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.