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.

img_0805

Wé marina

img_0893

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.

img_2551

the beach in Wé, capital of the Loyalty islands

img_0812

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.

img_2563

crystal-clear water at Jokin

img_0816

cliffs and pine trees at Jokin

img_0845

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.

img_0830

traditional case

img_0825

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.

img_0876

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.

img_2573

the stunning east coast of Lifou island

img_2579

near Pointe Daussy

img_2628

Plage de Luengoni

img_2644

aka turtle bay

img_2659

such clear water

IMG_2662.jpg

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 🌋

Advertisements

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 🐌

frame-26-09-2016-03-15-24frame-26-09-2016-07-37-09frame-26-09-2016-07-39-56frame-26-09-2016-07-42-50frame-26-09-2016-07-46-13frame-26-09-2016-07-49-50-1

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

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!

img_2081

We approach Nouméa in the early hours 

img_2079img_2082

img_0095

the anchorage

img_0108

Port Moselle

img_0083

Baie des Citrons

img_0094img_0065-1

img_0103

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

img_0075

impressive Kanak totem in the middle of town

img_0111

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

img_0002

map of the different languages of New Caledonia

img_0051-1

typical Kanak house

img_0007

great faces and beautiful carvings in the Museum of New Caledonia

img_0009img_0023img_0024img_0035