It’s been a while … at New Caledonia Today

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris

What the heck happened? Several among you have sent me messages to know if I am still in New Caledonia. Where did I go? Why did I stop writing? The truth is, 2015 hit us with a wallop. In mid-January I found myself in the emergency room and then a few days in the hospital with every battery of heart and brain test you can imagine. If anyone wants to know what medical care is like – or my experience of it – in New Caledonia, shoot me a note and I’ll think about blogging about it. Yes, New Caledonia has trained medical staff and all the modern equipment (if perhaps in limited quantities). Yes, hygiene is good. Yes, the food is bad (but isn’t all hospital food bad?). Yes, it’s horrible waiting around all day in a hospital bed. But again, I think it’s the same everywhere. Would I want to spend a lot of time in the hospitals/clinics here? No. But then I wouldn’t want to do that anywhere. February saw a world school trip to Vanuatu which was out of this world – and just ahead of Cyclone Pam. We were extremely lucky to see and taste and smell the beauty Vanuatu has to offer before it experienced such destruction. We met and spent many an hour with the locals on several islands (Efate, Malekula, Santo, Tanna) – and our minds and hearts will be forever etched with their kindnesses, with their pure happiness with next to nothing. March and April have seen full-on work and school for Pablo and I, without a break. We’ve learned that we are moving to the south of France for August of this year. And so starts the return move machine. We’ve purchased our around-the-world return tickets (they feel like around-the-world, but as we’re not returning to New Caledonia, they aren’t really), started sorting our things to sell and to give, have met with movers, talked with the quarantine about moving our pet and are facing the inevitable end of our stay here. What has been happening in New Caledonia?

And of course we still have the car accidents and the road deaths, the random fights and the stolen vehicles. We have the high cost of living and problems with the nickel plants, the polluted beaches and the political disputes. On the bright side, we have leopard shark love in central Nouméa (see below), the most beautiful weather you can imagine, stunning views, a pristine lagoon, clean air and a high quality of life. We are free of much of the crime we see on TV in the United States and Europe, we live simply, unconsumed by consumerism, we live with the sun and spend much of our lives outside. Would you live here, if you could (and you don’t)? I guarantee you would miss it, having had it for a few weeks, months or years. I’ll do what I can to keep writing before we leave. If there are any topics you’d like to know more about before this chapter closes, shout, and I’ll see what I can do to accommodate you. Knowing you’re there keeps me thinking about all the best things there are to share about life in New Caledonia.

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Summer activities for children in Nouméa

Photo JH

Photo JH

Most people we know in New Caledonia tend to travel during the summer holidays, just like anywhere else in the world, I suppose. Newly here, we are still so in love with the views, the fresh air, the extraordinary snorkeling only boat rides away, the palm trees and the white sandy beaches that we’ve chosen to stay here this summer (and summer it is until school starts again on 11 February). Which means that we have a 6.75-year-old to keep busy in the meanwhile.

“Take him to the beach!”, you say, “It’s easy!” Yes, I suppose we could do that every day. But truth be told, as most of his friends are away, I’m his only playmate. So yes, we can swim, and look for fish, and build sandcastles (and now that you mention it, maybe I’ll do that more), but I worry about us getting bored.

Yet, some of my happiest memories are being at the beach …

Well, before this brainwave (good thing we’re in this together, you and I), Pablo and I have been exploring other options. We’ve found that Nouméa has quite a few things to offer 4-12-year-olds.

Week-long “stages” (or intensive workshops) of water activities

Photo JH

Down at the Centre d’activités nautiques, you can sign your children up for half-day or all-day week-long water activities, such as sailing (fun boat, optimist), kayaking, wind-surfing and stand-up paddle. I hear they book up quickly, but we have an instructor that still has spots open for half or whole-day weeks of sailing (optimist). If you’re interested in his number, email me and I’ll send you his number.

Pablo just finished a week of mornings sailing and has great tales to tell, from what it’s like to turn your boat over and to have to turn it back and bail out all the water, to what it’s like to jump off the piers they sail to, to what it’s like to swim around your boat as fast as you can during “breaks”. Next week he’ll do another week-long “stage”, sailing and wind-surfing, with another provider. Oh the tales he will tell …

Nouméa Plage

Photo JH

Photo JH

From 9 January to 8 February, the city is offering free water activities and games to children of all ages at Anse Vata (from 9.30 to 16.30 Wednesdays through Fridays). We stopped by this week for a jump on one of the trampolines. But you can play volleyball, beach soccer, or “boules”; kayak or do stand-up (if you are 8 or older); read books or play board games. On Thursdays and Fridays from 10 to 12, you can go along and learn to zumba as well! I hear they are open exceptionally tomorrow, 26 January as well, from 9.30 to 16.30.

Children from all over are brought in to benefit from this service, and I have to say, it looks like lots of fun!

Aquarium activities and workshops

We’ve been to the local aquarium twice over the last 2 weeks (to see the fish being fed – at 13.00 Tuesdays through Sundays) as we’ve signed up for a year’s membership. But more importantly, you should know that the aquarium offers activities for children once you’ve paid for your entry. Their new Les Olympiades du Lagon exhibit might be fun for some.

They also have paying workshops of 1 hour for 3-6-year-olds and for 2 hours for 7-12-year-olds (1 500 CFP per hour;  reservation and payment in advance on site required). They explore the exhibit, learn new and fun facts and work on art projects. It’s worth checking out here.

Pablo is going along to one of these workshops next week, for fun. We’ll see what they’re like!

Idéfix art afternoons

Photo JH

Exploring Idefix at the Baie des Citrons, by fluke, we learned that this crafts store offers art afternoons to children aged 4-10 this summer all the way up until school starts. Every Tuesday through Friday, from 14.00 to 17.00, they work on a pre-planned project for 3 hours and take it home at the end. They also have an afternoon snack offered by the store. Very few people seem to know about it, as at most, they seem to have been 4-5 children.

Pablo has made a magnetic post-it board (pictured), treasure pouches, and a bracelet out of “fimo”. On the schedule for next week are painted Venetian masks, sand-painting and necklace making. All very nice things – and a great afternoon for art lovers.

The price is 3,675 CFP per child, per afternoon. For more information, you can ring them or stop by the shop. You can also be asked to be put on their email list, to receive the programme of activities by email.

I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by this range of different activities in the city and wonder if I will find more. If you know of anything, do drop me a line in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

Otherwise, enjoy your summers everyone, wherever you are!

Sea snakes, turtles and Napoleon fish in Nouméa

One of the best things about living in the South Pacific is the marine life. The marine life, the plants, the flowers and the colours that are found nowhere else in the world.

Another wonderful part of living in New Caledonia in particular is the amount of stuff you can get done before noon. I mentioned in a previous post that life starts early here, and early it does. For example, I was working at 7am this morning. By 10am, Pablo and I were at the local aquarium. By 12 noon, lunch was consumed and the day had only just begun!

With today’s second visit to Nouméa’s Aquarium des Lagons in 2 months, we were even more enchanted.

This time we purchased one of the aquarium activity booklets for 3-6 year olds for just over 1€ and away we went. We spent nearly 2 hours in what we consider to be a fairly small aquarium (compared to those found in Paris, Brest and Monterey), observing the fish and crabs and nautiluses very, very closely, drawing them, studying them and discovering extraordinary facts about them. We happen to love aquariums, but this visit outdid many of our other aquarium visits, by a long shot.

We solved the mangrove crab mystery we’d been pondering; spied an enormous, sleeping leopard shark, hidden from all of the other visitors; oooed and ahhhhed, stumbling in the dark, upon fluorescent coral and flashlight fish; and photographed and drew again and again the Napoleon fish, the Picasso fish and the marine angel fish (among goodness knows how many others!).

But our favourite part? The turtle (who seemed to want to escape the tank and follow us home) and the sea snakes! The aquarium had just released 45 turtles into the sea earlier that week (who will be tracked thanks to tracking technology), and this last one seemed to be at odds. We’d never seen a turtle so clearly and up close. It swam unceasingly along the side of the tank, watching our every move. We watched its eyes open and close as it came up to the surface, we observed its beak-like mouth and the way it swam and dove through the water.

We were also fascinated by the sea snakes (tricot rayés), which though extremely lethal, are very beautiful. We watched them on land and in water (they live on both and can swim underwater for 1 hour with just 1 breath), twisting and turning, swimming with grace, at times with the turtle, at times on their own. Their heads are indeed tiny (which makes them hard to bite you and thus kill you; this being said, their mouths are quite wide) and they are very easily spotted. Quite common here, the locals leave them alone, which is best (there is no antidote for their venom). Pablo spotted one in the sea here within weeks of arriving and was so thrilled to see one in the wild. I’ve promised to take him to Phare Amédée, where he will see many, many more.

If you are at all interested in marine life found only here in New Caledonia, we recommend a visit to this aquarium. We’ll most likely be back again and again, for life is so very interesting here!