Sunday, 11 September 2011

Leaving le Caillou and a ride in a helicopter

It's 7am on a chilly Wellington morning.  It's great to be home but I also miss the warmth of Noumea (and all our friends!).  We'd love to go down to the beach for a quick swim right now!

Our last week in Noumea was a blast.  A party the night before we moved out of our house, I jumped off a rather large hill and we all went for a heli ride.

Jumping off Ouen Toro was awesome.  A friend and I had been walking past the parapenters for  a long time and had even taken the number of a guy about year prior to our jump.  We'd said we were going to do it and the week before we left Cin organised our jump.  

The views from Ouen Toro are stunning.  After a bit of a hairy start - Cin was seriously running across the tree tops to get going - the rides were gorgeous.  I even saw a turtle pop it's little head up out of the water and dive back down.  I think the best thing about it was the silence.  You can only hear the whoosh of the wind as you swoop over the trees.  And the trees look so different from above.  The whole hill looks like it's covered in green cotton balls!

 Next up in our crazy adventure week was a heli ride out over the lagoon.  I had never been in a heli and had always wanted to so I was incredibly excited!  

Max surprised us all by being completely cool about his ride.  No fear at all, he marched across the tarmac to take his seat.  Earphones on, big smile and we were off!

We went straight out to Amadee lighthouse.  This is a beautiful structure, built in Paris and then shipped out in pieces to be rebuilt in Noumea.  It marks one of the entrances to Noumea's reef.

The best part of the ride was buzzing the reef. The pilot took the heli down so low that we could almost feel the spray from the waves crashing under us.  Then we whizzed along so fast that we all squealed in excitement!

The return trip took us past Ilot Maitre, where we had a gorgeous overnight stay a few months ago and Ilot Canard where I even saw a scuba diver under the water - bubbles expanding up above him!

It was a gorgeous was to say goodbye to this beautiful place.  We all loved it and I thoroughly recommend a flight with Helisud.

The pilot was one of the coolest dudes I've ever met.  He was a former French airforce heli pilot and chewed gum the whole flight.  He even locked up the heli, said good bye to us and then climbed into his beautiful sports car to take off at a good speed to go home!  Max was in awe.

Here's our little Heli-star!  He hasn't put his toy helicopter down since we got home.  Thanks to everyone who contributed to the present. We seriously loved it.  Here's the you tube video!

Monday, 4 July 2011

How warm is it in July in Noumea

I've noticed this question coming up frequently on google.  Today it's sunny, 26 degrees in the sun and just about perfect.  Last week it was rainy and felt cold at 18 degrees.  If you're planning a trip here you could get a gorgeous time - or it could be a little chilly!  

For sure, it's much cooler now than in December when you can barely walk around because of the humidity.  It cools off alot at night and you need to wear a jumper outside.  In the centre of the island it can drop as low as 10 degrees.  Bbbrrrr.

We are packing bag and preparing for our big trip home.  We will miss this place for sure.  And all our friends.  

I have my fingers crossed for a continuation of this lovely weather.  We have friends arriving for our last week and they deserve some summer sunshine (albeit in winter)!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Stunning running

I'm not a runner.  I've always thought it was a bit silly to pound the pavements in search of some illusive endorphin high.

But - I'm becoming a bit of fan.  

One reason is that it's stunning running here.  We are lucky enough to have a palm-tree lined walkway that starts just near our house and follows the bays into town for about 6km.

My 30 minute runs have gradually extended and this gorgeous scenery was a great incentive to keep on running while I trained for a half marathon during the first few months of this year.

So maybe Noumea has turned me into a runner after all!

A fishy morning

On a warm sunny morning, I love to go to the market.  It's great to sit up at the 'Buvette' and watch noumea wake up over a cheeky pain au chocolat and a coffee.  I have extended my gluttony and have moved on from just a coffee, to a coffee with a croque monsieur and now a coffee with a croque madame...and maybe even an orange juice - there's no doubt where my extra Noumean kilos have come from ;)
After breakfast, I like to see what fish is available at the market.  Sometimes there are crayfish that are so big they seem almost prehistoric.  Today there was lots of octopus and the snapper (vivaneau) looked big and delicious.   The Council has just redone the fish market and now it's much cleaner.  You can select your whole fish and then have it filleted in front of you - what luxury!

The morning's adventure continues with a stroll around the marina.  Although it's a bit smelly and the water looks like nothing sane would choose to live in it - there's actually coral growing all around the water's edge. Take a walk around the water's edge and you'll be rewarded by seeing lots of coral, fish and often large black seasnakes cruising through the coral trees.  This photo was taken standing on the pavement beside the marina, just looking down in to the water.  Isn't it great! Max and Polly love it.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

The New Zealand Military cemetery in Bourail

Bourail is about 1.5 hours drive north of Noumea.  It's a very sleepy little town with a good surf break only about 10 minutes from it. 
It's also where the New Zealand war cemetery is, the final resting place of more than 200 kiwi soldiers who fought and lost their lives during the second world war.  There was a large contingent of Kiwis who were stationed in Bourail and they fought up in Bougainville, Guadalcanal and other areas in the north Pacific. 

The cemetery is beautifully kept, with gorgeous lawns surrounded by well-established trees.  The whole area is nested into the foothills around Bourail and it's a very tranquil place.  The gardener who carefully maintains the cemetery has worked there for more than 30 years and his passion is clear in the spotless gardens.

 It's easy to forget just how far south the fighting came in WWII.  There were no battles in New Caledonia but those in the Solomons were clearly pretty horrific and the Solomons really aren't that far from here.

The kiwis in Bourail seemed to have made the most of the lovely beach at La Roche Perce.  There was an area known as the 'kiwi club' where off-duty service people could come and chill out over some well-earned brewskies.  

The kiwis weren't the only service-men here.  There were also Australians and 20,000 Americans.  The Americans had a large base here and the infrastructure they built during the war is still used every day.  They built the international airport out at Tontouta, sorted out the roads in and out of Noumea and today the suburbs of Noumea retain the names given to them during the war - such as Motorpool.  The American hospital even remains, as the polyclinic which is now a small hospital, (mainly maternity) beside the beach.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Breaking many eggs to make a massive omelette

This year Noumea had something very similar to an Easter show. The show is on every year around April 24 and it's out in Dumbea, a suburb of Noumea that has a beautiful river running through it and is surrounded by gorgeous hills.

The beautiful hills above Dumbea  
I'm always surprised by the height and majesty of New Caledonia's mountains.  There's so much more here than just pretty beaches!

So, on Easter Sunday we took Max and his best mate Murphy out to check out the rides.  They loved it.  We also loved the massive omelette making session that we walked straight into!

This is the stove which was moved across to the fire when it was time to cook the eggs

The omelette-making happens every year and is apparently a polynesian tradition - a nod to the fact that Dumbea has a twin-city in French Polynesia. The eggs are cooked on an enormous polynesian-style fire and when I say enormous, I mean HUGE.  

So many eggs are cooked up that they use drills to mix the mixture and huge teams of people to break all those eggs.  The chefs are all done up in fancy chefs hats and the whole thing is taken pretty seriously!  We even noticed that each batch of mixture was tasted and seasoned very carefully.

The best part is that everyone gets to taste it.  The omelette makers walked through the crowd handing out nice big plates of omelette with good crunchy baguette.

The Polynesian influence meant there was awesome drumming, stone-throwing, coconut tasting and lots of good-looking Polynesian men showing off their tattoos.  Max got to have a cuddle with one nice young's a shame his sister was less than willing.

Here I am with the final product.  It was great.

One extra thought - when I got home there was an article on NZ Herald about the exorbitant price of the Easter show in Auckland. By way of comparison - yes, life is pretty pricey here but this show was a good value way to spend a morning.  Less than $NZ3 to get in, less than $NZ6 per ride and the omelette...well that was free!  And who says there's no such thing as a free lunch.

Sunday, 27 March 2011


Ouvea's a quiet place.  The airport's small, the island's small, but it has a big history that makes it one of New Caledonia's quiet gems.

Most tourists (like us), go to Ouvea for it's stunning beaches and untouched feel.  The local Kanaks live 'en tribu' in small villages that are well kept, with round 'Cases' - thatched huts with woven walls.  Each village does seem to have at least one good solid concrete house too which must be pretty reassuring during a cyclone!  

There's a handful of shops, one petrol station and one big long road that follows the beach along the island's length (40km).  I think most people have a pretty much subsistence lifestyle - living off the abundant fish in the lagoon, lots of coconut, with a base of imported rice.  People don't seem to have much but it seems that there's enough and no one looks hungry or as if they're living in terrible poverty.  I found it somewhat humbling.  I spent the first night grumbling because it was very hot, our ''case had no fan and Polly wouldn't sleep and got ravaged by mosquitos.  But the next day we explored and were thoroughly wooed by the island's beauty.

But I said that Ouvea's a quiet place - and it is.  It's almost like the people and the very strong soul of the island itself are all still licking their wounds after the 1988 Ouvea Massacre.  Nineteen Kanaks were killed in a cave in the north of the island during a stand-off between the French gendarmes and the nationalist freedom-fighting Kanaks. The memorial we visited is chilling as you can see brothers and Dads and sons on the list of the dead - whole families destroyed.  This happened less than 30 years ago, so of course the wounds still weep.

I got the sense that there's a bit of a division between those who want tourism, and the money it can bring; and those who want to preserve the island's traditional lifestyle.  I understand both sides. I don't think I've ever been somewhere that has such stunning scenery and so little infrastructure.  There's one fancy hotel but it's pretty discrete and a bit rundown.  There are no buildings higher than two stories.  We ate our dinners at snacks and were told what was available (fish and rice) and the owner was weaving the walls as we ate.

You need a car to explore and you have to have a bit of patience.  No one will tell you if the place you're staying in isn't serving dinner that night - you must ask.  There are no signs telling you where touristy sports are - for example, to see the 'Trou Bleu' where turtles come in to chill out you have to know to turn left off the road beside the metal pole (with no sign on it!).  If you haven't come with food and don't have a car you'll have to hitch or walk a good 5+ kms from your accommodation to get to a place that will probably only be open from 8am - 12pm and 3pm-6pm.

Despite all this, it's simply stunning.  A divine place that I wouldn't hesitate to revisit.  I would love to understand it better.  It has so many layers of culture and history that I would just love to unpeel.  To do that, I suspect you have to work hard to create some confidence and you'd be rewarded enormously.

Look at these blues.  Look at the sea.  Look at 40kms of pure white unspoiled beach.  I will be dreaming of it often.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Ouano Surf Camp and four years old!

We've been past Ouano Surf Camp before but we'd never spent the night there.  Which is a bit silly given that it's only slightly over an hour from Noumea.

What a spot! We are so glad we decided to spend Max's fourth birthday there.
There are well-equipped bungalows with clean bathrooms and air-con, wickedly funky safari tents, and a big campsite that's right on the beach.  Oh - and a pool that looks right out over the water.  There's also a restaurant that does good pizza and you can catch a taxi boat out to surf on the reef. Nice.

It's great value too.  A bungalow is CFP8000 (about $NZ100) and it has a double and two single beds with a view straight out to sea. Actually, you can lie in bed with the doors right open and look over the tips of your toes, to the beach.  For that level of beach view, it's a steal by Noumea standards!

 We came armed to the teeth with insect repellant, coils, long trousers and every other trick known to man to avoid the beastly mosquitos but in fact we got lucky and they really weren't too bad.  We were able to sit outside and watch the sun go down.  We ate our dinner outside - caught some 'squitos but it was fine.

And look at the sunset...

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Reflections on Cyclone Vania

With Cyclone Yasi roaring its way towards North Queensland's coast, it seems like the right time to be grateful that our little cyclone was just a baby.  A bit of wind, a lot of rain and some time without power.  In comparison with Yasi - it was bit like someone blowing a pesky mosquito off their arm.

Vania took a long time to cross over Noumea.  It actually did a big circle just north of us and we were in the eye for about 2 hours.  It was so very quiet and our whole house slept - so nice!  We lost power early and realised just how important the radio is.  We listened to the updates every hour or so and giggled at the wonderful presenters and the fabulous feeling of community as people called up to provide updates on what was going on in their quartier.

And then the coup d'ouest came (big westerlies) and the storm was over.  All of Noumea left their houses to clean up the mess, which wasn't too bad, and go swimming in the rare waves at the Baie des Citrons.

A few blown down trees, some slips from the rain and boats on rocks.  Not too bad at all.  Finger crossed that's all we get during the cyclone season - we just need to get to the end of April!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

A morning at Ilot Maitre

We took the kids and Max's best mate Murphy out to Ilot Maitre this morning.  The winds were predicted to pick up in the afternoon so we went out on the early (8am) boat to the enjoy the morning calm.

It'a about half an hour in the big Escapade Ilot Maitre boat.  The boys loved sitting up in the  big chairs and peering out the windows to watch the bubbles as the boat plowed its way over to the Ilot. 

We've been out to the Ilot a few times.  There's a pretty little snack (with very slow service) and even a well-equipped playground.  You can set up under the trees and just stretch out on the sand to soak up some rays and enjoy the gorgeously clear water.  It's a reserve so there are lots of fish and turtles.  I've also seen rays and even a cunning little octopus hiding in the rocks.

The island is known for it's sea snakes but I didn't see any today.  Normally they curl up under the wharf and sunbathe on the rocks.  It's always a bit of a buzz to have one of their little heads popping up beside you when you're snorkeling.

The boys had a gorgeous morning, playing with their new friend Allan and jumping around Polly.  They had lovely pruney fingers by the time we'd finally got out of the water.

Next time we'll be more organised and bring over a pram so Polly can sleep and we'll spend the whole day.  It's stunning!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Vania - continued

10.30am and she's really blowing.  

We're still only on orange alert and it sounds like the cyclone is losing intensity.  I'd hate to see a category 5 storm - this one's already very impressive.

We're all inside, the wind sounds like it's about to take the roof off but we feel very safe.  Luckily the power's still on so we're keeping the kids amused with dvds.

The trees outside are getting well and truly buffetted but so far all looks pretty good outside.  No flooding and only a bit of debris around.  We'll be hanging on for the next 12 hours!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Cyclone Vania

Well, it's a cyclone according to the NZ websites but still a strong tropical depression on the French ones.

Whatever it's called we've already got weather that resembles an oddly warm Wellington Southerly.  Lots of wind and some impressive rain.  We're on yellow alert which means there's 'cyclonic activity' in the area.  The Loyalty Islands sit out to the east of the Mainland and they are on the next alert level.  They will probably go up to the highest alert (cyclone about to hit) this afternoon.  If the current forecasts are right, in Noumea we will probably get the nastiest of the weather tomorrow.  Hopefully it will curve away and we'll just get tickled by the edges of the cyclone.

So what do we do when this happens? Well, we're all stocked up with candles, water and yummy food.  I'm trying to think of ways to entertain the kids inside for a couple of days.  The petrol stations are really busy as everyone's filling up and in all the supermarkets people's baskets are full of water and torches.

Down at the beach I spotted a few guys in the water with surfboards.  It looked like a lot of fun. Normally the beaches here have absolutely no swell as we are protected by the reef.  Maybe I'll drop Charlie down at Anse Vata for a surf after I pick him up from work tonight.

It's actually a bit exciting!  

Monday, 10 January 2011

Isle of Pines revisited

We said we'd be back and we were.

We spent a couple of days before Christmas there and it was heaven to be able to laze in the water in the heat that hit mid-December.

Staying at the Kou Bougny  was nice.  We were six and there were four of us all lined up in a row like little mummies on the top floor of the Case.  I thought we'd melt without airconditioning but the fan actually did the trick.  I think the nicest part of the Kou Bougny is its restaurant which is right on the beach.  The hotel's little odd because  the accommodation and the restaurant are separated by a road but you get used to that.

A cruise boat came in on the last day and we all had breakfast and took bets on how they were going to get all the cruise people off the boat and onto the island.  They came down on the lifeboats!  How cool is that.  Not being too keen on sharing that stunning beach with however many hundreds of people are on one of those cruise ships (I think this was the Pacific Dawn), we took off for the Natural Aquarium.

It was great to go back up to the Natural Aquarium.  Polly loved playing in the shallows and we all cracked up at a family who decided to don life jackets for the walk in...It's only 10 minutes by the way and we did it with mum and dad and the two kids!  The tide was pretty high but the water only came up to mid-thigh.  There were lots of little fish to keep us company as we waded over from Chez Regis.

The Tour of Caledonie

WIth the countdown to our exit from New Caledonia underway, it's time to stop talking and start doing.  So the first thing we've done this year is take the little Fiat out for a big spin.  Here's a little summary of what we did...
Noumea to Kone
3 hours
The drive takes you up to Bourail and then you're nearly there...really...just another hour to go.  The West Coast is pretty much the same.  The road gives you some glimpses (so very tantalising in the heat) of the lagoon but largely goes inland.  The mountains of New Cal rise up on your right and the road stretches out in front.  The only real excitement is waiting for the next nutty driver to overtake on a blind corner, pull over with out indicating in a 110 km/hour zone or just sit on your tail until we slam on the breaks. Ha ha!

So what's in Kone?  To be honest, not much.  It's a town that's booming with the new mine being built.  The mine's impressive, with a massive new coal electricity plant, and a HUGE conveyor belt that will dump the nickel-filled soil in front of the smelter.  And it takes up a big corner of a very pretty beach...I wonder how that will look in ten years time?

Kone to Poum
2 hours
With the kids in the car we were cruising.   The road winds up and over the hills and the vegetation gets stragglier and the landscape gets rockier.  Suddenly, the road drops down and you're right outside Poum.  

We stayed at the Malabou Beach.  It was perfect.  A nice little beach, very good service (so very rare in New Cal), and lots of stuff to do.  

We loved the kayaks and the pool.  The restaurant was fine, with an evening buffet.  For us (and the kids) the best thing was the fresh pasta cooked on demand.  Nothing flash - but who wants flash with two under five year olds?

The bungalows are nice and some have great views.  We all fitted nicely.  Well, the kids thought it was nice - mum and dad could do without having the kids sucking on their toes at 3am...

Poum to Poindimie
5 hours

We did this day really slowly because it was stunning.  I hadn't really appreciated just how big New Cal is before we looked out over the massive plains up the north.  From there, the road narrows down and seriously winds up and over the Col d'Amos.  

And wow - the views from up there are gorgeous.  The East Coast has fabulous waterfalls that crash down from the mountains (highest at 1600m) and into the sea.  

There are white sand, palm tree-lined beaches and all along the road are little stalls selling fresh fruit and soapstone carvings.  Everyone waves at you as you pass by and people stop to chat.  It is just so laid back and just about my ideal picture perfect place for a pacific holiday.

We stopped to buy stuff and take a dip at the bottom of the spectacular Tao Waterfall.  It was breathtaking.

Our little fiat did us proud.  I was nervously counting the kms as we neared Hienghene (and the petrol station is 12 kms after Hienghene, just to double my nervousness...).  We didn't fill up in Kone or Poum so we were running on vapour by then.  That didn't diminsh the fun of crossing the Bac de la Ouaieme.  There's no bridge, so you get ferried over on a little barge.  Fantastic!  

Poindimie to Noumea
5 hours (including a wee barf from max and lots of sanity stops)

Man, it can rain on the East Coast!  It was pouring when we left the very picturesque Chez Simone's.  We all squeezed into her new but traditional-style bungalow.  The place is gorgeous with little paths and carvings all over.  We felt like we were in a warmer version of NZ with all the pungas around us.  I would have loved to have spent a few days up there with no kids!  This picture is taken from the balcony of her bugalow. Lush.

The trip back was long.  The car's a bit smelly now but we had fun.  A stop at the Saturday market in Bourail for some tropical flowers, brochettes and for Polly to play hide and seek under the tables was a good move.  The local ladies loved her...I was a little less happy about chasing after her in 33 degrees.

So we came home with a pack full of stinky clothes, a full memory card on the camera and a nice relaxed attitude to 2011 and all the great stuff we'll do.  

On y va!