This blog on New Caledonia is for those of you who ever wondered what life on a tiny island in the South Pacific might be like. Tired of bracing winter winds, the stress of an inner city or simply dreaming of a life change? This is a blog about what happens when, in the words of Yogi Berra, "you come to a fork in the road, [and] take it".

29 December 2005

Ile des Pins: Heaven on Earth

We've just returned from Ile des Pins. In a word, it is paradise. I have never in my life seen a place so stunning, so breathtaking. I've seen white sands, yes. Blue skies, yes. But the particular combination of these, along with the simplicity of a life sans technology, people and credit cards made me reflect on how little one really needs to be happy and prosper.
Photo by Sophie-Alix Kilcoyne, 2005.

26 December 2005

Ile des Pins: Sailing up the Baie d'Uto on a Pirogue

Boxing Day started early. We boarded our pirogue (an out-board rigger) along with nine other tourists and Alexandre (pictured left) around 8.00. It was hard to believe that such a simple structure would sail us up a bay safely. Here, you toss safety to the wind. No lifejackets, no water, no contact with the mainland. Luck had it that we ran aboard a reef about a half an hour in to our journey and all the menfolk had to get off and push. Then our little lawnmower motor drowned out. No worries. After about a half hour of advice from nearly every passenger and elbow grease on the part of our captain (he told me he was going to be giving this up soon - he'd been doing this for years, and it was time to move over to leave room for the younger folk to take on the job), we were off once again. After two and a half hours of drifting and motoring along, enjoying the calm and the blues of the lagoon and the sky, we landed around 10.30 further up the island. Off we went for a 45-minute walk through the forest. Merci, capitaine !

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.

Ile des Pins: Where Does the Pool End and the Bay Begin?

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.
After a 45-minute traipse through thick forest and about 10 minutes of wading through ankle-to-knee-deep water, we arrived at the Meridien for lunch. What a bonus! What views! What paradise! We had a wonderful meal (Laurent enjoyed the freshly grilled coquilles St. Jacques and Sophie and I especially loved the huge, fresh salad that came as an appetizer and the tiramisu for dessert). Seated on the terrace, poolside (view pictured above), none of us wanted to leave. But off we went for another half-an-hour venture to Ile des Pins' natural piscine (or pool). See more below.

Ile des Pins: Snorkeling in the Piscine Naturelle

We arrived at the piscine naturelle (near the Baie d'Oro), pictured right, around 15.00 and immediately put on our snorkeling gear. Time to get in the pool! Laurent had brought some leftover baguette and once in the pool we set to feeding the fish.

Ever imagined what it must be like to swim in an aquarium? This was it. Again, just as at the Baie de Kunamera, the fish were aplenty - and absolutely stunning. We even saw clownfish, of "Nemo" fame.

Photo by Sophie-Alix Kilcoyne, 2005.

25 December 2005

Ile des Pins: An Exceptional Christmas Day

Christmas day was exceptional for us. We spent it outside, for starters, on the beautiful Baie de Kunamera (best snorkeling on the island) and the Baie de Kuto (famous for its long silky-white beaches). We snorkeled around the rocher pictured above (sacred to the Kunies, so no climbing) and were surprised not only by the variety of beautiful tropical fish, but their varying sizes and multitude (see photo below)! A number of them swam with us and when we stopped to marvel at them, they swam around our waists and between our legs. The coral was also extremely colourful, and some of it fluorescent (a first for me to see outside of an aquarium).

After a picnic lunch on the beach, we wandered over to the Baie de Kuto where we refreshed ourselves with a swim, and a nap under the trees. We found time, too, to build castles in the sand. Far from the tradition of long Christmas dinners and foie gras and Christmas crackers around long tables with cherished family, we thought of absent friends and family and looked forward to speaking with them all again soon.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.

Ile des Pins: Spectacular Tropical Fish

Picture-perfect, we had never expected to see such a range and multitude of tropical fish in New Caledonia, but indeed we did on Christmas day - in the Baie de Kunamera on Ile des Pins. Our first outing in the morning was more successful than our early afternoon outing, but we were truly spoiled by the company of our angel fish (and other) underwater friends on both trips. Mind you, we simply walked into the water and swam around the bay's sacred rock - no boats were necessary to take us out into a reef. How easy, and thoroughly amazing, at once.

Ile des Pins: Bingo Anyone?

Make no mistake - this is not a picnic. The sun set on Christmas day and the Kunies came out to play "boules", and as pictured here, the women to play bingo. When we asked why there were so few locals out on Christmas day, we were told by our Kunie driver that they were all at home, resting and recuperating, still somewhat inebriated, having started drinking just after midnight mass. By the time the sun set, the locals came out again to liven up island life.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.

Ile des Pins: Christmas Colours

Even Ile des Pins donned her prettiest Christmas colours - as captured here by Sophie, at the end of our first Christmas in the South Pacific.

Photo by Sophie-Alix Kilcoyne, 2005.

24 December 2005

Ile des Pins: Arrival

We boarded a high-speed catamaran (otherwise known as the Betico) at 6:45 in the morning and by 9.15 we had arrived on Ile des Pins. Though we had heard that the island was beautiful, we didn't expect anything quite so stunning. Walking in off the dock, we saw an entire school of fish in the transparent waters.

Our rental car was waiting for us and off we went to the only village on the island, Vao. Vao has a small tourist office, a local market, a bank (no ATMs), two tiny grocery stores (and I mean tiny - you can buy a tin of tuna and some long-life milk in the off chance you've just run out), a town hall, a beautiful mission church (built in 1860), an elementary school, a high school and 1800 inhabitants - pretty much the entirety of the island's population.

After a walk around the tourist office and the market (a collection of Kunie - local - women seated offering up their yams and watermelon for sale), we walked down to the Baie de St Maurice, which was where the first Catholic ceremony was said to have taken place on the island. There we found a statue of St Maurice surrounded by tree trunks carved in the form of totems - snakes, birds, turtles and human faces (as pictured above). Ah - a great mix of Catholic religion and local customs and beliefs.

Lastly, a visit to the church up the road touched us all as the locals hung long fresh garlands from the rafters and the women added bougainvilla (and other pink and red flowers) to render the garlands ever more festive for the Christmas eve mass.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.

Ile des Pins: Queen Hortense's Cave

Leaving Vao, we drove up and across the island (quickly done as the island stretches 14 km by 17 km and there only one or two main roads) to find a simple (and welcome) lunch on the Baie d'Oro.

Afterwards, we went in search of Queen Hortense's cave. According to Lonely Planet, "when Kunie leader Chef Vendegou died in 1885, the husband of his daughter was officially the new grand chef. However, Vendegou's daughter, Hortense, had the stronger personality of the two and was regarded as the leader. Popular local legend has it that, between 1885 and 1886, Queen Hortense was forced to hide in a cave with her protectors while intertribal battles raged over the issue of her gender." Though the cave turned out to be discreet and rather comfortable as far as caves go, we weren't sure a year in a cave would be much fun.

Photo by Sophie-Alix Kilcoyne, 2005.

Ile des Pins: An End to a Perfect Day

Following our first day's tour of Ile des Pins, we checked in at our little hotel, where we found a bungalow waiting for us. Sophie and Laurent (and even I!) could not resist a dip in the pool to cool off. We'd been told that the island's most beautiful sunsets would be found here, and we were far from disappointed. A stroll along the beach was the perfect end to a perfect day ...

Except that at 20.00 we had a Christmas eve dinner to attend. So dress up as best one can for a casual island, we did. Imagine our surprise when the first course was not served until 21.40 and the main dish at 22.30 (after I had ventured to the kitchen to see how things were coming along). At one point Laurent started eating with his fingers (deer, mind you) - when the knives and forks were long to be delivered - and Sophie nearly fell asleep at the table. Later we learned that this was the first time something like this had happened in 22 years. What luck! We laugh about it all now ...

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.

22 December 2005

South Pacific Santa Says

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année !

21 December 2005

Christmas Plans: Ile des Pins

We are off to Ile des Pins (Isle of Pines) for Christmas. It is a tiny, idyllic island famous for its turquoise waters and scuba diving. It's been called the "most beautiful island on the planet". See for a few photos and more. We'll take a boat to the island (a couple of hours), rent a car, tour the island and check in for a fabulous Christmas eve dinner at our little hotel on the northern-west coast (Hôtel Kodjeue).

On Boxing Day, we'll take a "pirogue" up through the lagoons (see the pirogue in the photo left for an idea of what I am talking about), walk a little through the island's famous pines (for which the island was named by James Cook) and spend an afternoon at a natural "piscine". Otherwise, we'll be enjoying the white sands and the relaxed pace of a tiny, tiny island. Pictures and tales to follow upon our return ...

19 December 2005

Water, Water Everywhere ... An Aerial Shot of Where We Are

See the largest sailboat at the top of this photo? Trace your finger inland to the northern coast of this little peninsula. That's where we live ... on the Baie de l'Orphelinat in Nouméa. Our location explains the ocean views and fabulous sunsets posted at times on this blog. Both Sophie's school and Laurent's place of work are also pictured in this photo. Laurent is in the red-roofed buildings and Sophie is just across the street from Laurent.

13 December 2005

An Evening Out

Back in November we booked our first real dinner out in a restaurant in New Caledonia - in celebration of my birthday. We dressed up and went to a fabulous restaurant ("Le Roof", pitched at the end of a long dock, overlooking the lagoon), which made a dramatic change from our usual style of shorts and flip-flops and fresh shrimp and rice at home in the garden. It was divine to sit at a table with fancy silver and more than one glass, sip virgin margaritas, and later be served cheesecake with a framboise couli. The sound of the sea lapping underneath the dock was the icing on the cake.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.

11 December 2005

Birds of a Feather

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.
New Caledonia has the most magnificent birds - they are almost as stunning as those I've seen in Australia. We can see them both in the wild (as well as in our front garden) and at the Parc Forestier (home of the beauty pictured above), a nature reserve nestled in the hills overlooking Nouméa. We visited the Parc Forestier in November and were taken with the many species of birds and endemic plants - they purport to have 700 animals of 125 different species, including flying foxes and kagus, New Caledonia's symbol and national bird (which is land-bound, never having learned how to fly, never having had to - perhaps because it barks like a dog).

10 December 2005

Photos of New Caledonia

For a wonderful site containing breathtaking photos of New Caledonia, I highly recommend Photos de Nouvelle-Calédonie, where you will also find a Webcam (why not take a look at what we're looking at - live?). But take a deep breath before you dive in ... the site might just be the tipping point. You'll be on line booking your next vacation - this time to the South Pacific - within seconds.

06 December 2005

A Country Thrice Divided

New Caledonia has three discernible populations (of a total of 230 789 inhabitants):

- The Kanak (or Kanaky), which are the country's indigenous peoples. As of 2005, the Kanak community represents 42.5% of the population. They are officially known as Melanesians.

- The Caldoche, which are the whites who have lived in New Caledonia for several generations. The Caldoche usually refer to themselves simply as "calédoniens" and may be either white (mostly French or German) or white with a mixture of Asian, Melanesian or Polynesian ancestry. Caldoche culture is said to have many similarities with Australian and Afrikaner culture.

- The Métros or Métropolitains, which are the newcomers who have immigrated from metropolitan France.

I have been thinking a lot about these three very separate groups this last week as I interact primarily with the Kanaks and the Métros and have had occasion to be involved in heated conversations about the driving forces in each population. I hope to address some of the tensions between the populations in the coming months - as I come to understand them - on this blog ...

As a start, I visited the Centre Culturel Tijbaou today - see - and got my first primer on some of the most important customs and traditions in the Kanak culture. More to follow!

01 December 2005

Paradise in Blue

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.
How many blues can you count? And did you know that New Caledonia has mountains? Indeed, we do. This photo was taken this last weekend - from a jet ski. The tiny island before you is not New Caledonia, but another little ilôt. We are just on the other side.

30 November 2005

Daily Views, Continued

Wonder what a sunset looks like in Nouméa? Well, at 18.00 more or less every evening, we leave our little villa, cross the little street and go sit on a bench overlooking the bay. Two seconds away. This is what we see.

When night falls, we sometimes stay out for the upside-down moon and the glittering lights of the sky's few sprinkled, sparkling jewels.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.

27 November 2005

A Jet-ski Initiation

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.
Blue skies, transparent waters, blue fish, orange fish, black and white fish. Today was an incredibly perfect day to try your hand at jet-skiing. Sophie, pictured above, did just that.

Apparently it was absolutely beautiful. Sophie and Laurent spent about 3 hours skiing and 45 minutes swimming and snorkelling at the Ilôt de Signal. With an early-morning start, they were back just in time for a huge lunch and a well-deserved nap. In a group of 16 other jet skiis, Sophie and Laurent took turns driving the one they shared. The jet skis weighed 300 kgs. and got up to a maximum speed of 80 km/hour. The faster you go, the better it gets! But get ready for buckets full of water splashing your face (from the waves), and if it is anything like today, lots and lots and lots of wind.

The 45-minute snorkelling break on the ilôt was stunning. There were the most beautiful and varied fish they'd seen since our arrival in New Caledonia. Blue, blue and orange, black and white, more blue. I wish I'd been there to see them!

Asked if they would do it again, "Yes!", they both said, "But not today." Big smiles and sleepy eyes seemed to say it all.

24 November 2005

Sophie Update

Though this photo was taken a few months ago, just before we left Paris (we'd stopped in to see our good friend Susan and meet her gorgeous son, William), it shows Sophie as she is now. Gorgeous as ever!

Recent accomplishments? Sophie went straight into school upon arriving in New Caledonia. Because the school year starts in February and ends in December in this part of the world, she'd missed two trimesters of school already when she arrived here in August. But the principal agreed to give her a trial run in the grade above the one she had just completed in Paris. After a lot of hard work and a score of great grades, it looks like Sophie will pass to the next grade - 3ème - after only a few months in this last one! Nothing has been confirmed yet (we are expecting to hear next week), but her overall average is 15 out of 20 (that's fairly high, by French standards). Not bad for only a few months! Her strongest subjects? English, of course. And then physics. Go figure ...

Socially speaking, Sophie is the center of her new circle of friends and spends many an hour chatting or going to the beach with them. Ah, the life. She's started her own blog and is co-creating another one with two other friends. I often find her in front of the computer putting together incredible collages of her photos as posts for her blogs! She'll take up her drum lessons again in February and in the shorter term, will go jet-skiing for the first time this weekend. Go, Sophie!

22 November 2005

Breakfast and Lunch (and Work) in the Garden

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.
This is our view from the lunch table - and the breakfast table, for that matter. Ah, an ocean view for breakfast - in November. Who would have thought?

Sundays is often Pancake Day (pancake mix imported from the United States). I whip up a batch of pancakes for about 11 o'clock and we skip lunch. This last weekend Laurent and Sophie were off to the beach early after pancakes while I slaved over a new proposal for Sophie's school Web site. I happily delivered it yesterday for meetings that will take place this morning and this evening. We'll see what everyone thinks of the "charte graphique" and the structure I've laid out ... with luck it will pass and we can go on to another round of user tests before starting the actual site.

I should mention that I increasingly sit at this table (pictured above) with my wireless connection - slaving away thinking and writing and copying and pasting. Alas. Can you imagine a better work environment?

16 November 2005

Flowering Frangipani

Palm trees to hibiscus to frangipani to bougainvilla to birds of paradise - and as far as I know, none of these are endemic to New Caledonia - all are in full splendor at this time of year. New Caledonia is fifth in the world for its diversity of flora - and 75% of our flora is endemic.

We are lucky enough to have bougainvilla, hibiscus and frangipani in our front yard, along with a couple of palm trees. We also have a budding pineapple plant - and around the corner some banana-laden banana trees. I am yet to find a good book or site in English on the flora of New Caledonia, but I have just stumbled on this site on endemic plants and flowers in New Caledonia, if you are interested in our pines (yes - we have many a tall swaying pine on our little South Pacific island) and local flowering plants: Click through the pages if you have a little time -- the author has clearly studied the subject thoroughly.

14 November 2005

Weather Check

Want to know how warm it will be in Nouméa this week? Go to:

Sneak peek for the week of 14 November: between 21° and 29° C. Indeed, spring has sprung. Our thoughts go out to all our friends in Europe ...

11 November 2005

Alarm Clocks, Armistice and a Birthday

Meet our local friends and alarm clocks. These two, among others, live in the orange-flowered tree in our front yard. It behooves them to declare their undying love for each other (these parakeets always seem to travel in twos) every morning, starting at 4.30. At 7.00 they are usually done and go on about their day.

Happy Armistice Day, everyone ... and Happy Birthday, Melissa (the world's most amazing photographer, journal-er, organiser, reader, thinker, writer, documentalist - and friend)!

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.

10 November 2005

Books, Books, Books

Today was a day off for Laurent and Sophie (who is on school vacation). We started the day watching a friendly French-Costa Rican charity football match (proceeds went to Martinique) at 6.45 in the morning. Due to the time difference (10 hours with France), getting up early to get our regular dose of French football and Zizou has become somewhat of a habit.

After a few errands and a lunch of lemon chicken (yes, I actually manage to cook once in a while), I whisked Laurent and Sophie off to the beach so that I could get some work done for Paris.

But the best find of the day? An English-language lending library in Noumea's Latin Quarter. Another local Anglophone - check out JD Riso's blog at - had found my blog and tipped me off about a new lending library in Noumea. Yesterday I stopped into this little hidden away, underground-feeling place and spoke to my first local Anglophone since arriving here some three months ago. Books abound - ranging from beach reading to good literature to children's books to videos in English. I had just been getting ready earlier in the week to place an order with Amazon (one can never have too much to read - and finding English books here is both next to impossible and prohibitively expensive). I had caught up on all my recent New Yorkers and was coming to the end of the pile on my nightstand. So to walk away with a whole new free book (Anne Tyler's Back When We Were Grownups to contrast with my nightstand pile of current reads: Margaret Heffernan's The Naked Truth and Jason Burke's Al-Qaeda) added to the fabric of life, and the daily pleasure one finds, on a tiny island in the South Pacific.

09 November 2005

E-ruptions in France

If I don't write every day, you'll never know what is going on. I've been focussing on trying to bring you up to date chronologically - finding time when I can to work on the blog is at times a challenge, what with all our activities - but it occurs to me that if I insist on "order", we might never get there.

So what's up with this "France on Fire" or "
State of Emergency" thing (speaking of dis-order), as it is being reported in the US news (I just love their drama -- I can see a movie starring Tom Cruise or Arnold Schwarzenegger in the making)? See "Paris Burning" on Laurent Bernat's blog at for an interesting lesson in geography from CNN (did you know Toulouse was that close to Paris? I didn't.) This whole "war-torn" thing is being reported as "French Riots" in Britain and Australia.

I spend my early mornings thinking about the massive negative energy which has come together to express long unexpressed unrest in Paris and throughout France. I watch the visuals of the "cities", or housing for the poor, parade before me and I think of Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. No, I don't think the burning of 1 300 cars is the result of "mob mentality". But I do think that all of the elements have been there for a while. Group a lot of very unhappy people in one place - preferably dirty, dying and downtrodden - make sure they are young and dispossessed and watch what happens. Create a breeding ground for destruction and then ... well, tell them they all have to go home at eleven. "You're done acting up," we say after 12 days of riots.

de Villepin's plan work to stop the rioting and restore peace and order to the nation? Is it cause-oriented enough? Is it too focussed on consequence/punishment/containment? Will the army be called in? I wonder if they won't - to enforce the new curfews. Who knows?

Don't get me wrong - I do not think 12 days of violence, several deaths, and the destruction of 1 300 symbols of freedom is particularly acceptable, if acceptable at all. But I do think we need to look at this from a wider perspective. This is not the first period of unrest in France, nor is it isolated. We've seen riots around the world -- and millions of people on the streets protesting - not always peacefully - against such things as Iraq and Vietnam. But let's be honest. What we don't like is that this protest, if you will, is violent in nature. We are frightened. We are suddenly victimized. Suddenly the control we thought we had flies up in smoke. So the first thing any good society does is try to re-establish order. A pre-requisite for further action.

I don't have a solution yet - and frankly, no one has asked. But I've been thinking about the solutions, the appropriate responses. I think de Villepin is right to approach it from two directions (if not more), and I do believe (having aged) that a functioning and healthy society is based on law and order. Our dispossessed have been focussing for a very long time on what they don't want, however, and this has bubbled over into something uncontrollable. I'm wondering how we can spend more time and energy creating what they want. Does anyone know what they/we want? Has anyone really asked the question? Or will we go on making it up?

08 October 2005

Daily Views

This photo was taken in October at the Baie de Citrons, where we often spend our weekends going for long walks. Talk about a simpler life ... gone are the five-story stone apartment buildings of Paris, the Eiffel Tower and the
Louvre's Pyramide. We have seen the return of a far-reaching horizon (where its very sight restores one's belief that anything is possible), blue skies and the effect of light on our lives. Days are warming up (25-30° C) and the bougainvilla is beginning to bloom. Some say it sounds like paradise, and for many it is.

I am surprised to learn, however, that there are some who are unhappy here.

Photo by Sophie-Alix Kilcoyne, 2005.

10 September 2005

Swimming in September

Okay, so I am known by some to never enter a sea or ocean for fear of freezing to death. That is what growing up in Florida does to you. You get used to swimming in "bath water" and it ruins you for life. Well, guess what. I've refound my "bath water", where in a few months, the water will be as warm as the temperature hors de l'eau. Fabulous. I can't wait.

In the meantime, proof here, that in reality I am not the frileuse that everyone thinks I am. This is an attempt, in the month of September, to test the waters. Where? Ile aux Canards ...

Photo by Sophie-Alix Kilcoyne, 2005.

22 August 2005

Who's Taking the Photos?

Most of the photos on this blog are brought to you by the talented, young Sophie-Alix Kilcoyne. A photographer from the age of 3 or 4 ...

Taxi Boat, Anyone?

Speaking of Ile aux Canards (Duck Island), there are a couple of ways you can get to this little ilot: (1) you can swim the 800 metres or (2) you can take a taxi boat.

Photo by Sophie-Alix Kilcoyne, 2005.

So What Does a South Pacific Island Look Like?

We soon found out, our first weekend, walking around. Lodged in a hotel for ten days, waiting for our villa to be liberated (we were very lucky to have our new lodgings already sorted out), we took a little time out on our first weekend in Nouméa to visit the surrounds. Not 10 minutes away was the famous Anse Vata, Nouméa's long white beaches ... and Ile aux Canards ... just across the water ...

Photo by Sophie-Alix Kilcoyne, 2005.

21 August 2005

I Can't Help Feeling ...

... like I've just walked into Rodgers & Hammerstein's 1949 award-winning musical, "South Pacific". Far from the beautiful Mary Martin, I am newly wed "To a Wonderful Guy", who also happens to be a military man. Seduced by the sway of palm trees, turquoise seas and constant blue skies, I am nearly wooed by the abject romance of our surroundings. But something niggles at me ... would it be the underlying tension of race relations? In 2005? On a small French island?

To be continued ...

(And for more on "South Pacific", see:

16 August 2005

The Adventure Begins

We've landed. The realisation of a near-on three-year dream to live on a desert island, here we are: Laurent, Sophie and I a couple of short days after our landing at midnight on 15 August 2005.

Where are we? New Caledonia, a French territory (island) about the size of New Jersey. Pull out a map. Look for Australia. Look east of Brisbane. Yep, that's us. About 10 hours ahead of France, 16 hours ahead of New York and 19 hours ahead of California. Talk about being on the leading edge.

Want to know more about New Caledonia? Check out the very helpful CIA World Factbook page on NC: In any case, you'll be reading all about New Caledonia in the coming months ...