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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 …