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

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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.

 

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