Tuesday, August 19, 2014

First weeks in New Caledonia

Parc Riviere Bleu


Le Cagou

Insect Eating Plant

Red Soil, Pine & Norfolk Pine Trees

Gentleman Dog


Sunken Sailboat

Colorful Pinnacle




Purple Sponge

Sea Urchin

Hard To See Shrimp

Top of Pinnacle

After a fast and fairly comfortable passage from Port Vila, we arrived at Noumea, New Caledonia’s Port Moselle Marina just after sunrise on Saturday, August 2nd.  After checking in at the marina office, we were met by the quarantine lady who came down to inspect “Blue Rodeo”.  She was nice as can be and the entire process took only about five minutes. We handed over a few over-ripe pieces of fruit and a couple of veggies we had left over from Vanuatu.  As soon as she left, we immediately set about to clean the salt off Blue Rodeo and obtain a code for the local internet.   Boy, did it feel good to be on a dock again with easy access to plenty of fresh water.

We spent a week in Noumea enjoying the patisseries (New Caledonia is French, you know), proper grocery stores and especially the produce market with real vegetables we could recognize.  We even found an outdoor venue that sells rotisserie chickens.  These items may sound like no big deal to you but, when you have had very little variety on the menu for weeks on end, this is paradise.

The week sped by quickly and we made the most of it by exploring the local area and going on a few walkabouts, one of which was to the aquarium we visited last year.  We found it thoroughly enjoyable once again and were excited to start our local snorkeling and diving adventures in the near future.  One day we, along with the  “Fruit de Mer” and “Evergreen crews, decided to rent two small cars and drive to the island’s “Riviere Bleu” national park.  We did a few walks and also took a bus into the more remote areas of the park to see some of the unique vegetation, a nearly submerged forest and the Cagou, New Caledonia’s flightless national bird.  Apparently, there are not many left except in this park due to predators, dogs, cats, humans etc.  The island is quite a bit different than anything we have seen before.  It has dark red soil that reminds of us Utah’s canyon lands with a clay like consistency that sticks to everything leaving a nice red stain, and is nearly impossible to get off your shoes!   Everywhere you look are ruts, ravines and signs of erosion.  Some of this is due to the fact that New Caledonia’s mineral-rich soil has been mined extensively with nickel being the most sought-after resource.  They have had years of strip mining here leaving ugly scars on the landscape.  The vegetation is mostly scrub brush with several different types of pine trees including the Norfolk Pine which is quite an attractive tree.  It’s really interesting to see them outdoors fully grown instead of as small houseplants back home.

After our week in town, our group of three boats sailed back to the east to Islot Casy, a small island in the Bay de Prony.  Our goal was to dive on an undersea pinnacle located about a mile from there called the Recif de l’Aiguille.  We were able to secure mooring buoys for all three boats in a quiet little anchorage with a dock.  Shortly after arrival, Jon, Heather, Mark and I hopped in the water to snorkel the small nearby reef.  What a shock!  It was butt cold and our 5mm suits were barely adequate.  What a change from Vanuatu!  Exploring the reef, we were all a bit disappointed by the lack of interesting and colorful coral and the limited variety of sea creatures.  We did manage to find a few things though to keep our spirits up.  The next morning we took our dinghies into shore to explore the island.   The day before, we had noticed a dog on the dock and assumed it was owned by someone, but later found out it was the island dog that had been left there to survive on its own near the site of an abandoned resort hotel.  He seemed to hang out near the dock anxiously greeting arriving boaters.  He accompanied us on our walks and Heather and I were a bit upset about his situation.  He was such a sweet and gentle soul and we wished we could take him home.  We noticed he was getting on in years and already had signs of cataracts.  As we walked along, it was obvious to us that he hunted for his food, which meant fishing.  With that in mind, we went back to our respective boats and each of us returned over the next few hours to bring him treats.  Heather provided him with pate and crackers for hors d'oeuvres and I gave him a can of corned beef and some chicken consomm√©.  Despite the fact that he had probably never eaten so well before, he was extremely gentle and well behaved.  He didn’t growl or attack his food.  What a gentleman.  We said our goodbyes at the end of the day as he curled up in a ball on the sand to sleep.  We were both sad to say goodbye but felt consolation in the fact that he wasn’t going to end up in some stew pot like most island dogs.

The next morning was overcast with an occasional sun break as we dinghied to the pinnacle (dive sight).  We tied up to an enormous buoy and quickly donned our gear.  Due to poor visibility in the water, we had some trouble finding the pinnacle but finally located it after first searching in the wrong direction.  The pinnacle, formed by mineral deposits seeping from a fissure in the sea floor, rises to nearly the surface from a depth of over 100 feet.  It was an interesting dive but not quite what we expected.  It’s hard to explain how it looked, there wasn’t a lot of color (partially due to the overcast skies),  mostly greens and grays.  When we turned on a flashlight, we could see an incredible amount of sediment in the water making it rather murky. The pinnacle had arms or branches jutting out in places that looked like stalagmites.  The surface had an other-worldly texture as if someone had thrown a big bucket of acid over it leaving it rough and eroded. There wasn’t a huge variety of sea life on the pinnacle but there were a plethora of mollusks embedded on the near-vertical walls.  We did manage to find a large octopus, a couple of nudibranchs and an eel.  The red soil that is so prevalent on the island was present even underwater in the form of silt from runoff and looked like it was choking out the sea life.  All in all, we didn’t love the dive but later agreed we would give it another chance on a sunny day in the future.

The next day, with winds backing to the east, we seized the opportunity to sail southeast through New Caledonia’s southern lagoon to the beautiful Ile des Pins (Isle of Pines), famous for its pine forests and white sand beaches.  More adventures lay just 40 miles ahead!

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