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.