The trip out was eventful. When we left the winds were westerly, becoming southwest, then southeast. The theory was that we would head southeast while the winds were in the west, so that we could come back to Noumea on a favourable tack when the wind was southeasterly. We were making good progress for the first couple of days, but then the winds became lighter and from the east, so we motored for a while. Then we were told that a southerly was coming, so we sailed almost south in anticipation of that. Our track certainly wandered all over the place. The southerly change, when it came, was gale force, at 1am. We tried running with it for a couple of hours, hand steering because the autopilot couldn't cope. It got to be just too hard, so we decided to get the sails down - a major task in itself. It took nearly an hour and we were exhausted at the end of it. We just let the boat go lie ahull while we went below and slept.
Conditions eased the next day and night. After 10 days we made our landfall in Noumea on Tuesday 29th June. Customs, Quarantine and Immigration were all handled with no problems at all (except we did lose some fruit, veg and herbs).
Greg and Janise from Windchimes had arrived a week earlier from Mooloolaba. They had sailed through the Louisiades with us last year. They were able to help us find the various services that we needed - sailmaker for one. Our genoa had suffered some damage by being backwinded against the spreaders, while the staysail had been damaged in the foot during the gale. These were repaired very quickly and at reasonable cost. After getting these back, we moved around from the Port Moselle Marina to Baie Orphelinat around the corner. Windchimes was anchored here, just outside the Yacht Club. It was quite a convenient location, being not far from a supermarket, bus stop and having rubbish bins.
Shopping and Sightseeing
Our shopping trip to the supermarket was an eye-opener - a large sliced loaf was nearly $9, although the home brand small loaf was around $3.50. Carrots were almost $5/kg, the potatoes small, soft and expensive also. Steak at around $30/kg was given amiss, but small cans of sardines at 80c were a bargain.
One day we caught the bus out to the Tjibaou Cultural Centre. This is a showcase for Kanak art and culture, housed in a spectacular collection of buildings. The design was by Renzo Plano and is hard to describe - but it cost US$60M!!
After a week in Noumea it was time to move on so we headed south east with Windchimes to Baie Ngo, about 20NM away. It is a small anchorage, the site of a former nickel mine and ore loading wharf, now all derelict. One day we went for an expedition of the area, and passed an old man sitting near the shore. We came in to talk to him - he with no English, Paul with a miniscule smattering of remembered schoolboy French. Albert is of Kanaky descent, and is 84 years old. His house was a small corrugated shed, but immaculately kept It is almost invisible from the shore being hidden by dense shrubbery and trees. He showed us his garden with obvious pride and gave us heaps of fruit. This was a cross between oranges and grapefruit - huge like a rockmelon and absolutely full of beautiful juice. He had about 50 chooks which came from the shrubbery when he called them. He also gave us a dessert of stewed fruit (pommes citerne) which he had grown and cooked. All-in-all he was absolutely charming, so the next day we returned to show our appreciation by giving him some Australian souvenirs.
Baie du Prony 9 - 25 July
This is a huge bay with many inlets and anchorages for all conditions. It some respects it resembles the Hawkesbury, but the topography is quite different. Deep erosion and scars from mining are red weals against a green background of dense but stunted vegetation. In the lower area, it is almost rainforest, but higher up is more like heath. Prony had significant iron and chrome deposits, some of which went to Australia a long time ago. This iron was weathered out of the soil and colours everything. The shoreline, where its not rocky, is a red-brown 'sand' or clay. We were told to buy cheap plastic sandals to wear ashore, getting in and out of the dinghy. As it is, the red stain is still with us, coming up with the anchor chain.
Our first night was in Rade de l'ouest (West anchorage) as the winds were SW. The next day we went to the north Carenage which is a cyclone hole. We spent a few days here with a few excursions looking for hot springs mentioned in the guide book. We found one, in a 3m square 'spa' with deck around it. The water was tepid at best.
Ilot Casy 16 - 18 July
In the centre of the Baie du Prony is Ilot Casy. The guide book said there was a hotel there with mooring bouys outside. We took up the buoys and went ashore where people were working. The hotel was closed, but they were preparing for a wedding the next day. The walk around the island was quite easy, about an hour and a half, and not too strenuous. The top of the island was also devastated by mining. At the end of our walk we helped ourselves (with permission) to more fruit and avocados.
Saturday was spent watching the passing parade of boats ferrying guests over for the wedding. The bride arrived by helicopter around 6pm, by which time there must have been over 100 people on shore. Many had brought tents as the hotel had only about 10 rooms. The festivities went on most of the night, finishing around 4:30am, but they didn't disturb us too much.
Goro and Port Boise'
From Ilot Casy we went around the Cape N'dua to Goro in search of some more supplies. After passing through the reef, we anchored just past an old wharf and minesite, just outside a 'hotel'. As with Casy, this hotel was closed, but we were told there was a shop a few minutes away. We walked for about 15 minutes before finding a great waterfall, Cascade xxx. Opposite was a 'snack', also closed, so we gave up on finding any more supplies here. The next day we decided to go down to Port Boise', a few miles back. Again we had a a reef entry, but it was clearly marked and no problem at all. We anchored in the northern end near a small river. The following morning we walked and dinghy'ed to a Kanak resort, Gite Kadua.
We had planned going to Isle of Pines but the forecast was for SE winds 15 - 20 kts so it would have been a hard bash all the way. We decided to go back to Noumea for more supplies and maybe go further north from there. Our first night was back in Baie du Prony in Rade de l'Est. We rafted up alongside Windchimes as the anchorage was a bit crowded and the water quite deep. During the night (1am) the wind came up and we dragged. We sat and watched our GPS and computer screens as the track wandered northwest for a while then stopped. We weren't convinced though and sure enough we started moving again. The only way to reduce the load on the anchor was to separate - by this time it was 3am, wind blowing about 15kt, and none of the anchored boats with a light on. We got our 500,000 candlepower spotlight out, and decided where we were going to anchor. When we arrived at the spot, I started to let the anchor out, but it wouldn't go!! It was completely jammed. Bugger! Judy circled Windchimes while I dragged the chain out of the locker and laid it on the deck. Finally we were able to get the anchor down and get some sleep. With us gone, Windchimes was not dragging any more.
After a sleep in, we went ashore and walked up to the Cape N'dua lighthouse. The view was spectacular with very clear conditions; we could see as far as the Isle of Pines. Up here there was a different type of graffiti - people had spelt their names out with the rocks, either natural or painted white.
Next was a couple of days in Rade du Nord, again near a small river with a small waterfall. The main interest was the ruins of an old penal settlement almost overgrown by the thick vegetation.
We returned to Noumea afer an overnight stop in Baie Ngo. The wind was a gentle 5 - 10 kt from the SE, so we put up the red, white and blue MPS. This is a large lightweight sail for light airs, and it works like a beauty. It takes a bit of effort to get up (and down) but when its up it really gives us a lift (physically and mentally)
Ile des Pins
More supplies were bought and then we headed south again. Last night we stayed in Bonne Anse just inside the SE corner of Baie du Prony. The trip today was against SE winds, 10 - 15kt right on the nose with about 1m seas. We mainly motor-sailed with the main up until only about 7 miles out when we were able to have a nice sail in to Baie Kuto. Anchoring in 6m over clean sand ended a 10 hour trip.
We spent a few days down there, walking around Kuto and Vao. We all climbed up Pic Nga which is about 450m and quite a strenouos climb, but the view was worth the effort. We decided that the best and quickest way to see the island was to hire a car. This cost about $100 for the day, but we saw a lot, and it was easier than trying to negotiate reefs. The trip around the island only took 45 km. From Ile des Pins we returned to Noumea to clear Customs and Immigration.
Where were we ... New Caledonia I think. That's right, we were in the Isle of Pines. Well we returned to Noumea and cleared Immigration and Harbourmaster but not Customs. Therefore we couldn't buy any Duty free fuel or anything else because of a new law which came into effect on 1st July. We could have 7 days to get to Lifou Island in the Loyalty Island group to clear Customs there, but they had no duty-free anything.
Our first stop was in Boise' Harbour where we'd been before. We left there at midnight and went through Havannah Passage on a flood tide which was going our way - nice as it can be 4 kts and very rough. The wind was quite strong and during the day the swell built up, hitting us on the side. This made for a fairly uncomfortable trip, but we arrived at the southwest corner of Mare' Island in time to get a nice anchorage at Pede Beach.
The next day was spent stretching our legs walking through rain forest then a long beach before returning to the boats. In the afternoon we walked in the other direction to find the 'Natural aquarium' mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide. This is a large pool formed between the steep limestone cliffs and the sea. Fresh water comes from the limestone, with salt water coming in from a small channel from the sea. There were numerous small fish, well trained to look for food thrown by tourists. Unfortunately for them, we didn't know we were supposed to bring food so we tricked them with bits of leaves.
From Pede we went to the northern end of Mare' Island to what must be the smallest beach in the world. It is actually marked on the chart as a beach, but at best it would be about 40m across, less at high tide. There was lots of coral which made for very interesting snorkelling through channels and tunnels. The water was crystal clear - on deck we could see the anchor in more than 12m of water. When we returned to the boat we had a manta ray doing solo synchronised swimming nearby.
Time was marching on so the next stop was We' on Lifou Island, the middle of the three Loyalties. There is a new marina there, which made a much better alternative to anchoring inside the reef. The marina fingers were quite short, so tying up was a bit difficult, and of course they had funny Froggy type electricity outlets, but we managed to cobble some adapters together. That night we had a lovely Thai dinner in a restaurant nearby.
Friday was spent wandering into the main town centre to pick up mail and check out the markets. The produce wasn't all that fresh, and fairly expensive. The supermarket wasn't too bad, so we picked up a few extra supplies there. That afternoon we completed the Customs formalities at the marina.
Saturday was our 7th day out of Noumea and therefore our time to leave New Caledonia.
All of the photos taken in New Caledonia are at the Flickr site.