Two days at sea before arriving in New Caledonia and the usual trivia, lectures and entertainment shows to participate in (or not) was on offer.
On our first night we were informed there would be a total lunar eclipse but unfortunately the weather did not realise we needed a bit of excitement and so the sky remained stubbornly cloudy. The following day we awoke to a tropical storm, the sea was choppy, the wind was fierce, although warm and it was virtually impossible to stay on deck. It was so bad, the caviar and champagne in the pool party (a Seabourn tradition) was cancelled.
On arrival at our first stop in New Caledonia the sun was out and despite a bumpy ride across the bay to Easo, the weather was fine. Easo is the capital of Lifou, the largest and most populated of the Loyalty Islands. Home to around 10,000 Kanak people, it’s famed for two things: a sandy palm-fringed beach that fans out on either side of the main dock, and a very friendly atmosphere. On arrival we walked past the market and small bar, along a road towards the Notre Dame de Lourdes, constructed in 1898 to commemorate the arrival of Catholic missionaries in New Caledonia.
More importantly the church is on a hill overlooking the bay where we anchored and Jinek Bay Marine Reserve, said to offer some of the best snorkelling in the South Pacific. That as may be, it was closed, so we retraced our steps and went down to the beach on the ship side of the island. All the time White-rumped swiftlets hunted around the tops of the palm trees.
Walking back we came across some vanilla plants. Shame we are going to Australia or we could have picked some to take home, but due to biodiversity laws, nothing can be taken in to Oz that’s grown anywhere else. Just remember “Nothing to Declare!” and what happens to transgressors.
There was also the usual coconut palms, mango trees and a first prickly pear cactus.
We were treated to yet more local dancing and singing, accompanied by palm leaf weavers making baskets and other things like headbands. The only difference from other tribal dances, were the ferocious looking warriors who reminded us that cannibalism used to be a thing here. Afterwards, time was spent on the beach, snorkelling and keeping out of the ferocious heat.
Day 2 in New Caledonia was in the capital of the province, Noumea, situated on the main island, Grand Terre. With a population of near on 100,000 it’s easily the largest place in New Caledonia. There are a few touristy things to do (aquarium, cultural centre, kayaking and, of course, a beach) but we took a day off and walked round the quite pleasant town helping a few of the local clothes shops ease their cashflow problems. Better still we came across a bustling French cafe and settled down to a long awaited salade de chevre chaud
A depressing and incongruous sight…for some!
The town was quite pleasant and had quite a lot of green space and old buildings, with a cathedral, and colonial buildings telling of the islands history as a penal colony. The bandstand in the square had been built in 1890’s and three times a week the town were treated to a concert put on by the convicts. It was renovated in the 1980’s.
Our flying visit to New Caledonia was over and we embarked for another day at sea before landing for the first time in Australia, on Norfolk Island.