Windsurfing: Airwaves Nouméa Dream Cup 2014

With a week that started off windless, those of us who love and watch windsurfing here in New Caledonia were a little worried. We’ve known windless days at Anse Vata (Nouméa), and weeks before we’d asked our friends at Aloha Windsurfing what would happen if there were no wind for the Windsurfing World Cup, a return to the island after 19 years’ absence. “That’s not a possibility,” said Gégé, “there will be wind.”

Gégé was right. The wind kicked up last Thursday and by Saturday, at 25 knots, we’d only seen wind that strong on pre-cyclone days. Thank goodness the wind held, the sun shone, and the champions from all over the world got what they’d flown so far for. Amazing! Sunday (23 November) saw just an inkling less wind and the fans were out en masse for the spectacular finals (watch the video above to get a sense of the extraordinary sailing and excitement).

The race in Nouméa was hailed again and again by the competitors as “one of the best spots in the world for the slalom“. As the newly crowned 2014 World Cup Champion, Antoine Albeau, stated, “The conditions were incredible, proof that this course must return to the pro circuit.”

Windsurfing Finals 2014 NC

Photo Julie Harris

Chatting with Sarah Quita-Offringa of Aruba, who placed 3rd in the race, she said this was the best spot for windsurfing she’d been to all year – just incredible sailing out there! The jubilation was all over her face.

Unfortunately, after winning the semi-final with a fabulous finish well ahead of her competitors, Sarah’s wishbone broke during the final race. We’d seen her go down and struggle to keep her sail steady. She says next year she’ll be ready and better organised – instead of thinking her wishbone will hold (it had already been breaking before the final) – she’ll be ready with another one. When she said she hoped to see us next year, we were surprised. She said, “Everyone is so happy with this race. They want it to come back!”

What a success for everyone – the competitors, the local windsurfers, the organisers, and the fans. Congratulations to all the competitors, including Matthieu Blavette, our son’s windsurfing trainer. You were all breathtaking to watch!

I do so hope Nouméa will see this race again in its near future: it’s time to share this site and conditions once again with the world.

To see all of the marvelous pictures and videos from this event, see: and

Photo Julie Harris

Photo Julie Harris


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 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


New Caledonia recycles: Nearly 100 tons collected in 6 months

The following article is a translation of the original article printed in Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes, 14 July 2014. I was encouraged by this news and had to share it with you. For those of you who live in countries that have been recycling for years already, know that recycling is very new in New Caledonia.

Photo by Antoine Pecquet, LNC

Photo by Antoine Pecquet, LNC

Installed in December 2013, the 32 voluntary collection points have reached their first evaluation period. The municipality is satisfied with the collection of paper and aluminum in particular. The CaledoClean Association is less enthusiastic.

After 6 months in operation, the city of Nouméa sees its voluntary collection points more than half full. “Depending on the neighborhood, the points vary between 50% to 90% full,” says Françoise Suvé, responsible for the environment. As a reminder, each collection point has two columns. One collects newspapers and magazines, the other aluminum cans.  The programme cost 22 million CFP (€184,360 or AUD 265,472) and  its operating costs per year is estimated at 12 million CFP (€100,560 or AUD 144,802). In 6 months, Nouméens have thrown away nearly 100 tons of recyclable waste, collected by Pacific Star and processed by CSP Fidelio, under the responsibility of the Intercommunal Association of Greater Nouméa. For the CaledoClean Association, which argues in favour of a more environmentally responsible company, it’s better late than never. “The collection points represent progress,” observed Bizien Thibaut, President of CaledoClean, “but with a huge delay in the local aluminum recycling industry, which is 20 years old.” The ecologist also points to the limitation of the programme to just paper and aluminum. “Fortunately, private initiatives have already been taken, like collecting plastic bottle caps by the Association for the Protection of Nature in New Caledonia (ASNNC), and used batteries by Trecodec.”

Contributions. Even though the programme has had a variable success rate depending on neighbourhood, the city dismisses the idea that ecologically responsible behavior is related to soci0-economic background. “People are participating in Ducos and Riviere Salee as much as they are in southern Noumea,” says David Boyer, Head of the Urban Cleanliness. “We need to refine the results,” says Françoise Suvé, “to determine why some collection points work better than others.” Among the possible explanations, good habits are already in place. “Where the SIC have already established collection points, as in Tuband, people will contribute less to our collection points,” thinks Ms. Suvé. With regard to public incivility, despite three fires and graffiti, Noumea is far from the fiasco seen in Paita, where test collection points had to be removed after being turned into dumps. “Our officers check the collection points each morning. If there is garbage within 15 meters, it is removed. And we have a person responsible for the anti-graffiti campaign on the collection points. We allow no damage to get installed or remain,” says David Boyer.

Bins. For the moment, there are no plans to increase the number of collection points in Nouméa. However, new additional paper and aluminum collection points will be installed at 2 new landfills, promised to open in September, at Magenta and 6eme Kilometre. Co-financed by the city, ADEME and the Southern Province, the equipment will be modeled on the collection points at Ducos and managed, as those are, by CSP Fidelio and will receive all non-household waste. By investing more than 100 million CFP (€838,000 or AUD 1,206,689), the city hopes to improve its environmental protection. Nevertheless, for CaledoClean, the landfills will not solve everything. “Noumea lacks, above all, simple bins in public places,” laments Thibaut Bizien.

Arson in Nouméa: An Anse Vata icon burned and broken

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

“The faré (hut) is burning!”

“No! They were just re-roofing it yesterday. It was almost done. It looked great!”

“Why would it be on fire? Is it the sun, with the fresh straw? Did someone use a magnifying glass? Was it just too hot?”

Such went our first 3-way conversation about the burning hut, an icon on Anse Vata here in Nouméa, last Saturday. The roads were closed off, smoke was billowing out of the top of the faré and none of us could understand what was happening.

It is said to have started at approximately 5am Saturday (19 April) morning. It burned all day and took a full team of firefighters to work through the day to put it out. The hut houses a newly opened water sports activity centre (MD Plaisirs) and is just above the yellow taxi boat service to Ile aux Canards and Ilot Maitre. Luckily no one was injured, though the inventory inside the hut was destroyed, along with refrigerators and freezers in the lower level.

When we spoke with locals along Anse Vata on Saturday, they fell on a continuum between disappointed and disgusted. The hut was a symbol, somehow, for many of us. You couldn’t walk along Anse Vata and not know where the faré was. We used it as a meeting spot, we remembered when it was a tourist office, and others take kite-surfing classes there. It was just a part of anyone who spent time running, walking, windsurfing, swimming, doing stand-up paddle or picnicking at Anse Vata. How could it be alight?

Locals told us a group of youth were spotted around the faré early that morning, after the clubs had let out. Police are apparently following up a number of leads, including some camera footage. An employee told me he and his colleagues had smelled gasoline in and around the faré in the few days leading up to the fire, and they had wondered what was up. They don’t know if there was a link, or if the fire had been premeditated. Some say it must have been – it was carried out in the early hours of the morning, the fire was lit from behind the street (on the side overlooking the lagoon), where the perpetrators could not be seen. Apparently they would have had to climb the faré to set it afire, etc. But we all await the police findings.

Photo JH

Photo JH

This wasn’t the first time someone had tried to burn down the faré. It happened in 1999 and 2003. With the end of school holidays and a general rise in vandalism and car theft, I suppose we should not be surprised by this act of disrespect for the community, for the work of the roofers, and for what the faré means to many.

But did the persons who did this think about the longer term consequences? It’s meant that 1 or possibly 2 employees will lose their jobs, with the loss of the stock, less work for them to do, and a significant financial hit (2-3 million francs CFP in inventory)  to the centre. Speaking with 1 such employee, he said, “It would be one thing if I were being let go because I wasn’t good at my job, but this …  This forces me to go and it’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong. I understand if they have to let me go, I really do. But it’s not fair, somehow. Someone had a good time playing a trick, and I have to try to find another job.”

And as for the workers who spent a week re-roofing in the hot sun, their work was for nothing. A local said it cost in the neighbourhood of 3-4 million Pacific francs to restore the faré’s roof that week, between the labour and the materials. Half insured by the town hall and half by the centre, no one knows when it will be repaired.

A number of my friends who now live abroad wrote to say it was sad to see this happen. I agree. It’s sad and disappointing. My question is, as always, what are we going to do about it?

Touques, touques and more touques!

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

Nouméa saw its biggest Touques Regatta yet yesterday, to the tune of some 10,000 spectators, as estimated by the city. What, you ask, are touques? Well, in New Caledonia, they appear to be handmade, engine-less  water vessels that can be made of next to anything, powered only by wind, cycling, paddling and rowing (and any other power you can find without an engine). Some 34 teams came together yesterday to race their homemade vessels for an hour at Anse Vata and the best part? The fun, the team spirit, the laughter and the smiling crowds!

You have to see it to believe it. How can 786 empty water bottles, collected over a year’s time, and wrapped together by 8 metres of scotch tape support a team of 8 people? And not only carry a team, but carry them into 3rd place? Ingenuity, good ole muscle grease and good  humour seemed to be the not-so-secret secrets of the day.

Photo JH

Photo JH

The winning team (Sports Action – we called them the Seahorse team, because of their mascot) had never entered before and were off with a fantastic lead, thanks to their 2 sails. Hoping just not to come last, Sports Action surprised even themselves. Though the wind (and their sails) played heavily in their favour, the return with the wind against them proved an unexpected  challenge for the 12 youth racing the vessel – combined with a central rudder that was just a bit too long (and got stuck in the sand). They say they’ll work on their concept for next year …

Imagine if you can a team of no more than 12, rowing, cycling (yes a bike was mounted on the winning float), paddling, and even kicking behind (only 2 are allowed to do this per float). Imagine the vessels bumping into each other (it being very hard to steer these things …), getting stuck on each other, victim to human power (or lack thereof), wind and sun. Such a spectacle to watch!

Apparently, it’s a fantastic team-building exercise and spans ages and cultures. Of the 34 teams, the electricity company, the post office, the mayor’s office, the prison administration officials, the military, schools, sports associations, the weather reporters – well, everybody and anybody can create a team and a touque (and they did this year!). The young and the old, the Caledoniens, the “metros”, the Melanesians, everybody was involved. Given that the teams had to work together to finish (many having started months in advance to build their vessels) and confront the odds, they did – and the smiles on their faces, having completed the race were wonderful. I wonder what they’re dreaming up for next year …

Photo Laurent Guiader

Photo Laurent Guiader

A bilingual Montessori school in Nouméa

A Montessori School in NoumeaMuch to my pleasant surprise, I learned last week that there is a project underway to start a new bilingual (English/French) Montessori school in Nouméa. Sylvain Farcy and his wife, a French couple currently residing in New Zealand, are behind this project – a project they’ve been thinking about for the last 4 or so years, and working seriously on, for the last few months.

A bilingual Montessori school. What does that mean? More specifically, here is what Sylvain and his wife are looking to create:

  1. A school that uses the Montessori method and materials. Some of the essential elements of Montessori are (for those who are unfamiliar with the approach):
    • Mixed age classrooms, with classrooms for children aged 2½ or 3 to 6 years old, being the most common
    • Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
    • Uninterrupted blocks of work time, ideally 3 hours
    • Constructivist or “discovery” model, where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
    • Specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators
    • Freedom of movement within the classroom
    • A trained Montessori teacher

2. They will start with 2 classes: one of 3-6 year olds and one of 6-12 year olds. (This may evolve depending on demand.)

3. They may also offer a “Mommy and Me” sort of programme for children under 3 and their parents.

4. They intend the 3-6-year old class to be an English immersion class, introducing French in the older class. (But upon discussion with Sylvain, there is some measure of flexibility around this, potentially, for those parents who are concerned about their children not learning French).

5. They are looking to open in February, 2014, if all goes well.

6. Class sizes will be topped off at 25-30 students, with 2 teachers for each class (if they are maxed out at 25-30).

7. They will be using trained Montessori teachers.

8. Though they do not yet have a location, they are targetting central Nouméa – and are looking for a large space, to the extent possible, to include a garden for the children to garden in.

9. The school day is expected to run from 9am to 3pm, but they will consider local needs and possibly provide a garderie service before and after school.

10. How much will it cost? You’ll find the prices here.

More information can be found on the project site in French and on its Facebook page.

We spent 4 hours talking with Sylvain last night over dinner, and I have to say, this is a very exciting project. Our son attended a bilingual Montessori school in Paris from the ages of 3 to 6, and the Montessori method really worked for him. It allowed him to explore a number of different subjects, and at the depth he sought. It encouraged and nurtured his innate curiosity and creativity and supported his natural independence and drive. But those of you who know Montessori will know that people like the founders of Google, Jeff Bezos, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julia Child, Prince Harry and Prince William came from Montessori. You’ll know why it works for your child and your family. If you don’t know Montessori, it’s worth exploring. Pablo’s French father is thoroughly convinced, although he comes from a very traditional system. It’s different and thoroughly fascinating for those interested in what child-led learning can lead to.

If you are interested in this project, come along to a meeting this coming Saturday (14 September) from 2-4pm in Nouméa. Sylvain will be presenting himself, the Montessori method, the project for the school and fielding questions. The meeting will take place in French. If you email him, he’ll send you the exact address.

If you prefer to learn about the project in English, that is also possible – either by meeting individually with him before he returns to New Zealand on the 24th of September (he speaks fluent English), or in a group meeting of English speakers. We’ll just need to set it up – and find a location. For this, you can either contact me or Sylvain and we’ll see what can be arranged.

If you’d like to help out with the project at all – suggesting leads for locations, donating time or money to the cause, I’m sure Sylvain would love to hear from you.

When he returns to New Zealand on the 24th, we will know if this project is going ahead: a lot will be determined by the interest in the community. So if you’re interested, do get in touch, and spread the word.

Montessori meeting 14 Sept

Whale watching season in New Caledonia

Photo Rafael Dubus

Photo Rafael Dubus

It’s whale watching season in New Caledonia right now (mid-July to mid-September). If you’ve never been whale watching, I heartily recommend an outing from Baie de la Somme in Prony (1.5-2 hour drive from Nouméa) or from Nouméa itself, between now and mid-September! We went out this last weekend, and my goodness, to observe these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, is, well – breathtaking.

The whales, their meaning and who watches them

The whales (humpback, that is), take 2-3 months to arrive in New Caledonia from the Antarctic (yes, the Antarctic) and come to reproduce and give birth in our waters. They go 6 months without eating (the time of their migration), as krill (their main food source) exists only in Antarctica.  During this time, they lose up to 10 tonnes. But it seems well worth the trip as they return every year and are protected in the Baie de Prony’s nature reserve.

The migration of these whales in our waters is closely linked with Kanak culture, since it corresponds to the cycle of yams, a staple food of the Melanesian population. When the Melanesians see the whales arriving, they know it is time to plant their yams. They have known this from the beginning of their culture – the whales have meant the beginning of a cycle, and are revered as so.

Whale watching in New Caledonia is practiced by professionals in nautical tourism who are part of a group called the “Caledonia Charter Association”.  These professionals have signed a charter of conduct for respect of the animals and their environment. They have also received training to enable them to explain the biology and behavior of the whales, and how and when (and how long) to approach and observe them.

When you go out on one of the 12 catamarans or one of the smaller boats, you will be asked to participate in the observation and identification of the whales (by submitting your photos, helping to scan the horizon to find them, etc.). Strict rules are followed with regard to the number of boats allowed to observe the whales at a time (4) and for a maximum period of 2 hours per animal per day. The boats communicate with each other and take turns, so as not to disturb the mating and nursing whales.

Our whale watching experience

When we went out, we were extremely lucky. We spotted several groups of whales – the first, two males and a female (one of the males eventually lost the courtship and left the group). We also saw several different pairs of whales and single whales over the course of 3 hours.  It was as if they would come up out of nowhere. A couple of times they swam under the boat and came up on the other side! I was struck by just how close we were, able to observe their coming up to surface, batting the water with their fins, blowing air and of course, showing us their tails. You have to see it to believe it (or refer to the photo above taken by our friend and photographer, Rafael Dubus, on the day). It really is rather incredible – such magnificence, and gentleness, at once.

How to organise a whale watching excursion in New Caledonia

If you’re interested in going out, your best bet is to contact the Maison du Lagon at the Port Moselle to make a reservation. The outing starts at 8am (from Prony) or 6am (from Nouméa). You will be on the water until 16.00. You’ll bring your lunch, your camera, your sunscreen and sunglasses.  We paid 8 500 CFP (€71 or AUD 104) per adult for the day, and felt it was worth every franc.

We went out on Freya with Captain Didier (and Sebastian) and had a superb day. I would highly recommend checking out his site (in French) and/or contacting him for a day out (or asking for a trip with him at the Maison du Lagon). He truly loves what he does and has a wonderful way of making you love the whales (and the sea) as much as he does.  There is nothing better than spending a day with someone so passionate about his work and life.

Can children go?

For those of you with children, they’re welcome aboard! Didier occupied the children at the end of the day with “whale school” – where they learned even more about the animals with puzzles and games. I was so taken with his approach and his ease with children that I hope to book him again next year for another whale unit with our son and his friends.

Photo JH

Photo JH