Friday 27th October 2017
Brown Noddy’s on Signal Island
A close encounter with an osprey, an island full of snakes, an abundance of birds and calm deserted anchorages have all been on the agenda this week. New Caledonia may be difficult in lots of ways from a yachting point of view but you can’t argue against its beauty or its plethora of wild life.
Monday morning we left Prony Bay and headed back to Noumea. The town anchorage was full to bursting and yachts were spilling out of the allotted anchoring area into the channel. Despite having three marinas Noumea isn’t particularly easy for visiting yachts. Full with local boats, berths, mornings and anchoring space is limited, we slotted in where we could. We needed to restock with food, having missed the morning market we walked the 20 minutes to the supermarket trying to remember we had to walk back and not to overfill the bags.
Back onboard it was busier than ever, dingies whizzed been the yachts and town, small local boats weaved back to the wharf and more and more yachts anchored around us. Three naval launches passed close by, full of young, nervous, wetsuited, recruits off on excercise and ferries sped to and fro setting everyone rocking. Then when it seemed like the harbour could take no more, what should arrive but one of the huge cruise liners that some how squeezed its way in. Just a few hours later it slowly made its way back out, like a small city passing by, it’s lights blazing and the sound track of a movie clearly audible from an open air cinema on the top deck it set off to its next destination..
With the promise of a calm day, Tuesday we headed out into the early morning mist to visit a few of the small islands that are scattered throughout the Lagoon. Ilot Mbe Kouen is just a tiny patch of sand with a bit of struggling undergrowth on top. We thought it would be fun to have an island of our own for a few hours so we dropped the anchor and went ashore.
An island of our own
The island was full of birds, great crested and black naped terns gathered on the beach, a reef heron agitated by our presence flew back and forth from one side of the trees to the other, a pair of sandpipers hid amongst the few bushes of the interior and an osprey perched proudly on top of a small tree. A magnificent beast we slowly approached, Rick snapping pictures, it squawked its displeasure but let us get within twenty feet before he flew off, did a circuit of the island and landed on the one other tree on the island with branches thick enough to bare his weight.
Osprey takes flight
After a few more shots not wanting to disturb their peace, we moved on to Signal island. A slightly larger island this was where we had been expecting to see the ospreys, the interior is a nesting sanctuary. As it turned out we dare not raise our eyes to the trees, it is also a place where venomous sea kraits come ashore. Half land snake and half sea snake they have a paddle shaped tail for swimming but must come ashore to digest their prey and lay their eggs. Like sea snakes they are not aggressive but their venom is highly poisonous and they were every where. As we followed the track around the island half a dozen crossed our path, slithering through the grass.
Snake crossing our path
We had been planning to use the island as a stop to clean the hull, but with the thought of all the snakes potentially coming out for a swim and the rather large shark we spotted as we walked up the pier onto the island we contented ourselves with turtle watching from the deck.
As dusk approached a flock of shearwaters flew past approaching the island, then more and more birds arrived, it was a bit like a scene from the Hitchcock movie The Birds as they surrounded us for at least a half hour. There must have been a thousand birds roosting on the island by night fall.
Anchored off Signal Island
As we slept the wind increased and a swell creepy around the reef, the small island gave us little protection and it became increasingly uncomfortable. At first light we upped anchor and headed back to the mainland where we have stayed for the last few days enjoying the calm of a couple of empty protected bays just up the coast from Noumea. We have remora under the boat, have spotted turtles and a dugong, incongruously a herd of cows graze on the hills and we have put on our wetsuits and cleaned the hull.