18th May to 7th June
Windy wet blustery evening in Noumea, New Caledonia’s capital, so a quick update before going west in a day or two….
A few things you might not know about New Caledonia:-
It’s French, though not EU – a bit like Channel Isles to UK in that respect, though not in any other way. So, there’re Champion and Carrefour supermarkets with camembert from Normandy, wine from Bordeaux, and original recipe baguettes and all the other stuff – at a price. There’s to be a referendum on the question of independence, later this year. (Polls show they’ll want to stay French).
It’s one of the wealthiest places in South Pacific, GDP per capita higher than New Zealand. Nickel does it. It has the world’s largest nickel deposits, and is the fourth largest exporter of nickel and derivatives. But the soils are poor so local food limited.
The main island, Grande Terre, is the fourth largest Pacific Island (after New Guinea and NZ N. and S. Islands). I believe there are about 250,000 people here, a majority in Noumea. There’s a historic mix of Kanak, European, Indonesian, Vanuatu, Vietnamese and Polynesian people – it’s wonderful to have such a colourful mix.
I suggested to the bright, businesslike and delightful Chloe, part French part Vanuatu, who was helping with some finickety Indonesian visa woes, that the capital, Noumea, felt a bit like the French Riviera; quickly she replied “Oh no! The people! The people here are nice.” She has a point; here they are delightful, helpful and more (though personally I found the same in southern France).
The reef surrounding main island, Grande Terre, is world’s biggest after Australia’s Great Barrier reef, and it’s being better protected here.
Incidentally, such is the extent of France’s tropical empire in the Pacific and Indian Oceans that France has the fourth most coral reef in the world (after Australia, Indonesia and Philippines).
And apparently it has the world’s highest per capita ownership of sailing boats. Marinas and anchorages around Noumea are all chockablock.
So there you are, some interesting facts that you may not find as interesting as me.
I hadn’t planned to stop here at all but it has an Indonesian Consulate (which Vanuatu does not).
After lots of form-filling, official stamping and signing, and an element of stubborness on my part, I now have an Indonesian Visa (You need rather more than the standard tourist visa to go sailing there). The utterly delightful receptionist, Farida, in the consulate, was a model of goodwill in a bureaucratic system of advanced obstacle development. Perhaps her background helped: she’s Indonesian born in Noumea, family in Jakarta, Yogya and elsewhere, she’d had two years as an au pair in Hastings (it’s a little town in southeast England) too – trains you for anything I imagine.
I’ve been a dutiful tourist and been well-impressed by Maritime Museum, City Museum and Aquarium – head swimming with facts, figures and images. The Ocean Cruising Club representative, David, has been a model of good-will and assistance, and wondrous source of local sailing knowledge, easing my way into the attractions of the city and islands.
And I’ve had some glorious sailing and snorkeling around the reef-strewn anchorages within 80 miles of the capital (Ilots galore, and around Ile des Pines with its other-worldly pine trees – both phallic and, en masse, somehow reminiscent of upstanding meerkats).
Plus I’ve maintained Henrietta of course, and managed more hull scraping of barnacles that have freeloaded from New Zealand.
Now it’s time to go to Australia, about 1,300 miles WNW according to my App, with Chesterfield Reef a possible stop on the way. Just need to deal with clearing out and wait for better weather…….oh and a fresh baguette…