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We are so glad we sailed 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.
About New Caledonia
Traveling to and within New Caledonia without a boat
Noumea is the main airport in New Caledonia, and Air Caledonie offers domestic flights around the islands, including three flights a day to the 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. On the 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 a hotel.
Language, Food and Culture
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 its native culture as well as we have seen in other countries.
Navigation and Anchoring
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 on this website. If you are going to spend a lot of time sailing 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 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. And of course, sailing New Caledonia gets us much closer to nature than the regular tourist.
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 to 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.
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.
We spent more time sailing New Caledonia in Noumea than we expected and not in a good way. While Noumea was not our favorite place, it’s modern enough that we could get a lot accomplished. It’s completely worth it – the rest of New Caledonia is stunning cruising ground.
Anchoring in Noumea
The main area of Noumea for yachts is two bays; Moselle Bay and Orphilinat Bay. Moselle only has the Port Moselle Marina (monitors channel 67), while Orphilinat Bay has several smaller marinas, including Cercle Nautique Caledonien and Port du Sud. We anchored at the tip of the peninsula between the two, at the edge of Orphilinat Bay, with Cheeky Monkey and Sandy Cheeks. Even though Cheeky Monkey had reserved a slip at Port Moselle, there was no slip available.
After one night at the anchorage, we were approached by the Harbour Master who (very politely) told us we needed to move about 20 meters or so closer to chore for the cruise ship to get in to Moselle Bay. We heard that another cruiser anchored off the Port Moselle was in the way of the cruise ship but was not onboard, so the Harbour Master snapped their anchor chain and tied them up to a mooring!
The better option is to anchor close to the CNC marina and do your shopping at the shopping center there. It’s a smaller Casino, but I was still able to find a lot of good stuff (even real maple syrup!) and the bakery next door has really good baguettes. Sandy Cheeks said the German tavern, Taverne Tannhauser, is quite good, with a $1200 burger special. To visit here, you can tie your dinghy up at the Shell station. The area is clean, smells good, and even the apartments have tons of plants on the terraces. It’s lovely! We’ve been there three times so far, and ONCE I was asked to pay a $300 CFP fee to keep Little Dipper there for the day.
Clearing Formalities in New Caledonia
We took Little Dipper in to handle our official business. Port Moselle charges a minimum 3-day fee to tie your dinghy up, and for $1380 CFP ($108 CFP = 1 USD) you get a plaque to stick in your dinghy so they won’t “tow you”. Port Moselle takes care of your customs and helps you organize getting Biosecurity out to your boat, but you have to walk to the Immigration office, which is farther then it looks on the map. Biosecurity took our mung bean seeds, eggs, and some hot dogs (produced in the US). They are very strict about meat, so be prepared to come with fairly empty stores.
Turns out, there is a better option: friends used Herve from Seal Superyacht agents. They said it was cheaper AND they didn’t have to walk to Immigrations.
Our first impressions of Noumea were not good. The Port Moselle Marina smelled VERY strongly of sewage. This part of the city is not particularly pretty or clean. Weird smells popped up, people smoked pot in the open, and it was rather dreary. Not a lot of eye contact or smiles from people we passed.
The best part of the Port Moselle area is the market. French people love their markets, and the variety we found was wonderful. Most produce was local, and on Friday there was even a strawberry vendor and an olive vendor. Fresh flowers and fruit were plentiful.
There is a supermarche called Casino Johnston, which is pretty big and has everything! As with most French territories, the food options available are plentiful.
Of course, the other bureaucratic matter is sorting out internet access. We went to the post office and bought a SIM card for $6,000 CFP, which comes with $3,000 credit for data. If you want data, you pay $400 CFP ($4 USD) per day and get 200 Mb high speed and unlimited data throttled. It’s expensive and turns out there are cheaper options through the yacht agents too. Chloe, at Noumea Ocean Yacht Services rents out SIM cards for $7,000 a month (slower, but unlimited) or $120,000 a month (higher speed, still unlimited). (We have also heard of souvenir shops selling a one-week unlimited card for 994 CFP).
We got to meet another vlogger! David and Brent from Cat Impi have been emailing back and forth for a while, as Brent did a battery bank overhaul in Australia and we are going to be doing one too. Impi was docked at Port de Sud, and Brent and Ana very kindly invited us over to meet them.
Brent and Ana have been sailing New Caledonia for a long time! It was great to get some advice from them.
So what kept us in Noumea for so long? We talked about getting a slip in the marina to use their water to wash the boat and make shopping easier, but by the time a slip was available, we were done with our chores. David wanted to upload a video before we took off, so he spent two days working on episode 62 (Hawaii!). We had a night at Cheeky Monkey for dinner and then out on the town. We learned that getting taxis in Noumea late at night is really hard (we waited like two hours for cabs).
We were getting all geared up to leave Noumea….and David got sick. Same thing I had in Vanuatu, but instead of 24 hours it was 3 days. After three days of not keeping food down and not sleeping well, David was beat.
During our stay in Noumea, Ryan (Cheeky Monkey) and Yonas (Sea Wolf) both suffered particularly bad infections. Eventually, Yonas had to be flown to Sydney for treatment. CM spent the entire time at the marina with Ryan recovering. Sandy Cheeks had left for about a week and came back with a report of some of the nearby anchorages. Both CM and SC had a window to leave for Australia, so we had one final get together aboard SH and said goodbye to our friends! Hopefully, we will see them both again in Australia.
American Sports in New Caledonia
By the time he was feeling up to going….the Astros were leading the World Series! We spent two more days in Noumea, walking to the Sportsbar at the Ramada (a half-hour walk each way) to catch the games on the big screen. So what if they were in French? We got to watch the Astros in their World Series-winning glory!
While watching the games we met the three other people watching the games there. These guys played baseball and softball with local leagues, and one of them was even the president of the Baseball Confederation of Oceania. We swapped information so they might appear in a future blog post!
As for us, we finally picked up on Friday and took off to explore New Caledonia.
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. Onshore 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 CFP 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 the Isle of Pines) and we went snorkeling. He got to swim with some turtles so that was pretty cool.
Île des Pins
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. The water is much more clear in Kenumera Bay right next door. The entire west side of the bay is a very large coral reef, where Kyle and I went snorkeling. The coral was absolutely fantastic, and there wera lotot of small fish.
There are 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!
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. It is a great day tour from Île des Pins.
Read about our day trip to Nokanhui Atoll.
Natural Swimming Pool
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 stingrays swim by, spotted flounders swimming and hiding on the bottom, plus we discovered the entire sea floor was littered in live sand dollars!
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:
Gadji Bay was a highlight of sailing New Caledonia.
The End of the Cruising Season
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!