New Caledonia does not appear on the travel community map and they do not invest heavily neither in tourism industry nor in advertising their country as travel destination. The only other travelers I met were from France.
Never before on my travel did I meet so friendly and helpful people like here in New Caledonia! Either helping me with translations (many locals speak only French), lending me their phone (my SIM isn´t working here and it´s hard for tourist to purchase a prepaid SIM), offering a ride or some fruits from their garden, and accommodating me in their own apartments!
I was on the same plane from Vanuatu to Noumea – the capital of New Caledonia – as some Noumean residents I met travelling in Tanna and so I could ride in their friend’s car from the International airport to the local airfield right in the city. On the domestic flight to Isle of Pines in the South I was charged for excess baggage for the first time on my travel, despite I exceeded the limits on almost every flight.
Isle of Pines got its name obviously from the tall pine trees that loom over the beach. It´s a strange sight, white sand beaches, turquoise water and pines in the background! Palms would be much more “suitable”. The island is quite sleepy, except when a cruise ship unloads thousands of tourists or on weekends when the crowds from Noumea come over to relax. There are some beautiful beaches, bays and natural pools, and the road around the island (40km) is perfect for biking. And of course, there is diving! This time I was unlucky with my choice of the camera lenses. I saw beautiful leopard sharks when I dove with the macro lens, and the next day I switched to the wide angle and we found a tiny pygmy seahorse.
Back in Noumea I was picked up by my friend Chantal & Greg, whom I met diving in Vanuatu. Born in the French speaking part of Switzerland she fled the cold winters and settled in New Caledonia. Many young residents I met are originally from France and moved to this small paradise, but also quite a lot of them leave again after a couple of years, as the flights home are so expensive and it´s hard to keep physically in touch with families and friends back in Europe.
After a night at their flat I flew to Lifou, the biggest of the three Loyalty Islands belonging to New Caledonia. As there were two camping grounds near the dive center, I didn´t book ahead, as I wanted first to do some recon work. But that turned out to be more difficult than expected, as there are neither cabs nor public buses on the island! Fortunately the locals are extremely helpful, and hitch-hiking is amazingly efficient. I even got a ride offered from the police for the last 2km of the short journey from the airport to the camping ground! I pitched my tent next the gin-clear water, below some coconut palms (Don´t worry, I avoided the ones with myriads of ripe coconuts on it, as I´m aware that falling coconuts kill annually much more people than sharks do). The location is amazing, and I used the “dive-free days” to enjoy the marvelous bay, sunbathing and reading. The diving was great, especially the shallow tunnels and canyons at the dive site “Tomoko” with the natural light show as sun rays fall through various holes in the “ceiling”. Fortunately I was able to dive, as many obstacles seemed barring the way. First the beloved dive-center dog died, then we had issues with the boat engine, the next day the power generator broke down and finally the wind grew so strong that diving was cancelled.
I reached Ouvea after a short hop with a small Twin Otter airplane and, the smallest of the three Loyalty Islands, a crescent moon shaped paradise, with a 25km long but narrow white sand beach and only a single major hotel and few tourist bungalows and camping grounds. It´s almost physically hurting to see what business potential lay barren, but the local seem not to be interested to take that opportunities. The flatness of the island and a well-made road make it easy to explore the treasures of the island by bike. In addition, a full day boat excursion with snorkeling, BBQ on a small uninhabited offshore island and shark feeding is a must-do. And again, we had technical issues as the hydraulic steering system blocked in the open water. Such problems seem common, and a solution was quickly found. The captain shouted the desired direction, and two staff members shoved the engine manually in the required position.
Back in Noumea I met again Chantal and Greg and we visited together the old defense locations of the city. The canons to defend the town were strategically positioned on the many hills and offer a great panoramic view.
I spent the last week in New Caledonia on the main island, called Grande Terre. In Hienghene, which is a 7 hours bus ride from Noumea I did some more diving and hiking to see the amazing
limestone formations at the coast. Regrettably the weather caused some troubles, heavy rain storms are quite annoying while camping :-( A real test for my small mono-hull hiking tent,
fortunately my gear and I remained more or less dry.
After a hitch-hike marathon and the insight that drivers on Grande Terre do no stop as frequently as the ones on the small island of Lifou, I nonetheless reached the mosquito infested west coast
town of Voh. Here I met again Chantal & Greg and we dove together in Voh and Touho. The sites in Touho would be among the best in New Caledonia, as there are both amazing corals and great
fishlife, including Mantas. But as the spots are close to the shore and the heavy rain flushed some dirt water into the sea and the wind and swell dispersed the sand, the visibility was
between non-existent and mediocre. Nonetheless good diving and camping fun with the camp fires, BBQs and local Manta beers.
Previous destination: Vanuatu
Next destination: South Australia and Tasmania