Escaping Noumea

Sunday 8th October 2017

We have to admit to finding the city centre of Noumea rather uninspiring and slightly shabby. We found the shops uninviting and the famed French restaurants below par. On top of that it is just too windy, each morning we would wake to light winds, giving hope that today might see calmer conditions. However by ten a lively breeze was building and by midday it was often too windy to eat lunch in the cockpit. All afternoon we would be battered relentlessly onto the pontoon, living life at a slight tilt, until if we were lucky, by bedtime things calmed down a bit. The weather looked good to escape out to the Islands on Sunday so we put our heads down and worked towards that.

Kite surfers enjoying the high winds, off the beaches to the South of Noumea

Along with the normal cleaning and bits of boat maintenance, we needed to stock up the fridge and freezer, buy a few basics and having run our stocks low in Fiji to pass customs for our arrival in New Caledonia, top up stocks of wine and beer. There are great fruit, veg and fish markets on the quayside close by the marina but the supermarkets are quite a walk away. We decided to hire a car for the day escaping the windy marina for a few hours exploring and using it for a big shop at Carrfour.

So Friday found us heading off into the interior to visit the Parc Provincial de la Rivière Bleue. Once out of Noumea any signs of habitation quickly disappeared, the road climbing steeply into the hills. Unlike the other Pacific islands we have visited, New Caledonia, was not formed by volcanic action but was part of the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana, this ancient bedrock has produced a land which is rich in minerals. The soil is an intense rust colour and the extensive mining activities and land slips have left the green hills scarred with slashes of red.

Looking out Westward from the hills above Noumea

The Blue river area became a park in 1980 when the river valley was dammed and flooded to create a water supply for the growing coastal towns. The combination of the red soil and the seasonally low water levels has produced an almost alien looking landscape of stark beauty.

La Rivière Bleue

Thousands of trees that grew in the valley were drowned as the area filled with water and now stand ghost like high and dry on the banks.

Ghost Trees

Further into the park is a rare piece of native rain forest, a pathway has been created to enable visitors to walk inside without damaging this fragile environment. Amongst the native trees we found a huge 1000yr old Kauri and tall tree ferns. We had been told to look out for endangered and emblem of New Caledonia, the Cagou. A grey flightless bird about 18nches high, they are reputably shy so it was with surprise we twice almost stumbled over one strolling up the path towards us.

Cagou

Having enjoyed our morning we drove back to town and the supermarket only to discover that in New Caledonia no alcohol is sold after noon on Fridays or the weekend. We couldn’t possibly set off into the islands for a few weeks with a dry boat, Saturday morning saw us lugging boxes of beer and bottles of wine on foot.

This morning we left at the crack of dawn to avoid the afternoon sea breezes that would make sailing southeast difficult and by midday we were tucked in a deserted bay on the south coast of Ile Ouen, Port Koutoure. Replacing the sound of cars and crowds is bird song, the reef protects us from the swell and the hills from the wind, a relaxing staging post, halfway to tomorrow’s destination the Ile de Pins.

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