New Caledonia, not what I expected

June 15th

To be honest we had spent so much time planning to get here I hadn’t really thought through what it would be like when we arrived. I have been to New Caledonia twice before, both times on a cruise ship with my parents. The last time was 30 years ago just after completing year 12. My recall is limited to a nice beach and some local markets selling grass skirts and leis (but hey, that could also have been Vanuatu).

In reality New Caledonia is nothing like I expected and no sooner did this come true than our short stroll to the local marche (market) a mere 5 minutes from Port Moselle marina. This market which is open 6 days per week, but goes gangbusters on Saturdays and Sundays is phenomenal. The produce is amazingly fresh (you see chefs from local restaurants shopping here) and the range is pretty broad.

I am immediately taken back by the asian produce, and the fact that Noumea (the capital) is far more French than I was expecting. Of course I knew they spoke French, but the patisseries, baguettes and cheeses were EXACTLY the same as we had in France.

Jamie and I immediately purchase a baguette, fresh herbs and a few veggies and head back to the boat. OMG, baguette, butter and Vegemite (yes I’m sure the French are cringing) was amazing. We head back to the market almost daily to top up. Coriander (with roots) Thai Basil, Vietnamese mint, Bay leaves, lemongrass, super hot chillies and heaps of veggies. The list just goes on and on.

Our next venture to the local supermarket keeps us equally surprised and impressed, great range of cheeses and charcuterie (continental meats and sausages) and we go back almost daily for the Jambon Fumme (smoked shaved ham) and Fromage (cheeses).

My French improves out of sight as I learn important food/shopping phrases.

Things like:

How much is that? Combien ca coute?

Three hundred grams please Tois cent grammes s'il vous plaît

(particularly important when ordering the sliced ham)

No bag thank you Pas sac plastique merci

You get the idea - important stuff.

We spend a lot of time on foot exploring museums and the local culture and find the French and the Kanaks (indigenous) people delightful and extraordinarily helpful. We have quite a few boat issues to sort and these require highly technical discussion which would be impossible to accomplish in our limited (food based) French. Jamie does have some other phrases, but stop thief and where is the baby change table don’t seem to be very useful. Not only do we find most stores have someone who, although apologetic about their English, speak fluently, even passers by stop to assist in translating, sometimes donating 10 or 15 minutes of their time just to help. One man even helped us find our rental car in the shopping centre car park after walking past us seeing our confused and lost looks (we found it one aisle over, not sure why couldn’t see it ourselves).

With our Dacia Sandero rental car we explore further afield, mostly in the pursuit of parts for the boat, but also to national parks, cultural centres and lookouts.

After a week of exploring Noumea city we tentatively decide to head out to a few islands, I say tentatively as we are still actively exploring repairs to our structural cracks in the boat and we are apprehensive about cruising and potentially worsening the situation.

Noumea is in the bottom quarter of the Grand Terre (large island) of New Caledonia and inside the worlds largest lagoon. The lagoon runs parallel to the main island stretching from top to bottom. Within this lagoon would be I’m guessing a hundred or so islands many of which are simply an hour or so cruising distance. We explore many of these and despite the not so tropical weather start to see New Caledonia as more than just Noumea. The lagoon is fantastic and the variety of reefs both in and outside the barrier of the lagoon are well worth exploring. I’m looking forward to a repaired boat and travelling further afield for more snorkelling and diving. Although secretly I’ll be yearning for a fresh baguette and some smoked ham.

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