3 ene. 2017

Nouvelle-Calédonie: a unique destination in the Pacific

The waterfront at Anse Vata, Noumea. C'est ne pas Paris!
Despite being officially designated as a special collectivity of France, one never stops getting the feeling that New Caledonia is very much a colony. There seems to be a huge gap between the capital, Noumea, and the more remote communities. But more about this below.

The main island of the archipelago, Grand Terre, is certainly big enough for the visitor to dedicate a few days to the exploration of its numerous coastal attractions and to admire its rugged yet now mostly bare mountains. The reasons for their bareness seem to be principally two: in the 19th century, sandalwood was a much sought-after commodity, and so the native forests were razed quickly. Today gum trees, pine trees and bamboo, among other introduced species, are visible along the roads all over the main island. Reason number 2 is the exploitation of nickel ore, present almost everywhere on the island. Big gashes are visible on mountains, while rivers and creeks carry a great deal of reddish pigments.

Unlike other Pacific Islands where Christian churches have become the foremost socio-political feature (Samoa is one place that comes to mind: only a couple of weeks ago, PM Tuilaepa’s Government tabled a seriously perilous Constitution Amendment Bill whereby Samoa will become an officially Christian State), New Caledonia appears to be rather less pervaded by the type of fundamentalist religiousness that makes easy-going visitors feel a little uncomfortable when not completely alienated. At least in Noumea, there is a generally straightforward and liberal vibe, although alcohol consumption is a clear problem.


Graffiti on a picnic table speaks volumes..


Ybal Khan, 'Determiné'. Words for a struggle.

Moreover, New Caledonians are considered French citizens, and therefore any European Union passport-holders can ingress without a visa. How long will this last? Who knows. Most of the waitpersons I talked to in Noumea were French backpackers who are actively seeking a different future for themselves. But away from the capital, things are very different. The economic gap between wealth and poverty is striking, and makes you wonder...

Because pictures tell a story much better than words, here are a few images, tips and comments for any potential visitor to this unique Pacific enclave.

1. The beaches are wonderful, the waters are clean. There are many options within easy reach from Noumea, and others a few hours away by car.
Plage de Carcasonne (Plum), about one hour away from Noumea

The beach at Poé, about 2 hours north of Noumea on the west coast. Sublime!

The locals in Waho (east coast) were trying to catch their lunch while we watched in the rain.

As if a pristine beach were not enough... Wadiana waterfall and waterhole (Tribu Goro) on the eastern coast, The sea is just metres away.
2. The Aquarium at Anse Vata is a must-see, especially if you're not into diving or snorkelling. Wonderful specimens.



3. Opened in 1998, the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Tina affords a magnificent understanding of the indigenous cultures of New Caledonia, particularly the Kanaks. It's a splendid building set on a narrow peninsula, it was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The collections are really worth the visit.
Centre culturel Tjibaou
Kanak warrior
The traditional planting of taro
A poignant portrait of suffering in the wake of a cyclone
The traditional home of the Kanak
Composition using water bottle tops
4. Apart from the coastal areas, the landscape can be quite spectacular. These two shots are from the Poé Area: tall, majestic araucarias on Baie des tortues (Bay of Turtles) and impressive rock formations at low tide.


5. In Noumea, prices are Parisian, which should not surprise anyone. A no-frills dinner for a family of four will set you back more than €100. An affordable option in Anse Vata is a place called Stone Grill, where you can cook your own fillet of yellow-fin tuna. Fresh, nutritious, unbeatable for taste, and just under €25.


6. Most likely, the best thing about the megacruises that plague Noumea on a daily basis is the fact that they never stay overnight, and make for good sundown photographs with ocean backgrounds. Au revoir! Bon vent!

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