food, but tips on things to do in the area. Though dinner was served a little later than we would have liked (19:30), we were able to eat quickly so that we could get our sleeping son into bed. The breakfast was not included (and on the expensive side), but was again an all-you-can-eat buffet of both warm and cold platters (eggs, sausages, hash browns, fresh fruit, crepes, pains aux choocolats, etc.). Lunch was served on the water, in another location, at a “snack” connected to the hotel – and there we had the best hamburgers we’ve ever had in our lives!

2. Though not always 100% efficient, the staff made up for what lacked in efficiency with kindness, a “can-fix” attitude, pleasantness and warmth. By the end of our short stay, we were on a first-name basis with several staff members (and in a good way!).

3. The price. As we found just a few days later when we stayed in Bourail, you could pay next to the same price in a far inferior room/location. The Hotel Malabou Beach is excellent value for money, when you consider other hotels on the island. The bungalows go for about 13 000 CFP (AUD 156 or €109) a night. They are clean, fairly well-equipped and come with a small terrace overlooking the beach. There is also free wifi all over the hotel grounds (and in the bungalows – which is not always the case in other New Caledonian hotels). The bungalows are currently being renovated (all of them are to be finished by the end of 2014; they are renovating them in batches), which will drive up the price. But from what we’ve seen of the planned renovations, it will be worth it. If you’d like the cheaper price, do try to go before the end of 2014.

4. All the free activities! You can play mini-golf, kayak, play table tennis, jump in the pool, go for a hike, explore a mangrove and snorkel for free. You can also scuba dive, go horse-riding or take a boat to a small islet (turns out the islet you are taken to is the very same islet that hosted the 11th season of Kohlanta [a “Survivor”-type TV reality programme] in 2009 and broadcast in 2010) for the morning or day. We mini-golfed, kayaked, played in the pool, went for a hike, explored a mangrove and explored the islet in the 2 and a half days we were there. If we could, we would have stayed a third night and driven up north to explore the top of the island, where I’ve heard you’ll see wild horses.

As for the islet (Ilot Tiambouenne), we walked around it in less than an hour and then went for a snorkel. Oh my goodness! We’ve done our fair share of snorkeling, but this was extraordinary. I’ve never seen such a range of coral in such good health. The colours were stunning (and it was a cloudy day) and the variety was amazing – from blue forests to large yellow coral (with lots of light-blue fish) to pink, to orange, to purple. It was everywhere! We were very careful not to damage any of it, enjoying this amazing underwater world. The fish were also wonderful – almost as good as at Ile des Pins (but not as plentiful as you’ll find in Lifou). A turtle was spotted (though we missed him), as well as an octopus.

Photo JH

Photo JH

Blue bottles, deer and fires

Photo JH

Photo JH

Following our amazing desert island experience (where we saw our first Blue Bottle – and did not touch it, thank goodness, as it has a particularly painful sting and “their toxic nematocysts can remain potent for weeks or months in moist conditions”), we headed back down south. We passed the deer we had seen on the way up (being bred for hunting?) just outside Koumac,  and 3 hours later we found ourselves in Bourail for the night, which was a marvelous stop over (and the subject of another blog).

Photo JH

Photo JH

As we had driven through fires between Koumac and Poum on the way up (why they don’t close the roads when fire is that close, I don’t know), we were not spared a similar drama the next day at La Foa, on our way back to Nouméa. This time, at La Foa, the police stopped traffic and asked us to turn back. Blocked for 2 hours, we were happy to have plenty of food, water, games and charged iPhones and iPads. It could have been much worse!

Photo JH

Photo JH

Though this was our first trip up north since 2007, it won’t be our last. We look forward to exploring even further north and crossing over to Heinghene in the months to come. With regard to the best time to visit Poum, the locals tell me the end of November through December.

The beauty of the north is breathtaking – and to my mind, much more representative of New Caledonia than Nouméa alone.