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".

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.