BOY are we glad we decided to come to New Caledonia. It’s just the kind of place we like – natural beauty with remote locations. We weren’t planning on coming here, but thanks to a guest coming to visit, we changed up our plans.
This is a long blog post, with tons of pictures, so I thought I’d try something new: a Table of Contents!
Noumea is the main airport in New Caledonia, and Air Caledonie offers domestic flights around the islands, including three flights a day to Isle of Pines. There are also ferries to get between islands, which seems to be what locals use, although the schedules are fairly limited. Taxis around New Caledonia are hard. We went out in Noumea and waited about two hours for taxis (one hour each way). It would have been twice as fast to walk, but we had some injuries in the group. In Isle of Pines we hired a driver for a tour, but he called and said he had car trouble. It’s much easier to organize transportation through the hotels.
New Caledonia is a special collectivity of France, and French is the official language. As we found in France, if you say “Parle vous anglais?” most be people will say no, or “very bad”, when actually their English is quite good.
French products are imported, subsidized, and are readily available. Cheeses, wines, pates, baguettes – all the trappings of French food are here.
The native people of New Caledonia are called Kanaks, while persons of French heritage born in New Caledonia are called Caldoches. Unfortunately New Caledonia does not seem to have held on to it’s native culture as well as we have seen in other countries.
Even after leaving Noumea we were able to catch up with our friends Pip and Sharpie on Sharpe Focus. We had originally met them through John and Carolyn on Shennanigans in Tauranga, and have stayed in touch. We caught up over a lunch in Wellington, and they were the ones that suggested we attend the Rugby 7s games. Since they’ve already been cruising New Cal for a bit, they were a wealth of information for us!
We also made some new friends, especially with Andy and Brie from Wanderlust V. Andy is a ferry captain in Sydney, so we quizzed him for all the important information for where to anchor in Sydney and where to see the NYE celebrations. We are very much looking forward to that!
I’d been following The Life Nomadik on facebook for a while and we happened to share an anchorage with Evo, Mira and Maya in New Caledonia. Mira and Evo are originally from Bulgaria, and it was amazing to hear their story about coming to Canada as a refugee in 2000 in search of a better life after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
And finally, our friend Kyle came to visit us! David and Kyle met 11 years ago when they worked for Shell in New Orleans. You may remember him from visiting us in Fiji last year. Kyle wanted to come visit, and we suggested Vanuatu or New Cal. Flights are much more frequent to New Cal, so we changed our plans and came to meet him here. We had such a fantastic time with him – he’s a great guest.
Navigation was very easy between the islands. Our charts were accurate, although there are several sections that are marked as “undocumented” or something like that. We found waypoints and routes at this website. If you are going to spend a lot of time in New Caledonia, it’s probably worth buying the Rocket Guide to New Caledonia, which looks really good (Pip showed the program to me). However, it’s pretty expensive at 125 Euros. If you are spending a lot of time in New Cal, it’s definitely worth it. We did download the Yellow Flag Guide to New Caldeonia, which is free. The tourism office has a ton of maps for each of the main islands, which was very helpful.
The trickiest place we went into was Gadji Bay. At low tide our depth sounder read 5.7 feet at the shallowest. We did see two catamarans take an alternative path between two of the islands. It looked to be incredibly shallow to us so we didn’t chance it.
The snorkeling, in general, was amazing in New Caledonia. When I think about everything that we saw, it’s quite an amazing list; octopuses, turtles, stingrays, sharks, manta rays, dugong, and tons of fish. The quality of the underwater life is very good, I think because New Caledonia has protected marine reserves.
Less then 5 miles from Noumea, this tiny island offers a ton! There are multiple ferries running to and from Noumea, plus there are free mooring balls, as it is a marine reserve. On shore is the Escapade Ilot Maitre, a resort. For $1500 CFP you can have use of the pool, for $2000 CFP you can rent a paddleboard for an hour, and for $6500 you can join the guests for a buffet dinner (PS, we did not do any of these things).
The southeast side of the island is, on a windy day, chock full of kiteboarders. The 3 square kilometer area is a sandy seagrass bed, with a depth of just a few feet. High tide is when the kiteboarders come out, but at low tide you can wade all the way out to the lighthouse. I counted as many as 57 kites in the water, plus more on the beach. Our friends said that on a busy day it will be over 100 kites. I walked around the island, and saw all kinds of interesting things – star fish burying themselves in the sand, a large live cowrie, and many fish osprey. Supposedly, the walk to the lighthouse is full of sea turtles.
Speaking of sea turtles we often saw them from the boat, especially in the morning. One morning, it was so still out, we could watch stingrays feed on the bottom.
The snorkeling is fantastic. Of course, I went out without the Go Pro and kicked myself for not bringing it. I spotted an octopus and watched him for a while. Then I spotted a huge cuttlefish and went back to the boat to get the Go Pro, hoping he would stay where he was. Thankfully he did!
One of the most popular tourist attractions in New Caledonia is the Amédée Lighthouse. It was France’s first metal lighthouse and is over 150 years old! Unfortunately for cruisers, the free mooring balls are not well protected from the swell or winds, so it’s an uncomfortable anchorage unless it’s very calm. Also, unfortunately, there is a ferry that comes by most days, and the lighthouse is only open on days the ferry comes from 9 am – 3 pm. So, when we tried to go to the lighthouse without all the crowds, we were disappointed!
However, we did go ashore anyway to check out the outside of the lighthouse. We did a beach walk and saw a ton of banded sea snakes, which are very common here.
I also went for a snorkel, and made lots of new friends! I saw so many turtles, and I saw TWO MORE octopuses! This is amazing – in all our cruising, I’ve only seen 5 octopuses; one in the BVIs, one in the USVI, and now THREE here in New Caledonia!
We went back with Kyle for one night (staging for getting down to Isle of Pines) and we were snorkeling. He got to swim with some turtles so that was pretty cool.
Ferries and cruise ships come to Kuto Bay every other day, and the water visibility is incredibly low (just a few feet), but we still really enjoyed this bay. We teamed up with the crew of Fata Morgana (TEAM PAPARAZZI! WOOT!) and hiked up Pic N’ga, the highest point of the Île des Pins, and as expected the view was fantastic!
There’s two surprisingly well stocked grocery stores in walking distance, and even a bakery. And, VERY EXCITING, I saw my first dugong. These marine mammals are the Indo Pacific version of the manatee. I spotted my dugong in the morning, and just barely caught sight of its tail as it dove down. No pictures to share, sorry!
We enjoyed Kuto Bay so much we brought Kyle back. Once again, we did the Pic N’ga hike to the top.
There was massive drama going down from the hike. We got almost to the start of the trail and suddenly we were inundated by cruise ship guests. Apparently, there was a magnitude 7 earthquake in Mare, and a tsunami warning had been issued. The cruise ship passangers were directed to head for higher ground, despite the fact that they will totally ill-quipt for such a challanging hike. Additionally, the guests had no communication with the cruise ship. We decided it was better to be safe than sorry, and we headed up too. Thankfully David had brought his phone and a sim card, so he was able to check the Pacific Tsunami Warning website. There had been a warning released about an hour and a half prior. The original warning was for a general earthquake and tsunami. The second warning (shortly after) was for a tsunami of up to 1 meter. So, the threat was over, we didn’t feel anything from either the earthquake or tsunami. The poor cruise ship guests didn’t know what to do. The cruise ship shuttles were still going while their booked activities were all canceled. We finally left the cruise ship guests to fend for themselves – after passing the updates on.
Kyle and I went for a snorkel in Kenumera Bay. The entire west side of the bay is a very large coral reef. The coral was absolutely fantastic, and there were alot of small fish.
Kyle really wanted to do a tour to Nokanhui Atoll, and with it being one of the top 5 things to do in the Isle of Pines, New Caledonia, we readily agreed. We booked a trip through Nuuana Sarl, who arranged transport to Vao for us to meet the boat. We climbed onboard and took off!
We zoomed through the Baie de St-Maurice, but I noticed our captain was leaning off the side of the boat and watching the water pass by. What was she doing?? Suddenly, she turned and slowed us down. On of the guides stood up on the deck, and suddenly dove off into the water. He came up, whipped his dreadlocks, and held up a giant sea turtle! Those of us who wanted to get in and swim could. The guide held the turtle for a while, which I wasn’t too wild about. We each got a turn to pet the turtle, and once everyone had gotten a look and a touch, he let the turtle go. And that turtle…..went no where. In fact, he kind of had a moment with Kyle, looking into each other’s eyes.
Off we went again, this time out of the reef and cutting across the Passe de Jû to Nokanhui Atoll, and we were dropped off at the Île de Kutomërë. This island is connected to a long sandbar at low tide. While we were there, the waves washed up over the middle of the sandbar in both directions, but either end of the sandbar was a high and dry island. We had about an hour to walk around. David and Kyle threw a frisbee around and all of us enjoyed the clear water and the walk around.
Next the boat zoomed over to a reef. We hopped in the water and our guides explained they were looking to show us white tipped reef sharks. We did see one, and also saw lots of fish and a stingray hiding under some coral.
Then it was time to move on to lunch. But, on our way there was another spotting! We jumped in the water again to find the biggest stingray I’ve ever seen! He was about a meter in diameter, and we got to swim with him for a little bit. He did NOT hang around like the turtle did.
Lunch was Île de Nuana. A big picnic table was set up under a pavillion, and lunch was grilled while we waited. We had all selected the lobster option. It was nice to chat more with our fellow guests. We talked to three people from France, whereas all of the other 10 guests were Asian and only one or two spoke English. Apparently there is a direct flight to Noumea from Tokyo.
After lunch we lounged a little bit before taking off on the boats again. We went back across the Passe de Jû and were motoring around the reefs at the mouth of Baie de St-Maurice. Our guides were looking for something….our French friends translated: manta rays! None were spotted, so we went to our last stop of the day, Îlot Brosse. We were given about a half hour to walk around the beach.
On our way back to Vao, a call was raised: manta rays! We quickly jumped in and in the low visibility, were able to see the manta ray and swim with it for just a little bit. I was totally amazed that they spotted the ray, because it was fairly deep and the visibility was so low. While snorkeling the surface I could only see a vague black shape. Thankfully Kyle was able to dive down and really see the ray!
Finally, exhausted, our big adventure was done. I only had two complaints about the day. Our guides did not explain anything to us very often. It was more “get on the boat”, “go snorkeling”, or “we’ll be back”. Introductions would have been nice. The other complaint was that our lobster was overcooked. I know, guys, first world problems.
HOWEVER, I have to say our captain kicked ass! There were a lot of situations where she squeezed into a tight pass in the coral or expertly maneuvered the boat so we could watch the animals. She was pretty bad ass!
Another top 5 thing to do in the Isle of Pines is the Natural Swimming Pools. We booked the transport through the Hotel Kou-Bugny in Kuto Bay, where we met the shuttle at 10:30 am. The drive to the pool took about 15 minutes, you pay $200 CFP per person, and then another 15 minutes to walk to the pool. We picked out a spot on the sand under a tree, geared up, and went for a snorkel.
The water is amazingly clear! No surprise since it’s called the swimming pool. It’s a fairly small pool (not a long snorkel) but it was filled with more giant clams than I have ever seen in my life! There must be a thousand of them living in the pool. We also saw lots of sea urchins – long spined and rock boring – plus quite a few sea anemones. There was a very territorial damselfish that we all got a good laugh over. We also spotted three teeny tiny pipefish (probably brown banded).
After our first swim we had a picnic lunch and relaxed on the beach. Our bus wasn’t until 3 pm so we had plenty of time. It worked out super well as most people left (presumably to go to town) and the area really emptied out. David and I napped in the shade while Kyle went for another snorkel.
We popped over to Gadji Bay to scope it out; we had heard that the water was clear and shallow. We stayed two night and spent a total of 8 hours in the water scrubbing the bottom of the boat! She was way overdue, and was starting to grow her own little garden on her ass! The water is incredibly clear, and as we scrubbed, we watched stinngrays swim by, spotted flounders swimming and hiding on the bottom, plus we discovered the entire sea floor was litered in live sanddollars!
We came back to Gadji Bay with Kyle onboard, not only because it was beautiful but because Kyle brought us our new propellors, and the shallow, clear water of Gadji Bay would be a great place to do work (you know, in case you drop a part….). Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, as it was windy and cloudy. We still enjoyed the view anyway. We also took LD to the beach and poked around, and Kyle went for two snorkels. And then, this:
New Caledonia is an amazing island group, in an amazing region in the world. We’ve just been blown away by how wonderful this cruising season has been. We left for Australia on Monday November 27th! See you soon, Aussies!