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".

31 December 2006

Maré: The Second Largest Loyalty Island

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

We began our tour of the Loyalty Islands in Maré (pictured above) on 15 December. We stayed three days and nights in a little village called Cengeite (a coastal village in the southwest). The second largest Loyalty Island, Maré is only 42 km (26 miles) long and 16-33 km (10-20 miles) wide.

From the start, we were impressed by Maré's wildness. I love the west of Ireland and Brittany for their unspoiled beauty. And I used to think that Ile des Pins was cut off from the rest of the world. We found Maré to be even more remote.

There are no signs indicating where you are or how to get to various sites. There are few cars, a handful of tiny hole-in-the-wall grocery stores, a few gas stations, a medical centre (but no hospital), a pharmacy, one bank (where the ATM is located inside - and thus only available the few hours the bank is open) and two post offices. There are some 6 900 people of mainly Melanesian heritage (less than 2% of the population is of European ancestry). They make up some 20 tribes who speak one tribal language (Nengone) along with French.

Despite its wildness and its remoteness, we found plenty to do on the island - tales of which are soon to come...

Ororé lu ("See you tomorrow" in Nengone).

29 December 2006

The Loyalty Islands: A Must See

We're back from our 11-day tour of the Loyalty Islands with the best of news. You must absolutely see them. If ever you get the chance to get to New Caledonia, you really must try to see Maré, Lifou and Ouvéa - in addition to Ile des Pins. We spent 3-5 days on each island and I'll spend the next few posts telling you all about our adventures and sharing Laurent's and Sophie's fabulous photos.

As a teaser, Maré is the wildest, most desolate (and thus the most charming) of the three. Ouvéa is truly a paradise (the photo above was taken in Ouvéa). And Lifou is unmatched for its tropical fish and coral. I thought "Grande Terre" (the main island of New Caledonia) was stunning. The Loyalty Islands win, hands down.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

13 December 2006

Gone Snorkellin'

We're off for a tour of the Loyalty Islands, a group of islands 100 km off the eastern coast of New Caledonia. For ten days, we'll be snorkelling in Maré, Ouvéa and Lifou. We'll also be visiting the islands' many caves and water holes, eating fresh seafood and enjoying the silky flour-like sand on Ouvéa's 25 km stretch of beach. Rumoured to be the "island closest to paradise", we'll take plenty of photos of Ouvéa to share with you upon our return. Happy Christmas to one and all!

11 December 2006

Christmas Trees of the South Pacific

Photos by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

These photos were taken just down our street the other day. Such is the weather here in Nouméa in December. And these fabulous red trees are in bloom at this time of year: they are everywhere! I think of them as the Christmas trees of the South Pacific - but they are called "flamboyants". I am yet to find the English-language name. I'd be grateful if anyone knows ...

And while we are at it, we'd like to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! To all our family and friends, to all our faithful readers, may this holiday season be chockful of warmth, laughter, fun and love (lots of it)! Gros bisous - Julie, Laurent, Sophie and Pablo

08 December 2006

Some Good News: Sophie and Pablo

Tired of the cold, the snow or grey, rainy days? Tired of news of coups d'états, French elections, the war in Iraq and the irreversible effects of global warming? Stressed out with Christmas preparations and deadlines, bad health news or too much fatigue at the end of the year? Well, we have some GOOD news: all is well in New Caledonia and our little family on this little island.

Pablo turned eight months old yesterday. He is crawling all over the place and pulling himself up and trying to walk everywhere. He sports four teeth and is eating yummy food. Personal favourites include carrots and rice, pear and yogurt. He loves to move, move, move and climb all over (and undress) Sophie. He also loves to visit the garden with Papa and go for walks to the sea with Mom.

Sophie has finished school for the year, but has a big exam on Monday and Tuesday. It will determine if she gets into high school (of course she will!). She has to score at least 13 points. No problem! She is also going to driving school and has already had a test run. She did great! She will also be going to New Zealand on an exchange programme just after Christmas. She is getting very excited! Shopping, shopping, shopping ...

And what with Christmas on the way, life is really rather happy in our little corner of the world. Here's wishing all of you a huge big helping of happiness and gratefulness for all the good news you have in your lives as well!

06 December 2006

Fiji: Prime Minister Deposed in Military Coup

Fiji's military overthrew the government yesterday following a year-long power struggle between Military Commander Frank Bainimarama and Prime Minister Qarase. Bainimarama had long threatened to topple Prime Minister Qarase's government, which won a second five-year term in May, calling it corrupt and too soft on those behind Fiji's last coup in 2000. Today, the Prime Minister was flown out of the capital to safety.

The fourth coup in 20 years, Fiji is likely to face international sanctions. The United States has also temporarily suspended $2.5 million in aid and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has condemned the takeover.

We've been following all of this news pretty closely for the last week and had been hoping a coup would be avoided. Last night we learned that the coup was underway. Is that why Pablo slept so poorly, I wonder? Alas. Let's hope for a speedy and long-lasting resolution for Fiji.

For more news on this topic, see Google News, which provides the news as it is released from a number of sources.

04 December 2006

Hienghene's Fantastic Rock Formations

One of the highlights of our trip up to Hienghene was the famous rock formations. "Le Poulet" is the most well known. Our guide explained that they are all "calcaire" - which I assume to mean calcium deposits.

Some are the size of people, some the size of houses, some the size of mountains. My favourite is pictured here. Can you tell what it is?

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

01 December 2006

World's Greatest Blog on New Caledonia

If you are interested in New Caledonia in any way, shape or form, I heartily recommend "5 minutes en Nouvelle-Calédonie", a French-language blog that contains the most beautiful photos of our fair island, videos, podcasts, free screensavers (as pictured above) and electronic postcards. The blog aims to give you a daily five-minute dose of life in New Caledonia - from the sun, the bright skies, the amazing blues to the breathtaking views. For my French readers, this will be a haven for you. For my English readers, do go take a look at all the photos and videos and postcards. Truly wonderful stuff! Bravo to the team behind "5 Minutes in New Caledonia".

29 November 2006

Care for a Swim, Dear?

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

Meet one of our newfound friends, at the Club Med in Hienghene. Imagine our surprise (and enchantment) when two deer wandered up and sat down beside us at the pool our first afternoon in Hienghene. Much better than a "spider who sat down beside her" of Little Miss Muffet fame!

In early November, readers might remember that we drove up north to Hienghene, an absolutely stunning site on the sea, best known for its enormous rock (calcium) formations (such as "Le Poulet" or "The Chicken") and its "Club Med". We stayed at the Club Med for a night or so to see what it was like.

Originally, we were to stay in a traditional Kanak "case" (or hut) at the "Club Med". But upon discovering mice droppings on two of the beds, we lucked into a bungalow that was both clean and cool (yes, it is hot here in November) - and had the added advantage of having a bathroom and shower included. Though we thoroughly enjoyed our stay, we weren't convinced that this was a real Club Med ... apart from the deer!

27 November 2006

Delays at Goro and Aquaculture Increasingly Important for New Caledonia

I read two wholly unconnected articles recently and wondered about a possible link between the two.

The first concerned the new delays and increased costs for the nickel mine that is being built in southern New Caledonia. Inco, the company behind Goro Nickel, has a new head. At a press conference in Rio de Janeiro (yes Brazil took control of the Canadian company and its Goro project last month), it was announced that the mine would not start producing nickel until the end of 2008 and that costs will rise to US$3 billion. See Costs at Inco's Goro nickel project soar.

The second article concerned the importance of aquaculture in the Pacific region in coming years. Dr. Tim Adams, who heads the Secretariat for the Pacific Community's Marine Resources Division, told Pacific government representatives at a recent meeting of SPC's governing body that aquaculture "will become increasingly important for exports and food security. As wild stocks come under increasingly rigorous management (...) the economic balance will tip further in favor of aquaculture." See Aquaculture increasingly vital for Pacific.

Now, the Goro Nickel mine is purported to present a tremendous threat to marine biodiversity. In addition, I'd read that there were plans for the development of large-scale industrial coastal shrimp aquaculture operations in the area.

Will Goro Nickel really be for the good of New Caledonia and the Pacific region, I wonder?

(And a thank you to Dr. Adams for his recent post on this blog.)

20 November 2006

Lucie's Dashing Coffee-Drinking Soldier Man

Since my post about The Quietly Remarkable Mlle Lucie Agez, I have received both proof that her young American soldier man was a coffee lover and indeed, dashing (as pictured above). I've also learned that there were other young New Caledonian women who left New Caledonia to follow their American soldiers. One wonders how many. One wonders how many Americans have New Caledonian ancestry. One wonders how many Americans are proud of such ancestry ... in any case, many thanks to Lucie for showing young women the way of courage, strength and independence - 60 years before the world's borders opened and international travel became something of a regular occurrence.

17 November 2006

100th Post and a 40th Birthday

Here we are, 100 posts later. I started this blog upon landing here in August 2005 with the aim of sharing some of our adventures in New Caledonia - with friends and strangers both. I had had a devil of a time explaining where New Caledonia was when we learned we would be moving here. Most people thought it was in Canada. Others' eyes simply glazed over. Some asked if we had running water, electricity, hospitals and grocery stores. I hope this blog has answered some of those questions - and will continue to answer more!

I've reached my 100th post on 17 November, which is also my 40th birthday. What a thrill! I've had the most magnificent 40th birthday a person could have! On a tropical island with a wonderful husband, an amazing daughter and a hilarious son. My husband took me to Ilôt Maitre, a tiny island 25 minutes away from Nouméa by boat, for an exquisite lunch and a leisurely afternoon. Afterwards, we went to dinner (Japanese) with Sophie. It was wonderful to be out to dinner - just the three of us (Pablo stayed at home with his "Tata Gali" and slept through the whole outing). I received the most beautiful bouquet of tropical flowers from Laurent, good news about my friend Ben, a million and one wonderful birthday greetings from friends and family in France and the United States, and the most wonderful posts and e-mails about Lucie and her family.

Thanks so much to everyone - for all your wonderful words and your encouragement for my work on this blog.

16 November 2006

The Quietly Remarkable Mlle Lucie Agez

I have been very moved by a story that has been revealed to me over the course of this last week. It is not my story, but the story of a Ms. Lucie Agez, who is 83 years old. The story was told to me by her daughters - marvelous women I have never met - through e-mails and photos.

Lucie Agez was born on the southeast coast of New Caledonia, in Canala, in 1924. She was born to Caldoche parents - of German and French descent. Her childhood was idyllic until her father died when she was 12. Sadly, she and her older brother, Paul, were placed in an orphanage following her father's passing. But loss at such a tender age seems to have infused Lucie with tremendous strength and courage, which later helped her face life's later challenges.

Fast forward to World War II. In 1945, Lucie was 21 and worked at a local restaurant called the "Tradewinds". (You may recall that the Americans occupied New Caledonia during World War II - to prevent Australia from being attacked by the Japanese.) Turns out, Lucie was living with a cousin who had taken her in once she turned of age. Just across from her cousin's place there was a military radio station being guarded by a handsome young military policeman named Clarence Mickelson (aka "Mike"). Mike was also a talented mason. On his time off, he built a wall under the house Lucie and her cousin were living in. He also frequented the "Tradewinds" where he downed many a cup of java, his favourite beverage, and came to know dear Lucie.

When the war ended, the American soldiers returned home. Lucie's dashing young man, Mike, was one of them. What was to happen to our fledgling young couple?

Yes, Mike sent for Lucie. Upon arriving in the American midwest, Lucie's coffee-drinking military policeman drove across the United States to San Francisco. He wired Lucie to come.

Lucie, whose English was as fledgling as her new love, who had never left New Caledonia (a tiny unknown French-speaking island in the South Pacific), who had no promises before her beyond those proffered her by her coffee-drinking American soldier man, packed up what little she had, bought a ticket for $300-$400, boarded a cargo ship for Norway (the "Thor I"), travelled three weeks by sea and disembarked in an entirely foreign land. Folly, you say? Uncontestable courage, I say. Lucie left everything she knew behind (including a brother and cousin she loved dearly) - in 1946 as a single woman - to commence an unsure adventure where snow was exotic and unknown to her, midwestern Americans at times a little less than welcoming, and French bread, sunny skies and island life forever lost to her. (Lucie was to visit her native land nearly 30 years later when her husband died.)

Lucie and Mike went on to have four daughters and one son. She learned English and adopted American customs and traditions as her own. I believe she kept the story of her native land quietly to herself as she acclimated to the American midwest. I am certain her many grandchildren and great-grandchildren are extremely proud of her courage, heritage and strength. Lucie is truly une femme extraordinaire !

(Many thanks to Lucie and her family for giving me permission to share her story.)

15 November 2006

Walks Along Anse Vata

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

Anse Vata is one of the long stretches of beach in Nouméa. Many of you may recall my mention of it before. There are basically three beaches in Nouméa: Anse Vata (windy!), Baie des Citrons (crowded!) and Kuendu Beach (isolated!). My favourite is Anse Vata (pictured above), largely because I have spent many a good moment there with my good friend, Caitlin. Shortly after our sons were born, we took to walking the Anse Vata three times a week. The view was out of this world, the wind whisked away our "Am I doing this right?" new mommy concerns, and a fast and furious friendship was formed. In August, Caitlin moved to La Réunion, another beautiful French island. Pablo and I still walk the Anse Vata, though not as frequently. Today we will go to say Happy Birthday to Caitlin. If only she were here so we could celebrate it together ... on the Anse Vata!

14 November 2006

Roadside Stalls in Northern New Caledonia

Roadside stalls are scattered along the drive through Northern New Caledonia. You will find fresh fruit and vegetables as well as plants, flowers and shells at these little stalls, depending on what the owner has available. The idea is self-serve. The prices are posted and a little box is available for leaving your money. As dwellings (not to mention stores!) are few and far between on the mountain roads,we found this a fabulous idea. I did read that the stalls are probably watched from the bushes ...

12 November 2006

Long Drive Up to Hienghene

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

Hienghene is located up on the northeast side of New Caledonia. We were told it would take approximately 5.5 hours to drive the 400 kms or so, so off we went at 7.30 early one Saturday morning. As we had yet to visit the north, we were all rather excited. I had been hesitant until now as I had had "not good roads through mountains" experiences here in New Caledonia and did not fancy a long car ride in such conditions, pregnant or with a baby. However, we were pleasantly surprised! The roads were fine all the way up to Koné and then only an hour through mountains (and then another hour along the coast to Hienghene). My goodness, though! What a view through the mountains. Green, green everywhere. Plunging cliffs and river streams. It reminded me of photos I had seen of the Amazon. Why had we waited so long to see such beauty? Well ... the drive ended up taking 7 hours! And when we returned the following Monday, the drive took 8 hours (with a few breaks). Egads. We've decided we'll fly the next time!

09 November 2006

What Culinary Delights Follow Shark?

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

Some of you may recall mention of our tasting shark unbeknownst to us whilst on this fair island. By us, I mean Sophie. And the guilty party was Laurent. A few weekends ago, we ventured a bit further. While on Ile des Pins, we decided to partake of the lovely dish buried in the ground above: bougna. Bougna is one of the Kanaks' traditional feast dishes. It generally contains taro, yam, sweet potato, banana and either pieces of chicken, fish, crab or lobster. All of this is wrapped in banana leaves and buried to cook in the ground under hot coals. Above, our Kanak friends are uncovering the meal we later ate, below.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

05 November 2006

Palm-Pruning Time in Nouméa

Every year at this time of year, workers from the local gardening company stop by. Not unlike the chimney sweeps in Paris, they offer a regular and much-needed service. Only rather than descending chimneys, they climb coconut palms. Right, a photo of one such fellow just in front of our terrace. He climbed the palm with the help of a ladder (I've seen them shimmy up without a ladder, but this one was a tricky one), pulled a machete out of his pocket and started hacking away. Down went the browning palm fronds and all of the coconuts. Why in heaven's name, you ask. Because during the hurricane season, the last thing you want is speeding wayward coconuts.

Photo by Julie Harris, 2006.

02 November 2006

Earth from Above by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Yann Arthus-Bertrand, an internationally renowned French photographer, was in Nouméa last week for the opening of his "Earth from Above" (or "La Terre vue du Ciel") exhibition on the Place des Cocotiers. Since the beginning of the "Earth from Above" aerial photography project, over 500 000 photos have been taken in some 100 countries.

Some of you may be familiar with the image used for the Nouméa exhibition - and for the cover of the exhibition's collection of photographs. It shows a heart on the earth. This photo was taken in New Caledonia.

You may have seen Yann's aerial photography before - if not, take a look at his comprehensive site at Available in English, French and Spanish, the site contains links to his photos, information about his work and his commitment to raising awareness about sustainable development and our changing planet, e-cards, free wallpaper and news about upcoming exhibitions. (His "Earth from Above" exhibit is also currently on in Melbourne and the Netherlands; it just finished in Plymouth and Prague.)

Many of us were very happy to have Yann visit Nouméa. Laurent and I went to his book signing and later took in the exhibition. Sophie later said that one day she hopes to have enough money to be able to buy one of his original photographs. Me, too!

30 October 2006

Ile des Pins - The Return

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

We couldn't help ourselves. Our good friend Sheila flew all the way from Paris via Los Angeles to see us about 10 days ago. Sheila loves blue. And the best blues in this part of the world are found on Ile des Pins (Isle of Pines). We vacationed on Ile des Pins last Christmas and loved it. So we decided that Sheila couldn't come all this way (it can take anywhere from 24-36 hours to get here from Europe) without seeing Ile des Pins. The island was in full colour again this visit. Sheila's favourite day was the day we took the pirogue (and outboard rigger - pictured above) and sailed up the Baie d'Upi. We had lunch at the Meridien and then off we went to the piscine naturelle (natural spring pool) to snorkel. What exquisite fish! It was once again a heavenly day in New Caledonia!

26 October 2006

All is Well: Hurricane Xavier Left without a Trace

Hurricane Xavier decided to give New Caledonia a miss - so we are all in the clear. The "pre-alert" has been lifted. We can officially return to the beaches and let our pets and small children roam the garden. Suffice it to say, I played it safe and bought extra water, batteries and diapers yesterday - much to the amusement of Sophie (who clearly remembers my Y2K panic; yes, I am embarrassing) and Laurent (who thinks I'm funny any way you look at me).

25 October 2006

State of Pre-Alert: Hurricane Xavier in the Area

It was announced yesterday that New Caledonia is on "pre-alert" status. Hurricane Xavier is in the area. We have been told to bring in all things that can up and fly away (including pets), batten down those things close to the sea (including cars and boats), and to listen attentively to the news. At 17.00 today we will know what Xavier has done to Vanuatu and whether or not the pre-alert will be over or will increase to Alert Level 1. Apart from it being windier, grayer and mistier than usual, all appears well. For more information (in French) on Xavier's status, see the French weather site. You can also click on the photo above to get a closer look at Xavier's trajectory as of 6.00 this morning.

24 October 2006

Sixteen Going on Seventeen

Photo by Laurent Guaider, 2006.

Sophie turned 16 today - I stand amazed and humbled. For those of you who don't know Sophie, let me tell you a little about her. Sophie made her appearance in the world after 24 hours of trying to squeak through, in the home of Anne Bercot in Issy-les-Moulineaux, France. An extremely easy and happy baby, Sophie was a delight - and we called her Sophie-Soleil. She cried only when things got too quiet: she loved being in the middle of things. She quickly displayed untold social skills and within a couple of years had a social calendar that put Paris Hilton's to shame. Not only did she intuitively understand people (and uncannily read their minds), but she was a solace to them. From her godmother ("Let's talk about each other," she said one day at a table when they had a moment to themselves) to her class teacher ("Don't worry - it's all going to be okay", she encouraged shortly before a classmate tumbled down a cliff) to me ("Paul's okay" she offered up when she could see me worrying about a far away friend), Sophie was both a tiny tower of strength and a quiet source of inspiration. In school, she became the class centre. Her class teacher once explained that she wielded the greatest influence in the class: if he wanted to get the class to do something, he knew he had to convince Sophie first. But Sophie didn't tell others what to do - they just naturally followed her. Today, Sophie is surrounded by friends in Nouméa and continues to show many talents, from drumming to dancing, from blogging to physics, from fitting in to standing out. Who knows where she will go next. I have a feeling she can go anywhere!

Happy Birthday, Sophie!!!

17 October 2006

Life is Just a Hoot in New Caledonia!

Photo by Sophie-Alix Kilcoyne, 2006.

At least, that is what we think! Pablo, above, officially turned six months old a week or so ago and reports that life in New Caledonia just couldn't be better. Sunny skies, cool breezes, fun-filled days. Rice cereal, apple, pear. What more could a little boy want?

Sophie, likewise, is excelling in school - she just took her brevet blanc and got a 33.5 out of 40 in History/Geography! Well on her way to scholastic success, I wonder how she does it - what with juggling friends, babysitting, drum lessons and super long days at school. I stand in amazement.

Life in New Caledonia truly is good.

16 October 2006

Le Nouméa

Nouméa has an interesting free magazine that features changes and developments in the city. Le Nouméa's coverage (in French) is both excellent and engaging. Rather than just touch on some of the projects underway in the city, it goes into them in depth. Did you know, for example, that the city cares for 15 000 trees -- 5 000 of which are palm/coconut trees and 1 200 columnar pines and kaori trees?

I discovered the magazine recently as the city is offering the opportunity to win air tickets to Nice, the Gold Coast (Australia) and Taupo (New Zealand), Nouméa's sister cities. To be eligible to win, you have to peruse the magazine to find answers to 10 questions. Hmmm ... read a magazine, win a trip? Why not?

15 October 2006

The Beauty of Blogging

The beauty of blogging is in the people you meet. Some weeks ago Jo (above - who I'd never met before) submitted a comment on this blog with a few questions about our weather and such. She was planning a trip to New Caledonia with her husband, Séan, and was wondering if it ever gets chilly here (among other things). I responded and targeted some posts her way in the hopes of being able to help her out. Jo and Séan live in Dunedin in New Zealand - Jo works for the Dunedin Public Library as a Bookbus librarian and Séan is a museum curator at a social history museum, the Otago Settlers Museum. I was only too happy to meet up with them after they had been on the island a few days to show them some of the lesser seen sights (and help them find one of our only good bakeries). A few days later they came for lunch and we enjoyed a good laugh over a bottle of Sauterne and grilled tuna. Laurent and Sophie were happy to have them 'round for lunch as we learned that Séan is also a writer, Jo has run three women's triathlons and between them, they are a hoot!

13 October 2006

Gone Fishin'

Almost everyone in Nouméa seems to own a boat - big boats, little boats, fishing boats, catamarans, speed boats. You name it, it's here. I'd read that Nouméa has among the highest numbers of boats per capita in the world. From all the different marinas we have here, I wouldn't say that estimation is too far off. All of our friends have boats, for example (not that we have that many friends). And they often go fishing. Which means the occasional fresh fish for us - how wonderful. Above, our friends the Apochers. And a pretty big fish ...

10 October 2006

Sentenced to New Caledonia

Back in 1864, 248 murderers, rapists and thieves were sentenced to hard labour in New Caledonia. Their mission? To build a penal colony that would later house thousands of hard, petty and political criminals. Of the many criminals that landed on the island, only one escaped the 4-kilo chains, the handcuffs, the days literally levelling low-lying hills and building some of Nouméa's most important public buildings (e.g. its cathedral, hospital, military barracks). His name was Rochefort, a French journalist ousted from Paris by the Prussians for his political views. The rest of the prisoners, upon completion of their long sentences (to build Nouméa) were allowed to return to France (if they could afford the ticket). Those who could not afford to pay the return journey were forced to settle in New Caledonia and cultivate the land.

A subject of great taboo

75% of today's European population in New Caledonia (the Caldoches) are descendants of these prisoners. The penal colony was a subject never broached. It was almost completed razed in 1933 and was not opened or visited until 1994. A great divide had grown up between the descendants of the original prisoners and the 25% Europeans who had come to New Caledonia as free citizens. Inter-marriage was formally forbidden and many a bloody fight flew up in the face of the past. "My grandfather was not a straw-hat!" would come the calls of new generations defending their roots. (Straw hats was the term used for prisoners as this is what they wore to work under the heat of the sun.)

Today, one can visit what remains of the penal colony with the help of a guide. Asked who comes to visit the prison and museum, the answer is Japanese tourists or people who've come for a short stay (teachers, military, administrators). The Caledonians? Very few.

06 October 2006

Our Little Corner of the World

We live on this little hill right in front of you (yes, sometimes I feel like an ant). At the top of the hill you will see a helicopter landing pad (yes, we hear them from time to time) and to the right a little marina (click on the photo for a close-up). This is the marina we look out on - and the city we look back on. One of the things I used to miss in Paris was the horizon - buildings were everywhere! We have the opposite now in our little corner of the world. The dominant colour, rather than the off-white or grey of Paris buildings, is blue. Blue skies, blue sea. And green. Turquoise waters and green palm trees, pines and banana plants. Ah, the difference a year makes!

05 October 2006

Origins of the Name Nouméa

I learned the other day that Nouméa, New Caledonia's capital, means Sardine Island in one of the 32 Kanak dialects. Méa means island and Nou is sardine. At first one might scratch one's head ("Confusion is always the most honest response." - Marty Indik), but from above perhaps our little island does resemble a sardine.

03 October 2006

Paradise Is for the Birds

Spring has sprung in New Caledonia and my oh my is it something. The birds are back, for one. We have lovely, loud parakeet - type birds that are red and blue and green and travel in pairs. When swarms of them get together in one of the trees on the Baie des Citrons, foot traffic stops in its tracks as everyone stands looking and listening. You can see a picture of these birds here. Above, a photo of one of our many other birds, these found in our local wildlife park, the Parc Forestier. New Caledonia has a fair few endemic bird species - all of them beautiful. For a list, see wikipedia's entry on the topic. Now wouldn't you say New Caledonia (a.k.a. Paradise) is for the birds?

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2005.

29 September 2006

Strikes in Nouméa

We learned last Friday that a major strike was planned for Nouméa and that it would severely affect our gas and food supplies. People flocked to the pumps and to the few stores we have on the island. By Tuesday, pumps had "empty" signs taped across them and people were being turned away at the bakeries. One baguette per family - where bread was available.

It must be said that there is a fair amount of striking on the island, and we have grown somewhat used to it. Coming from Paris and its infamous transportation strikes, we thought, how could things be worse? They can. Take away our gas and our French bread and you have a nation on its knees. Sounds silly, but it is true.

That being said, an official order was issued and the gas blockage was lifted yesterday. Apparently the planes were running out of fuel and that could just not go on. I went to the bakery today and baguettes were to be had.

But the union leaders have said they will not give up: they will only get more powerful. What is the issue? There are several.
  • One is the hiring of the Filipino workers on the new nickel mine in the south. They want the Filipinos to go home - and they want the jobs to be given to the Kanaks. I've been told that to hire the Kanaks, management would need to train them for three years - for a job that will take six months. Apparently the Filipinos have the neccessary skills and are in place. But it seems grossly unfair to "outsource" the labour under the noses of a population that wants to, and is eager, to work. And a population who owns the land, and thus the nickel.
  • One is the exorbitant prices here. Yesterday 500 people marched on the capital (down the road from us) to protest the costs of basic things, like food, electricity, etc. The prices are exorbitant here - I often say they are 2.5 times the prices in Paris (and Paris is not cheap). For a 3/4-member family, we spend about €210 a week on groceries. Electricity is: €100 a month. Internet is: €125 a month. If we order anything on line (barring books) worth over €25 (including shipping), we pay heavy importation taxes: anywhere from 40% to 60%. But the Kanaks are just trying to get by. They don't have Internet or online options. They are just trying to buy food.
  • One is the lack of proportional taxation for the rich. The island is purported to be controlled by 10 families who hold all of the money and control all of the importation (not to mention, as I heard recently, the banks). The strikers would like to see these high earners taxed.
Will they be successful? The government says no. Will we continue to receive gas, flour and goods from abroad? Who knows? An affair to watch ...

For more on the current state of our affairs (in English), you can see and

25 September 2006

Travel is Good for Everyone

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

We recently spent a week in Australia and I have to say, it was a boon! Five-month-old Pablo took his first aeroplane ride and two and a half hours later he was in a whole new country. He loved it! We totally broke with his usual schedule of playtime, nap, walk along the sea, lunch, nap, playtime, massage, walk, bath, bedtime. He found himself up and out in a major city (Sydney and then Melbourne and then Sydney again) visiting sharks and seals in the Sydney Aquarium, shopping with Big Sister Sophie, off to see Little Penguins (in the wild) in Phillip Island, visiting with koalas and wallabies at the Taronga Zoo and listening to the story of the 14-year trek towards the completion of the Sydney Opera House. The proud owner of half a dozen new baby books in English, a passport with Australian stamps and baby clothes for six months from now, Pablo is totally outfitted for his next big trip ... to the Loyalty Islands in December.

22 September 2006

How Quickly Views Change

A storm blew in on Monday while I was on the phone with Paris. Luckily Sophie was around to document it from our balcony. I watched in amazement as it flew out as quickly as it blew in. One would have thought it was the apocalypse, but no, just a quick reminder that even chaos can be beautiful.

Speaking of beautiful, happy birthday, Stevie!!

Photo by Sophie-Alix Kilcoyne, 2006.

20 September 2006

We've Got the Blues

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

Last week we left New Caledonia for a short jaunt two and a half hours away to big, strapping Australia (more on this to follow). One of the best things about leaving our little island was, believe it or not, coming back. We got to see what we look like for the first time. (When we landed here just over a year ago, it was 22.30 and very, very dark.) Above, a shot of our island and her blues. Actually, this is one wee part of her - not the whole island! Click on the photo to get a better view ...

I couldn't help thinking, seeing this, what person would not love this, not want to see this or visit this? What kind of person would say no? And for all of you out there who have not yet been to New Caledonia, what's keeping you? :)

18 September 2006

Whalewatching in New Caledonia

In early September we went on a real South Pacific adventure - whalewatching in the Baie de Prony. The whalewatching season here spans two months, from mid-July to mid-September when the whales come down to warmer waters to mate, give birth and/or feed their young. It takes them three months to get here, in which time they lose 10 tonnes. But it seems well worth the trip as they return every year and are protected in the Baie de Prony's nature reserve. We were lucky enough to see several of them - the humpbacks - as they played and a mother sought a secluded place to nurse her newborn. Our catamaran tossed and turned with the waves, and we eventually left them in peace (thank goodness - as I was as sick as sick can be!). But as we left to tour the bay, our skipper told us that three males had recently come closer into the bay. What with the building of a nickel mine and the hammering under the sea on the bay, the whales have been responding to what sounds like their calls and are venturing closer and closer. One wonders what the final effect the mine will have on the whales and their adoptive habitat.

03 September 2006

Weather in Nouméa: Sun, Sun, Sun!

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

When we moved to New Caledonia over a year ago, I could not believe our luck. Every morning, we woke up to sun and blue skies. I went swimming in September. Never was there a grey day. Here it is a year later, and we have gone from beautiful weather to even more beautiful weather (guidebooks say the best time to visit New Caledonia is September through November, but December was heavenly as well). In February and March it grew very hot (around 38°), rainy in April and May, cooler in June and July, a sunny August and now we are moving back into September. It will start getting warmer and warmer now and we will not see much rain. Like I said, I could not - and cannot - believe our luck!

As for sun, we basically have 12 hours of it a day. The sun rises around 6 and sets around 6. For an interesting graphic on our amount of daylight, see You'll note that there isn't much variance: constant sunshine is the name of the day.

30 August 2006

Nouméa's Opening Hours

Sitting waiting for a pharmacy to open the other day, we were amazed when we looked at the opening hours:


Who in heaven's name gets up and goes to a pharmacy at 7.30 in the morning? Well, Nouméa does. I've mentioned before that the island folk rise and set with the sun. We do. This morning I received a phone call at 7.45. The sun had been up since 6.00 or so, so no problem. (I have to say, though, that it has been hard getting used to early morning phone calls and visits!)

All this being said, I was a bit perplexed earlier this week with regard to how people get things done in this country. Case in point: we had to purchase a "vignette" (sticker) for our car. People do this every year. You buy it at the post office. It is on sale Monday through Friday from 7.45 to 14.00. So I went after lunch, thinking things would be calmer then. How long do you think I waited in line, in tiny little old Nouméa (population: 91 386)? 40 minutes! So how does a working person buy a vignette here? You know, a person with an office job? You can imagine what it must be like at lunchtime when the demand is highest and the postal workers go to lunch leaving only one window open. I have to say, I stood there scratching my head in wonderment. It wasn't the first time. Nor will it be the last.

24 August 2006

Cowboys à la Française (or Nouvelle Calédonienne)

We recently spent a day at New Caledonia's largest "foire" (fair): the "Foire du Bourail", about 2 hours north of Nouméa. It was a four-day extravaganza of cowboys, rodeos, Tahitian dancers, cows, pigs, fresh oranges, local art, leather goods and cowboy hats. Who knew that in addition to being the home of thousands of Melanesians, New Caledonia also has its very own cowboys (cowpeople?)? I was stunned - and amused. I am so used to the American cowboy (e.g. George W) that I found the French version intriguing.

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

22 August 2006

The Crazy Things They Do in Water

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

I was horrified to see scores of military boys plunging into the sea, fully clothed and equipped for battle, just outside my window recently. We live in a relatively peaceful place in the middle of the South Pacific for heaven's sake! Why on earth are we being invaded? Laurent laughed a belly laugh (unheard of in the French) and his "Silly Julie" look flashed across his face. "They are just training," he explained. "They are required to do that every day for two weeks. They are on a 'stage'. They have a 'parcours' they have to climb, jump off from, swim to and back from. They have to carry heavy logs and hit each other." What in the world for, I ask. "Just in case," he explained. In case, what, I ask. "You never know," he said. Know what, I ask. No answer. Do people ever die doing these exercises, for it certainly looks dangerous, I ask. "They sure do. All the time," Laurent smiled.

New Caledonia in BBC News

For a recently updated overview of New Caledonia, its history and its politics, see the BBC's Regions and territories: New Caledonia page. Though they mention our nickel and the wealth on the island, what they fail to mention is that the building of a second nickel mine in the south is highly controversial (and is being blocked by the locals) and that the money on the island is in the hands of the Caldoches (two major families) and the Metros. (See A Country Thrice Divided for a short description of the difference between the populations.) The Kanaks live as they can, however, many of them in squats.

20 August 2006

View from a South Pacific Island

It's been a year since we landed in New Caledonia and I swear it only gets better and better. We recently moved into a bigger villa (babies - and their equipment - require more living space, even in the South Pacific) and boy oh boy did we hit the jackpot! Here is a view from our balcony (and our living/dining area). Boats, blue skies and turquoise waters. Palm trees and hills. I literally stop what I am doing several times a day and just stare at the view. Talk about a great office view. Working at home - and taking care of a baby - has never been so good!

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

02 August 2006

Everything Grows Faster in New Caledonia

Photo by Laurent Guiader, 2006.

Voilà Pablo at almost four months. Far, it seems to us, from the baby he was all those weeks ago. But we should not be surprised. Everything grows faster here, or so they say. We can attest to the fact - our hair and nails both need to be cut more frequently. We've never seen anything like it. I was told by a beautician who was told by a doctor that everything grows faster here because we are closer to the sun ... who knows? In any case, here sits Pablo a mere four months later. Would you believe his first two teeth are already coming through? Oh la la!

24 July 2006

Granny on the Road

A rather magical friend arrived in Nouméa on 11 July 2006. Her name is Anne Bercot. If you don't know Anne, you'll be fascinated by her. If you do know Anne, you'll be excited to learn that she has just begun another rather impressive project ...

Anne has begun a new life at the age of 63. She has just started a SEVEN-YEAR TOUR of the WORLD and we are lucky enough to have her start with us. Anne is planning to travel the world on her own, hopping from here to Fiji, Vanautu, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and then off to South America, the United States (by cargo boat, plane, foot, thumb, whatever!), and who knows where else. She has already stayed with two tribes here in New Caledonia, has learned more about the native culture than we have, has hitchhiked down the island, slept in a "case" (hut) on the sea, dined with a local TV presenter and has a list of New Caledonian contacts a mile long!

If you want to know more, see Anne's blog (which she is maintaining in English and French). You will learn more about her reasons for her seven-year journey, why she has started here, what she is experiencing, and where she is going next. I highly recommend