Cruising the Lagoon – New Caledonia

Ilot Mato and Ilot Kouare

November 2023

The poster photo for cruising New Caledonia

We’re heading out for a week of island-ing in near purrfect conditions.

Kitty Komfort Rating of 1. Peter is munching down a real Scotch Finger shortbread biccie (big score in the supermache) and Taz is chilling out on the control console.

Now that we have Taz back on-board Opal Lady, it was time to head out into the beautiful lagoon in the South-West of New Caledonia. The lagoon as you can see in the picture above is quite large and is very well protected. It also has a large number of small islands to explore so we were spoilt for choice. As we only had a limited time, we chose to visit 2 areas that had been recommended.

And this is our first stop at Ilot  Mato

We are surrounded by reef, it is a dead calm 25 degrees and everyone is happy in this stunning anchorage.  We’ll be doing some snorkelling on the reef around the island tomorrow.  The location is clearly popular with lots of boats coming and going around the island.  One of them was an official looking vessel, which we guessed was checking that people were reading the signage regarding the birds breeding on the island. There are a number of these islets where at certain times of the year you are not even allowed to land so as not to disturb breeding birds.

It might be written in French, but the meaning is pretty obvious – don’t disturb the nesting birds on the island.

And wasn’t the place just full of birdlife with regular gatherings like that in the picture below.

Exploring the waters of Ilot Mato surrounded by thousands of birds

At the moment the only restriction was to just keep a certain distance away from any nests when we visited.  So, it was time for some walking to the top of the island. What a truly stunning view we were treated to as we climbed up.  Crystal clear blue water and reef all around us.  We didn’t encounter any bird nests on our trail (and it was a lovely short trail too).

Today’s Island Girl on a stunning day

This is possibly the best hat I have found for ages.  It fits so well that it stays on my head with no toggle, even when moving in the tender.  The yellow bag is my take-to-shore dry bag.  It holds an amazing amount and fits across my back out of the way (and is waterproof).

Yes, the boat is still there, Peter.  We are the white speck on the left.  We had decided to anchor in a slightly deeper area than the local catamarans.  They came straight over the reef, but I guess they are familiar with the area.  We played it safe and followed the channel on the charts; a bit more circuitous, but it made me feel better knowing that I had the path on the plotter.  The charts for the lagoon seem to be complete and accurate.

It is incredibly pretty here and the corals are easy to find and to access.  We are feeling the cold though and can only stay in the water snorkelling for a short period of time.  Lordy knows how we will cope in very-not-tropical New Zealand.

After a couple of days at Ilot Mato it was time to move on to our next anchorage at Ilot Kouare. This was only a short cruise away and we were safely anchored before lunch.

Our anchorage for the next few days – Ilot Kouare

Now this is the kind of picture that came to mind when we were thinking about cruising into the Pacific. My diary just has the entry “BEAUTIFUL”.  Nothing more needs to be said.

The photo is true to what we can see, the water is actually that sparkly colour and truly crystal clear all the way to the sandy bottom – It’s like we are floating in a huge bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin.

Banded Sea Krait

I know these guys can’t bite, but it’s a bit freaky when they want to hang around your head.  This is a sea snake called a Banded Sea Krait.  She was about 3ft (1m) long (we know she was a lady because the males don’t grow that long).  We have read that they like seeing their reflection in a diver’s mask.  They are very venomous, but have incredibly tiny teeth.  So short of a diver taking off their glove and jamming a finger into the poor creature’s mouth, getting bitten is not a concern. They are also very curious and this one followed me around for some time, which Peter apparently found very funny.

Hellooo (Peter practising his camera skills)

Hellooo back at you.  The water was a bit cloudy today, but we had fun with the camera anyway.

Is it possible that Dad isn’t going to share those prawns?

That night we had Garlic Prawns for tea and Taz was concerned.  He had been watching the Ramoras at the back of the boat last night trying to sucker onto the hull (I don’t think we taste nice as none of them stuck) and he was devastated that none of them appeared in his food bowl.  Taz did end up crunching through some prawn heads today though, so all is well in the Furry world.

After a few days enjoying this idyllic anchorage, we were heading back into the marina because… you guessed it, the weather was turning nasty again.

Ilot Bailly providing protection

Anchored behind Ilot Bailly on way back to Noumea.  We were tucked up behind something like a causeway between the two islands; it stopped the swell and waves really well.  This was one of the locations pointed out by Herve (Noumea Yacht Services).  He was very free with his information and locations for fishing and anchoring in various conditions.  Herve also provided a brochure of a proposed two-week circumnavigation of the main island (they will also do re-provisioning after the first week to wherever you are).

For this stay in Noumea, we had booked into the Port Moselle Marina. This marina is more modern and located close to the centre of town – so better suited for us.  I didn’t do a Kitty Komfort rating for the return trip as Taz refused to leave the main bed – it was a bit rough with a beam-on swell.  We berthed rather awkwardly in a 20knt cross wind and Natalie in the next-door berth had to help fend us off her boat.  The thing we were learning about the short fingers at these marinas is that with our length and big bottom we can’t get the rear tied in close.  Neither of us were comfortable about this short berth in the forecast high winds.  A fellow trawler owner, David, came over to say he had been watching us and as he also owned a heavy passagemaker style boat he appreciated the trouble we were having.  He had already been to the marina Captainaire to say that in his opinion ‘Opal Lady’ was too heavy for the berth we were in and would end up destroying the finger – we couldn’t have agreed more.  There was a spare 18m berth nearby and I think everyone was relieved when we were relocated to that one – which was very comfortable and secure.  [We have decided that for the purposes of berthing in Pacific Marinas, we tell the marinas we require a 16m berth – it just works for our shape].

BOAT WORKS:

Dived under hull to check for growth

Replaced freshwater tap in engine room as leaking

Epoxied the damage that the SUP board sustained in trip over to Vanuatu

NAVIGATION NOTES:

 Anchored Ilot Mato: 31/10/23, at 22 33.178S, 166 47.770E in 5.6m water, with 0.55m tide, 22m chain, exit 190o (first attempt at 22 33.175S, 166 47.801E but anchor wouldn’t set as shallow sand over coral).  Comfortable in ESE winds, <10knts.

Anchored Ilot Kouare: 03/11/23, at 22 46.769S, 166 47.990E in 4.8m water with 1.44m tide, 20m chain, exit 110o. Comfortable in ESE winds <10knts.

Anchored Ilot Bailly: 06/11/23 at 22 18.260S, 166 34.484E, in 4.2m with 1.29m tide, 30m chain, exit 210o.  A little rolly in ESE 20knts. 

References; [Cruising Guide to New Caledonia, J. Marc, M. Ranbeau, R. Blackman; 1996, Savannah Editions.  An old book but the anchoring and boating information is very good]  [Rocket Guide to New Caledonia, Chesher, 2023].

Banner Photo – ‘Opal Lady’ at Ilot Kouare

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