New Caledonia – Butter and Croissant and Escargot and….

Noumea, New Caledonia

October 2023

There is just something special about sunsets at sea.

We received a ‘proof of life’ photo of Taz from Noumea Quarantine.  He looks decidedly grumpy, but he is there and waiting for us, so “tres bon”. In the meantime, we went through the process of Checking Out of Vanuatu, which involved catching the bus to Immigration for our exit paperwork and then making sure that Willie and the boys would be ready to help us leave the marina berth first thing the following morning (our ‘first thing’ and their ‘first thing’ was obviously different, but we were ready for that).

The weather seems to cycle over about 10 days, so if we don’t leave on the 17th we’d have to likely wait until the end of the month (and we can’t as our VISAs run out on the 18th).  The weather looked like it should be good, but there might be a bit of swell to manage at the start.  There was also something brewing up north so we would like to get away before that gets serious about itself. [The ‘something’ turned out to be cyclone Lola, the earliest cyclone of the season.  We were safely tucked up in New Caledonia when she hit poor Vanuatu]. As it turned out the swell did not die down as expected (I swear it was following us) so we changed course a fair bit to make the trip as comfortable as we could and ended up running down the length of New Caledonia rather than a more direct but open water route. 

Three days of choogling later and we were rounding the bottom of the big island (Grande Terre) of New Caledonia and negotiating a lot of weekday sailors while getting into the Noumea marina area.

Flying the flag at one of the Ilots (not on the way in to Noumea; we were flying the yellow Q then, but you’ve seen that)

To ease our entry into New Caledonia we have utilised the services of an agent, which just makes life a lot simpler. Our checking in agent (Herve of Noumea Yacht Services) had made sure that we have a French flag on board for checking in tomorrow.  Some boats have flown the New Caledonian flag once checked in and then received a visit from some rather grumpy gendarmes (that is the Independence flag and they can get quite touchy about it).  Tracy of ‘Zero’ let me know that they had been told by their rally to bring both flags, as some of the New Caledonian islands want the Independence one flown as well – I’m thinking that would be the Loyalty Islands.

The buoyage (water signs) are very clear and everyone here seems to know what they are doing on the water.  The only trouble we had was with the radio check-in.  There was a question that the operator kept asking, that I could not for the life of me work out.  I had started calling in my rehearsed French and she had moved straight into her far better English, but the accent was just too much for me to handle over a radio.  I heard another boat later telling her over the radio what the correct phrase was – she had been asking if we had been here before and knew the marinas (‘non et non’).

Fortunately, there was naff all wind by the time we turned into the Port Sud Marina – the marina was very cosy and Peter swore it was the tightest marina we had been in.  After navigating the narrow fairways Peter worked a minor miracle and slotted us into the last berth available.  The berth was quite a few metres smaller than us, so it was good to have Herve there to guide from the pontoon side.  But we are here and happy – so all good. [The short fingers turned out to be a common marina design here]

We’ve gone from seeing no boats to being surrounded by hundreds – the marinas in Noumea are chockers.  Most are sailing boats, there are lots of live-aboards, lots of children riding and playing along the walkways, and almost all the boats go out regularly.  It is good to see boats being used. 

I am soooo looking forward to eating.  I had ‘Mal de Mer’ all the way down here and haven’t been able to keep food down for two days.  I’ve never had sea sickness before (the throwing up and wish you were dead type) … and I don’t like it.  I don’t know how people keep boating if they know they’re going to be sea sick every trip.  Back in our researching days, I read quite a few books by Lynn Pardy.  She said that she would make sure there was food ready for 3 days, as she knew she would be out of action for the first 3 days of every crossing – and she was at sea for the better part of 40 years!! And Lord Nelson apparently got deathly sea sick at the start of every voyage.  I’m in good company, but I’m hoping this new phenomenon is because I’m still recovering from COVID that I caught in Port Vila (the big tourist boats had started to arrive again and the people do tend to crowd up the streets).

Anyways, I’m crossing my fingers that this is not a permanent fixture, as unlike the cat, who just curls up with a paw over his head and asks to be woken in 3 days, I have to do my share of the shiftwork. 

I’m trying to drink my coffee without disturbing the Panda – how cute is that? 

Unfortunately, walking is the cure-all for all, so Peter took me walkies into town.  We are in the Port Sud marina, which is a bit further out from the city center (but only by 2 km).  Noumea is VERY different to Port Vila; French language aside, there are real shops, traffic lights and cross walks.

We are now in the land of French Beurre et Fromage et Pate Fois Gras et Croissant et Palmiers.  Ooh lala, my pancreas may not make it to New Zealand.

We expect to be in New Caledonia for about 6 weeks and then on to New Zealand for the Pacific cyclone season.

Getting around Noumea while trying not to get lost (you can see the distinctive market buildings near the Port Moselle Marina in the background).

 Taz is quarantined some 25kms from Noumea, so we’ve hired a car for the week to do some cruising around the island (and to sort Taz’ paperwork, and fees …and Taz). One of the enjoyable things about driving in Noumea is the road system is very simple and well laid out. A lot of the streets around the CBD are one way so makes it easy to get around.

Paying the airport fees for the Moggy transfer required a 45minute drive to the airport, as they only take cash or credit card in person! We got three stamps, paid two lots of fees and managed to walk up and down the stairs three times (we tried to do the checking out in the wrong order).  Then went 20mins back to the Quarantine facility at Paiti for another ‘melting of the credit card’.  We have to be back there at 9:35am to pick up his Furriness on Saturday, or else he stays for the weekend (There are 39 pickups, and timeslots are booked when you pay, so you really do have to sort it all out before collection day).  The lovely office staff at the quarantine facility, hunted down the only person out there who spoke English, to make sure that we understood about the pickup time.  He just happened to be one of the cat carers and took great pains to tells us that Taz was a sweetie who just wanted to be cuddled (well we now knew he had been looking after the right cat).

We got a bit of rain and some wind from the nasty system off New Zealand and the leftovers of cyclone Lola (she hit Vanuatu as a Cat 5) – That’s about all were going to get from either of them.

While waiting for Taz to be released we went for a drive to explore the Grande Terre Island. The west coast is flat, green, beef grazing land, not very inspiring.  We then crossed the mountain range to the east coast.  The tree ferns in the forested areas of the mountains are incredibly tall.  New Cal has a native pine that is like a tall column, but it grows curved, so is no good for lumber.  Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of the forest has been cleared for agriculture.

We then headed south and home we thought (or at least to find a toilet or coffee shop – there are NO such things out this way), we may have mistaken a minor road for the arterial road.  The minor road then turned into a dirt road and then into a mud track.  After a bit of sideways action in the rain, we decided to turn around.

And found a ‘bridge’ that led us back to the correct road over the mountain range and into …

… a huge strip mine 700m in the clouds. (They’ve been mining nickel here since the 60s).  Except for the rain, it could have been Kalgoorlie (home on the Golden Mile of Western Australia).

Finally, a few days later and …

Taz is on his way home.  The only word I could read on the checkout form was ‘adorable’.  What you can’t tell from this picture is that the Furry One is purring at approximately 1000 decibels to a Country and Western song, in French, on the radio station.

While we had the car, we also took the opportunity to restock at the wonderful supermarkets.

How terribly French, there are 4 ducks in each tin (2kilo tins!) – we bought a much smaller tin, just to try it out.  The supermarkets stock a huge range of tinned vegetables, and all imported from France – I swear you couldn’t name a vegie that they haven’t stuck in a tin or a jar.  Good for stocking the boat (although some of the prices were eye watering).  Some of the products are definitely an acquired/desperate taste.  We’ve tried the whole potatoes in a jar, and they’re ok for salad or with a lot of gravy.  We wouldn’t bother with the tinned potato gratin again. But I am going to have to go back and buy a ton of the Rhubarb-in-a-jar – it is divine.

Peter found his little pineapples again at the Fresh Food Market (circular buildings near the Port Moselle Marina).  The regular bananas look black and bruised, but they are perfect inside.  Peter wanted to try the big fat bananas, but the lovely lady did a splendid job, with no English, to let him know they weren’t for eating, they were only for cooking (plantain).  [I’m enjoying watching local TV, especially “The Great Bake Off”.  It’s all in French and I understand one word perfectly –  Chocolat!  The word “chocolate” is pretty much the same in all languages]

Over to the Fresh Fish Market (same buildings)

This is how fish is packaged for you at the fresh fish market.  The bag is plastic lined and has a pre gummed strip at the top to seal any leakage in!  What a great idea. The label is slightly worrying if you don’t know any French.

Then into the still-being-stocked, incredibly new supermarket near the tourist wharf.  They may still be installing shelves, but they already have escargot with garlic butter in the freezer (we didn’t get any).

Noumea itself has an odd feel.  It is very French and yet not.  There are a lot of semi-English speakers.  The architecture is generally uninspiring (in that urban European way) and there is that familiar smell of sewage that you get in urban areas in Europe.  But on Sundays everyone is out in their Sunday best.  The women’s costume is very similar to that in Vanuatu, but the short sleeves are not gathered and the lace is usually a cotton broderie anglaise type; distinctive, modest and comfy. There is also a more formal ladies suit of a straight skirt and a matching safari style shirt over the top, usually in a bright island fabric (rather flattering to all body shapes).  Men wear regular suits or suit skirts (‘manou’ in New Caledonia). Unfortunately, we also came across a number of people who were sleeping rough on the streets (this was not seen in Vanuatu) and there were obviously some alcohol related issues.  Being more developed does not ensure that everyone is better off.

After the week was up, we dropped off the car at the hire place and walked back to the Marina, stopping for lunch on the main tourist road along the beach.

The tourist strip looking north along the Baie des Citrons

The shark enclosure beach in Noumea (Baie des Citrons, looking south).  The New Caledonian authorities reacted quite strongly to a few (three) shark attacks near the tourist beaches at the start of the year, and it’s still illegal to swim outside the enclosures.  The beaches and roads in this area are being developed into a lovely boardwalk type area; with grass, trees, seating and paving for strollers or wheelchairs.  There are many good restaurants and boutique shopping along here, directly aimed at the tourist market (and I can handle a bit of tourist-ing occasionally).

But maybe not the yellow train.  When a big cruise ship comes in, the roads are full of buses, mini buses and little yellow trains running tourists all over the place. While we were here, we saw up to 4 cruise ships in one week (3 seemed to be the more usual number).

So now we have had a bit of time exploring the land it is time for us to leave Nouma for a short time and explore the famous lagoon of New Caledonia.

Boat Works:

Replaced water pump (again)

Greased snubber roller as squeaking

Re-wired power plug to IP67 3 pin

[Dec 2024 Update: this is the same power plug that we used in New Zealand]

Banner Photo: Summer Sunset between Vanuatu and New Caledonia

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. The water looks glorious.. shame about those pesky sharks (haha). Don’t you just love grocery shopping in foreign countries, always makes me wonder what they find strange about Aussie supermarkets! What was the canned duck like?

    1. Greetings Alana, While it can be an exciting adventure, it does indeed take so much longer to do the shopping when you have to read the labels to work out what something is. We have only just opened the Tinned Duck, and it was really yummy (not as greasy as I had expected). We would buy that again for the boat pantry. Hope all is well with you and yours, Suz

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