A lesser known place to us Brits – than to the Aussies, Kiwis and Pacific Islanders, oh and of course the French (as it is a territory of theirs at the moment) – is an archipelago named New Caledonia in the South Pacific. I had flown over the collection of Oceanic islands once on a journey from Australia to Fiji, but apart from that tenuous encounter from the air, I knew little about the third largest island in the Pacific Ocean. So when I met a couple of cycle tourists in a Backpackers in Hobart (Tasmania, Australia) who live in New Caledonia, and they consequently kept in touch and broadened my pretty much non-existent knowledge of the territory, and furthermore kindly invited myself and Dave to visit, we obviously took them up on their generous offer.
Being quite well-travelled I am always up for a new destination to explore and new flag badges to add to my backpack… well perhaps this isn’t quite a priority, but I do collect them. On that note, which flag did I purchase for New Caledonia? It was a choice of the French flag or the indigenous Kanak flag. I opted for the Kanak flag. Here is some info on New Caledonia’s history taken from their tourism website –
“New Caledonia was discovered in 1774 by the British navigator James Cook, who christened the country “New Caledonia” because the mountainous scenery of the Main Island reminded him of his native Scotland.
He noted that the country was populated by Melanesians (ancestors of the Kanaks).
On 24 September 1853, Rear Admiral Febvrier Despointes annexed New Caledonia on behalf of France to forestall any move by the British.
New Caledonia has been French ever since. The city of Noumea, the present capital of New Caledonia, was founded in 1854.”
These were our highlights from the 10 day trip:
- Beach-side camping among banyan trees alongside a lagoon encapsulated by the second-longest double-barrier coral reef in the world, after the Belize Barrier Reef.
- Snorkeling with myriad fish and ocean-life in the clear waters surrounding the capital of Noumea.
- Hiking in the mountains along red dirt tracks with views of rivers, dams and forest.
- Mountain-biking to a gorgeous beach – Dave’s first try at the sport.
- Rambling the hills of ‘Domaine de Deva’ for views of the shallow lagoon and ‘Shark Fault’ (the deep channel that sharks inhabit).
- Spotting kagus – a nearly extinct bird endemic only to New Caledonia – while visiting Noumea wildlife park.
- Relaxing on the beach.
- Doing the touristy bit in the city of Noumea – visiting Saint Joseph’s Cathedral, the market, lookouts, bays and the Tjibaou Cultural Centre to learn about Kanak history and culture.
- Living it up in the Sheraton Hotel in ‘Domaine de Deva’ by popping in for a beverage and bite to eat.
- Making friends with a Kiwi couple travelling New Caledonia in a hire camper-van.
- Enjoying some French wine, cheese, bread and other tasty treats.
- Walking the coastal cliff walk at Passage Rock.
- Hiring a little car and driving on the right-hand side of the road for the first time and feeling surprisingly confident about it (Dave wasn’t a right-hand side virgin but I was).
- Communicating with broken/limited French, a little English and hand gestures to get by.
- Being greeted numerous times by the seemingly unnecessary by ever cheery gatekeepers of ‘Domaine de Deva’.
- And last but not least, and also not really a “highlight” – feeling like we are always going to bed in the loose fitting light clothing we bought to help protect us from the dengue fever carrying mosquitoes (there is an outbreak in New Caledonia at the moment).