Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Caledonia Reflections - Southern Lagoon


We arrived in New Caledonia on November 1st, 2016 after the 1,100 mile passage from Tonga, which took us 8 days, the longest (in miles) since our 3,000 mile Pacific crossing. After a day or two, our little unit of 4 got into a good rhythm of passing the time on passage…eating, sleeping, sailing and navigating. On the whole, we had good winds and the seas were not too rough.

When the mountains of New Caledonia appeared on the horizon early on the morning of the 1st, we were excited to firstly, be able to drop anchor again, and secondly, explore another beautiful destination. But it would take us almost the whole day to get to the city of Noumea, from when we entered the pass through the reef that surrounds this island.  New Caledonia, with this surrounding protective reef, plays host to the world’s largest lagoon, and Noumea is the only place you can clear into this beautiful and diverse land.


One of our first views of New Caledonia

Unbeknownst to us, we arrived on the last day of a 5-day long weekend, and when we radioed the marina to get a berth for customs and immigration clearance, we were told that there was "no room at the inn" and we had to anchor outside until customs opened again the following day.  Dave took care of formalities the next day and we were checked in and ready to explore New Caledonia.  In the course of doing this, a spot opened up at the Marina, so we decided to take it and soon we were snug in a berth.  We don't often stay in marinas, but it is nice, especially after a longer passage, to be able to have ready access to land.  

We knew that Dave's old sailing friend, Bruce Savage, and his wife Lyn were cruising in New Caledonia and we were looking forward to meeting up with them.  Dave and Bruce were on the 1996 South African Olympic Sailing team together, but had not seen each other for about 20 years!  We got in touch on the VHF and it was great to chat, but it would be at least 5 days before we were finally able to meet up.  We stayed in the marina for a few days, and Bruce and Lyn took advantage of a wind switch and headed out to Ile de Pins (Isle of Pines), a beautiful island about 25 miles from Noumea and New Caledonia's southern Lagoon.  

New Caledonia showing our track.  Isle of Pines is the island at the bottom right.  The kids liked to call New Caledonia "The Baguette" because of it's shape, and because it is a French island!

After we took care of restocking, a sail repair (don't ask), and some other necessities, we headed out to Ile de Pins, stopping the first night at a beautiful little island called Amedee.  Amedee has a beautiful old metal lighthouse   The metal components were made in Paris in 1862 and the lighthouse was opened on Amedee in 1865.  A walk around Amedee introduced us to the many sea snakes common to New Caledonia; we counted at least 20 on our short walk around the island!


Sea Snake - they go in and out of the water.  These snakes are extremely venomous, but their fangs are so far back in their mouths, that they can't bite humans (or so we were told!)

Amedee Lighthouse
A closer look at the Lighthouse

The island had lots of these beautiful Banyan trees...
...that the kids really enjoyed climbing!
The shores of Amedee 

The island at sunrise as we left to head to Isle of Pines


A beautiful sail in New Caledonia's southern lagoon led us to the north of Ile de Pins for our long-awaited reunion with Bruce and Lyn on "JoliFou".  They led us to a spot that ranks as probably one of our favourite of the trip so far:  Gadji Bay.  Bruce and Lyn came out in their dinghy and Bruce came on board as our pilot! :-)  We edged our way through a shallow gap into one of the most beautiful anchorages we'd ever seen!

Here it is:  Gadji Bay!

Cool Runnings crazy crew anchored in Gadji

"JoliFou", Bruce and Lyn's Allures 44 anchored in Gadji Bay.  

Reunion in New Cal!  Dave and I finally meet up with Lyn and Bruce!
We snorkeled on some of the most pristine coral we'd ever seen, and enjoyed playing on our private beach.  It was very difficult to tear ourselves away from this little piece of paradise!





Cruising Kids

Mushroom Rocks - Gadji Bay

Our own little beach in Gadji Bay

Crystal clear water - dinghying over the coral reef

It's hard to capture the beauty of the coral in a photograph, but this gives some idea of what we saw

Snorkeling over one of the coral heads

Our next stop was Kuto on the south end of Ile de Pins.  Kuto has a beautiful bay and beach, but every other day, cruise ships anchor here and disgorge hundreds of passengers.  They only tend to stay the day, and then the cruising boats have the bay back to themselves.  We definitely have become spoiled!  The one advantage was that we were able to score an island tour:  A local chap called Max had set up his stand, taking bookings for an island tour for the cruise ship passengers, and as we walked past, he was busy packing up.  We asked if he would do a tour the next day for us, a family of four, and he readily agreed!  We didn't have to share the tour with anyone else!  We were able to see the highlights of the island, which was great since we couldn't get a rental car.

On our way to Kuto...the shades of blue in New Caledonia still captivate me
Our captain in his element!

Sunset in Kuto Bay
Ile de Pins, as many of these islands, was originally used as a penal colony.  French convicts were shipped all the way here from France to serve their sentences.  One of our stops was the old prison with it's thick stone walls, and remnants of the tiny cells.

We also saw beautiful caves that were used by the local Kanak people, beautiful St. Joseph's bay where they still build and sail the local outriggers, and drove through Vao, the only little town (more of a village) on the island.  All in all, a great day's outing.

A beautiful tree lined street near Kuto Bay at sunset with the sun's rays peeking through

Traditional outrigger in St. Joseph Bay 

The Notre-Dame de l'Assomption.  The church was built in 1860 and is the only convict-built Catholic church on Isle of Pines.  It is located in the center of Vao.  The inside is more beautiful than the outside

The statue of St. Maurice - this statue commemorates the arrival of the first missionaries on the island and is also a war memorial. The statue is surrounded by a circle of wooden totem poles.

After some time on Isle of Pines, we headed back toward the mainland, with a stop at Mato and Maitre islands, beautiful stops surrounded by reef.  Maitre island is a favourite spot for locals and visitors to kite surf.

Cool Runnings anchored off Mato island

Kite surfers at Maitre Island

More kite surfers

Our exploration of the southern lagoon included a stop in Baie de Prony, offering up landscape so different to the blues of the lagoon, that it deserves a whole post of its own, which I'll work on next, and hope to have up very soon!

We hope you enjoyed the first part of our exploration of the beautiful islands of New Caledonia!





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