New Caledonia first impressions...
New Cal is an interesting place. As a French colony, or whatever its official designation is called, the capital and only big city, Noumea, has a very strong French influence....French wines, cheeses, pate, boulangeries, restaurants, etc. Not too shabby! The relationship of the French with the indigenous people (Kanak's), seems stable, and although there is an ongoing effort for independence from France, the French government does provide a good deal of financial assistance and subsidy. Nonetheless, we feel very little of the real warmth of the native people that we have over the past several years of cruising in Fiji and Vanuatu. We really miss that exchange. It is clear that underlying animosities do exist, and, especially with our inability to speak French, the subtleties are missed by us.
So it seems that cruising New Caledonia is more about the natural beauty of the lagoon formed by the barrier reef, the small islets, and the protection provided by the reef. The winter weather we're now experiencing is very spring like, with steady temperatures in the low to mid 70's F, and usual moderate SE trade winds blowing most of the time. So the country, about a week's sail from Australia, is a playground for Australian yachts and other tourists escaping the Aussie winter, much like the Caribbean is for the US. Grand Terre, the main island, is large, approximately 200 miles long. There are also three good sized islands, the Loyalty islands, on the east side of Grand Terre, which we have yet to visit.
|Sandwich "American style", means they put fries on it!!!|
Noumea has a comfortable vibe, with good access to most things we could need, with a few odd exceptions. Such as refill of our propane tanks.....they do not fill tanks in the country, just exchange. This works fine for locals, but not us, as our tanks are hardly the local standard. One guy in one of the main marinas, Port Moselle, offers to fill, but he does it with gravity instead of pumping the gas. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, our "big" tank would not fill, so we just have about 2 weeks left on the smaller tank. We have an adaptor to use little 1 pound disposable tanks with our system, the kind often used with soldering torches. So that becomes the new search.....to see if we can find any of these! All good fun.
While in Noumea we applied for our next 1 year Australian visas. These will take us through next June or so in Oz, when we'll depart for the next adventure with new Bravo, which should be ready in France in October 2019. The visa process is done on line, but must be done out of Australia. Adam's came back with a quick approval, but Cindi's required a medical exam including chest X-rays. (Last year, we both needed the medical exams). No worries, she got the exams, more paperwork, and voila, we're both legal for another year in Australia!
So, with waiting for the visas, doing some repairs to our B&G wind instruments, and just enjoying Noumea, we spent about 10 days in the city before heading out.
|Seagull's eye view of Bravo|
Bay of Prony
On the way to Isle d Pines we detoured to Bay of Prony to do a bit of exploring and a couple of good hikes. The bottom is supposed to be fair holding but in deep red mud, so we were happy there were a couple of places where they offer public moorings. There was hardly anyone else around, so moorings were the way to go for a few days.
|Saw some beautiful iridescent butterflies in the woods.|
|Whale observation platform with great views of the south lagoon islands|
|Mooring in Anse Majik Bay|
|New Caledonia is all about nickel mining, and Bay of Prony is no exception.|
Isle d Pines
When you mention to any cruiser that you're heading to New Caledonia, the first thing you hear is "Oh, you've GOT to go to Isle d' Pin". We were pretty keen to get there, so left Prony early one morning for the 50 mile beat through the south lagoon reefs to Kuto Bay, the main anchorage on the island. The route finding is fairly straightforward, and we had a good trip across.
New Caledonia, surrounded by the largest barrier reef in the world, is a major stopping point for humpback whales on their annual trip up from Antarctica. They arrive in late July/August, so we were really hoping to have some encounters. We were thrilled to see two whales on the passage, including one who breached a couple of times right near the boat, putting on a fantastic show! So hard to get the camera and photos in time, but here ya go...
We also had pods of dolphins at the bow several times, and fishing yielded a decent Spanish mackerel who spit the hook just as he was coming aboard. Ah well, mahi mahi is on the program next. (Though the fresh sashimi grade tuna at the Noumea fish market, at just 1300 CFP (approx $13 US) per kilo is hard to beat.....cheaper than lures, with our recent luck!!!)
We enjoyed Ile d Pin. Got in some fun 5 mile hikes up to the two highest peaks on the island (only about 250 mtrs), and did some diving with the local dive company.
|Trail went from the Kuto anchorage on the left, up the peak behind us, and down the ridge to the right. A great walk with views the whole way!|
|Didn't need to get out our French phrase book to translate these!!! We got the guy's message and kept on walking. Guess he's had too many Amway sales people ring his bell.....|
One of the dives that we did was absolutely spectacular...unexpectedly so. The dive guides dropped anchor right next to a very small island up north off of Isl d' Pin. They told us it would be a cave dive, but we had no idea how cool this would be. We were a bit apprehensive, as we have no cave diving expertise, and the thoughts of those poor kids in Indonesia immediately came to mind. But we were game to give it a go, and armed with lights we followed our dive master Nikko into the underwater entrance.
Portions of the cave were pitch dark, while in other areas we had beautiful shafts of sunlight coming down into the tunnels. Absolutely amazing. The dive shop said later that due to wind and sun, the caves are only dived about 15 times each year, and they chose this dive for us because all of the stars were aligning....
I didn't bring my underwater camera down, unfortunately, as it was our first day of diving since Vanuatu last year, and didn't want to hassle with all of the gear.....my bad, big time. So I stole a few shots off the internet, while good, hardly do the Grottes de Gadji any justice. Thanks to Kashiyama Hironori for posting them online.
|Entry to solitary confinement cell building|
|Cindi checks out her new solitary cell.....no worries, fits ok!!!|
After about 10 days of hiking and diving in Isl d' Pin we headed back to Noumea, stopping again in Prony on the way. We've been in the marina for a few days reprovisioning, and will head north in the lagoon tomorrow for another jaunt. Our good mates Bruce and Jody from s/v CaVa have just arrived from Fiji, so will share a few anchorages together.
New BRAVO update: the aluminum has been ordered, and is at the CNC cutting shop. The pallet loads of numbered pieces will be delivered to the Boreal yard in early September for fabrication to begin.