Lifou, Îles Loyautés

New Cal continues to amaze us. Arriving on the Loyalty Islands is like entering another world. The archipelago is still part of New Caledonia and halfway en route between Isle des Pins and Vanuatu. We couldn’t just sail past these gorgeous islands steeped in Kanak culture with stunning beaches and turquoise water. After an overnight sail from Isle des Pins we stood off for a few hours and then called up the marina in Wé, on the east coast of Lifou island. There was no space unless we could squeeze in at the end of the pontoon, tying our lines to the rocks on one side and the pontoon on the other side. Fine with us and now we are safely tied up in the most pristine, pretty and petite marina you can imagine. The water is so clear and pure here you wouldn’t hesitate to jump in if you dropped something. It’s shallow (only 2.5 m) with plenty of fish and beautiful corals.

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Wé marina

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Rehua tied onto the rocks

There are a few other ‘around-the-world-sailors’ in the marina (one French, one Dutch boat; it sounds like the start of a good joke) and the atmosphere is relaxed and laid back. In fact, everyone we met on the islands is very relaxed and friendly. The French and the Kanaks seem to get on well here and don’t live such separate lives as they do in Nouméa.

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the beach in Wé, capital of the Loyalty islands

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Wé beach

We hired a car and went for a little tour around the island. First stop: the north and a village called ‘Jokin’ (no, I’m not kidding) with stunning cliffs overlooking a vast bay.

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crystal-clear water at Jokin

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cliffs and pine trees at Jokin

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quick swim

There are traditional case (huts) all over the island and the Kanak culture is present everywhere. Lifou is divided into three districts, each ruled by a chief, and in some places you have to ask permission to go snorkeling, visit a cave or photograph their village.

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traditional case

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the church at Jokin village

After a brief swim in Jokin we drove along the west coast and stopped in the vast Baie du Santal. This is where the cruise-ships sometimes stop and it happened to be one of those days with hundreds of people being dropped off on this little island for just a few hours. The locals put on a show, stalled out souvenirs and coconut drinks and by mid afternoon everyone was gone and peace and quiet returned to the small village.

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Baie du Santal

Next we explored the east coast, south of Wé, which has stunning beaches, lush vegetation and beautiful traditional case dotted all over.

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the stunning east coast of Lifou island

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near Pointe Daussy

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Plage de Luengoni

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aka turtle bay

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such clear water

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mr sandman

 

We find it hard to tear ourselves away from New Cal, it’s one of our favourite stops on our trip but we don’t want to run out of time to visit Vanuatu either. We’ve heard so many good things. So our next stop is Tanna island where we want to visit an active volcano 🌋

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Île des Pins

The isle of pines lies about 30 nautical miles to the east of ‘la grande terre’. It was discovered by James Cook in 1774 but it’s been inhabited for thousands of years, first by Lapita people and then by Melanesians. The tall pines typical for this island, Araucaria cookii, are named after the British navigator. We anchored in the north (Baie des crabes) in one of the most spectacular lagoons ever: crystal clear turquoise water all around us contrasted with green mangrove bush and pine trees. Absolutely stunning above and below the waterline: the snorkeling here easily made it to our top three best snorkeling spots ever. The colours and variety of corals and fishes were breathtaking.

It goes without saying that seafood and fish are here in abundance. However, interestingly the local delicacy is escargots (snails) which I happen to love 🐌

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Baie de Prony

The tranquil bay of Prony is about a half day sail from Nouméa. It is in the far south as they call the southern tip of ‘la grande terre’. We anchored next to a village called Prony which was abandoned in 1911. It was first set up in 1867 to supply timber to Nouméa and later became a convict camp. We landed the dinghy on the red beach (because of the iron in the ground) and went for a walk around the stone ruins dotted around the place and hidden between dense vegetation. Later in the afternoon we weighed anchor and dropped it again a bit further next to îlot Casy, a small island and marine reserve in the middle of this well protected bay. In contrast to the red coloured sand at Prony (which stained our feet and shoes) the sand was white and the setting was stunning and perfect for a quiet and peaceful overnight anchorage: much needed after two hectic days in Nouméa provisioning the boat, sorting out all the formalities before leaving and saying goodbye to our friends. 

leaving Nouméa

entry to the bay of Prony

inside the bay of Prony

rehua back at anchor

old wood transporting tracks

path to the village of Prony

ruins of the store house

cottages abondoned over a 100 years ago

this is where the gun powder was stored

sunrise over ilot Casy

road trip

Rehua safely in the marina, we hired a car and set off on a road trip all around the island. What a stunning country New Caledonia is with such a perfect climate. Our first stop was on the west coast near Poé. We hadn’t booked any accommodation as it was midweek without school holidays so we just chanced it. After seeing a few rough looking gîtes we decided to try the new Sheraton near Bourail and found ourselves a half price deal by booking online whilst in the actual hotel reception (they couldn’t match the offer at the check-in desk). Lovely room, great swimming pool, beautiful grounds, but… a bit boring as there was hardly anyone staying in this huge hotel. We enjoyed our stay and the next morning, as we were ready to check out, were told we couldn’t leave the hotel grounds. Apparently local Kanaks were blockading the gates. The hotel even offered us a free night because it was too dangerous to try to leave. We were very keen to head north however so decided to go and check out what this blockade was all about. And sure enough, there were about 200 people standing at the domain gate with lots of banners protesting against the government that had taking ownership of this Kanak territory and let Sheraton build a hotel. They were friendly enough and we had no problem whatsoever getting through.

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Poé

ready to bomb the jacuzzi at the Sheraton

Poé beach

Kanak protest

We continued north along the west coast and the road soon turned into a small lane. New Caledonia has one of the largest reefs and it produces a bright turquoise colour which, against the green pine trees and bush, creates a striking effect. We spent our second night near Poum, in the far north. The gîte we wanted to stay at was fully booked but we found a small hotel in a tranquil bay and were entertained over dinner by a karaoke machine which was heavily used by the other guests trying to sing classic french songs.

picnic stop

cows and palmtrees…

Poum

pine trees everywhere

the north

From the northern tip we had a great viewpoint over the many little islands scattered in front of us (îles Belep). From there we took the ‘route transversale’ to the east coast. This road took us through the mountains and we saw the landscape change instantly. The climate got fresher and then as we reached the east coast it changed again and the vegetation became lush and tropical.

road to the northern tip of the main island

the northern tip

iles belep

route to the east

reef everywhere

the pine tree

We stopped at the waterfall at Tao and took a hike up as far as we could (and dared). Later in the afternoon a small chain ferry took us across a river and we reached Hienghène where we stopped for two nights.

path to the waterfall

the waterfall at Tao

climb up to the waterfall

Tyrii loves climbing those rocks

chain ferry to cross the river

our turn to get across

Hienghène is a beautiful place, set near the sea, between mountains, crazy rock formations, waterfalls and lots of greenery. In the hotel we met a family from Brussels also doing a trip around the world (but by plane instead of boat) and together we hiked up to the top of the viewpoint.

the viewpoint at Hienghene

Linderalique rocks

at the top of the viewpoint

islands in the distance

sunset

more rocks and great views

the brooding hen

loving those pine trees against the turquoise water

We continued south and took the smaller ‘route transversale’ winding us directly through a working mine with plenty of stunning views and a completely different landscape to admire. 

picnic with a view

trees with flowers

église Thio Mossion

lots of windy roads

view over the mines

can’t get enough of that view…

driving through the nickel mines, the soil is rich in iron and turns red

We stopped in a village in the mountains called Sarraméa and stayed in a gîte, this time in a traditional hut. We were welcomed by Chantal who is one of only three French people in the area and has had some troubles with local youth stealing cars and breaking into her house. It is not easy as there is not much employment and combined with drugs and alcohol creates a tough environment for these youngsters. She is worried about the upcoming referendum for independence in 2018. She fears the French might be kicked out and she will have to leave the country where she has lived for 35 years. Our friends in Nouméa don’t seem so worried about that same referendum. They think it more likely an agreement will be made before it ever comes to that referendum and can’t imagine the Kanaks will want to get rid of the French who provide them with many benefits including healthcare, schools and numerous subsidies. Interesting times for this small part of France so far away from the capital …

traditional hut turned guestroom

quick dip

Chantal’s garden

great colours, flowers everywhere

 

 

 

 

Nouméa, first impressions

After completing all clearing in procedures (Immigration, Biosecurity, Customs) and enjoying a lovely lunch we went back to the anchorage for a much needed full night sleep. The anchorage here in Nouméa is very crowded. In fact, there was no space within the dedicated zones and the marina was full too. So we anchored slightly outside the allowed area and sure enough the next morning the harbour police came to tell us we should move as there was another cruise ship coming in and we might be blocking the entrance. We weighed anchor and went further around to the next bay but same story. Full anchorage. Again we anchored as best as we could, just on the line, and this time the harbour police gave us the thumbs up. Only problem now was that the dinghy ride into town was quite a trek. So we kept asking the marina if they have any space coming up and also asked one of the charter companies who have a private pontoon and luckily on Monday we were invited to come and dock Rehua at the charter company’s pontoon. It turns out that Gilles, who runs the charter business, is a good friend of our buddy boat Taff Tumas (whom we sailed with for six months from Gibraltar to Panama) who are from New Cal. It’s a shame we can’t catch up with them here (they are currently still in French Polynesia) but Sandra has made sure we are made to feel very welcome and sent one of her best friends to meet us on Sunday. We received a lovely welcome bottle of wine and of course lots of local info. As a result we feel completely at home already in Nouméa. I could happily live here if it wasn’t so far away from friends and family in Europe… And the cost of living is expensive. In fact, a couple of years ago there was a general strike that halted the entire country. The protest was against the expensive cost of living and the government promised to put measures in place to make things more affordable. Not sure how they managed. I still hear lots of complaints from locals on how expensive everything is. But then again, it has to be said, you can just about buy anything here. Every type of French cheese and other delicacies, designer clothes, perfumes, electronic, … It’s all here.

The city itself has a very French feel to it, you could imagine being somewhere along the Côte d’Azur, especially when walking along the beachfront in Baie des Citrons, just outside the centre.

Now that we are in the marina we can safely leave the boat for a few days and go explore. We plan to rent a car and head north to see more of this beautiful country. From where we are we can already see the tall mountains that were first discovered by James Cook in 1774. He named it New Caledonia because the northeast of the island reminded him of Scotland. Napoleon III took possession of New Caledonia in 1853 and it became a French penal colony. Nickel (“the green gold”) was discovered here in 1864 and mining began soon after. New Caledonia is much larger than we expected (I guess seeing it on the map next to Australia doesn’t help). The land area is 18,576 km2 (7,172 sq mi) and the total population just under 300,000 consisting of a mix of Kanak people (the original inhabitants), Europeans, Polynesian (mostly Wallisians) and South Asian people.

The climate is a bit cooler than Fiji and very pleasant. The only worrying thing is that there have been a few shark attacks recently so we are not keen to jump in the water here!

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We approach Nouméa in the early hours 

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the anchorage

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Port Moselle

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Baie des Citrons

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American war memorial (50,000 troops were stationed here during WW2)

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impressive Kanak totem in the middle of town

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carved tree, next to the typical pine trees we see everywhere

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map of the different languages of New Caledonia

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typical Kanak house

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great faces and beautiful carvings in the Museum of New Caledonia

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Nouméa 

We arrived in New Caledonia, with trepidation after a boisterous crossing , yes the boat was again placed on Ebay and some profanities were passed between Skipper and his nemesis Neptune, but yesterday afternoon we realised that when the girl is properly balanced and the good Oto stops fighting the cross sea everything is possible, mid teens is hard for kids but when it’s the boat that’s suffering the crisis and 5 days turns into 4, I’ll take the 20% saving and put up with the jarring! 

The crossing from Fiji took us 3 days and 20 hours, navigating the reef system from 0300 to arrival was a piece of rock cake, hard but doable with lights and transits that after Fiji were hard to trust.

Can’t  say it was a comfortable ride but hey, we’re here and after a very easy clearing in process we are now sitting in the Marina Moselle restaurant with a steak tartare (normal steak for the kids) and a glass of red wine in front of us. Santé 🍷

Fiji- New Cal day 3

Date 08-09-16 NZST
Position 21 22S 169 40E
SOG 9+ knts
COG 242T
Wind ESE 20knts T
Sea state 2-3m aft of the beam
Pressure 1020mb

0747hrs The fun and games continue out in the Pacific Agitator, the breeze is great and we are knocking the miles over like skittles but the sea state is just a shocker!(By the way WINDYTY we have 100% cloud cover with wall to wall squalls, just saying, try to lift your game)
We will have posted at least a 220nm day by midday today, as it sits we will be in Port Moselle tomorrow morning 0815, 3 days 20hrs give or take a baguette length, not that we have had a lot of choice, we are surfing whether we like it or not, fortunately, we like!
We are spending most of the day in the cockpit realigning our stomachs after the lurches, crashes and shoulder drops that the old girl is performing to smash her way through this seaway.
Enough whinging, our engine battery issue turned out to be a loose live on the starter motor so no drama there, otherwise the boat is performing to the book. I am curious to dive the hull in New Cal and see if this speed run has stripped the ablative anti-foul back and removed our slime layer.
Had a tete a tete with a 620′ tanker this morning, would have called him on 16 but you try pronouncing “Nganya” three times at 4am! I decided discrection was the better part of valour and laid off 15 degrees to let him through, I’m bloody sure they use us for sport out here;-) Rehua

Fiji- New Cal day 2

Date 07-09-16 NZST
Position 19 57S 172 59E
SOG 9+ knts
COG 242T
Wind ESE 18knts T
Sea state 2m aft of the beam
Pressure 1016mb stable
0657hrs 42 hours in and the sun is just up, a welcoming sight after a particularly black night. We had squalls through the night nothing too major but they drag us south off our rhumb line and steepen the sea state. Top speed last night 14.8knts:-) average for the last 12 hrs around 9.5knts, so we are halfway and at this rate only 48hrs to run into Port Moselle. GRIBS look good all the way in. The two cabin boys are stirring which means feeding time. One of our engine batteries wouldn’t kick start this morning so will have to get onto solving that later. Bilge time with electrickery, you’ve got to love it.
We are reading up on entry into New Cal and it looks like we can stop in any one of five ports of entry as we all hold EU passports, for now at least!!Thank you Nigel and Boris…… Going fishing….
Rehua.

Fiji- New Cal

Date 06-09-16 NZST
Position 18 45S 175 28E
SOG 5+ knts
COG 242T
Wind E 10knts T
Sea state 2m aft of the beam
Pressure 1014mb stable
Exited the reefs via Wilkes passage just off Namotu and almost immediately the wind backed from SW to ESE giving us a great start to the trip max 25knts true which had a bit of seaway with it. Nice run until early this morning when the wind died to 10 knts so we are trundling along bright sunshine, comfortable swell and an easy pace. Life is good……
On Rehua.

Bye Bye Fiji

Fiji has been fun but it’s time to move on again so today we set sail for New Caledonia. It’s around 700 nautical miles to Nouméa where we can clear in, so we should be there by the end of the week. I’m already looking forward to some steak tartare, baguette et fromage… 🌴⛵️🇫🇷🧀