The Isle of Pines. After many years of visiting this special place, we have come to realize that there are many “worlds” on this little island. The local Kunie people for the most part run their own affairs, and are supported by health, education and other services from the French government. Cruise ships come and go, and help support a small tourism industry, along with numerous fine accommodations. Members of the yachting and cruising community begin arriving in small numbers at the beginning of the winter months, and increase their numbers as summer approaches, before departing again before the start of the cyclone season. We have been privileged to spend enough time here to make friends, to get to know our way around the island and to notice the few changes that occur over the years, and actually how little does change.
The twice a week farmers market brings us in close contact with the talented “green thumbs” of the island, including access to edible native plants, snails and locally caught fish. Displays, traditional dancing and food stalls set up for the passengers of a cruise ship, provide entertainment and more food experiences for us as well. The eight different local tribes take turns hosting each cruise ship. I enjoy watching the locals interact at the market and elsewhere, and the children are particularly charming.
Several times a year the local people organize festivals and special ceremonies. The use of pandanus leaves for weaving panels, hats, baskets, birds, turtles, and much more, and decorating them with hibiscus flowers and many others is quite beautiful. The women wear colorful dresses and decorate their hair with flowers. Children swim at the nearby beach, while their families picnic under the coconut palms. There is a lot of laughter on this island, and we are happy to be as much a part of it as we are. Many thanks to our friends Cleo and Albert, Brigitte and Tony for introducing us around, inviting us to take part in the island’s activities, and sharing with us a cup of tea in their garden.
Cloud junkies is what we are, especially colorful clouds. ADAGIO’s cockpit provides us with front row seats for sundowners at sunset. Our 360 degree wrap-around windows let in the beauties of the sunrises and the “dawn chorus” of birdsong. This year we have had fun playing with the panorama setting on our iPhone cameras. We don’t have a spectacular sunset every evening, but we are beginning to diagnose the clouds and are learning to predict which ones will provide the most beautiful displays. We hope you enjoy these, and wish you were here to enjoy them with us.
Not far from the center of Noumea is a lovely park and zoo in a forest setting. Proudly displaying many of their endemic species, the locals have designed a park for rambling and exploring. Encountering beautiful birds in aviaries along the trails, shaded by native trees, and in one large aviary which you enter through protective gates. The best designed setting was built for the national symbol, the endemic Kagu bird. Protected only since 1977, there are thought to be only about 1000 of these birds in the wild. This zoo successfully breeds Kagus, and releases them into the wild, about 100 birds released to date. Kathy and I were careful to be present for feeding time, and were able to watch up close the Kagus’ beautiful territorial displays towards each other, by spreading their wings and lifting their crest feathers. The attendant pointed out the location of a single Kagu sitting on the single egg in a nest next to a tree trunk. The male and female share incubation duties, in 24 hour periods, and the offspring stay with their parents for six years or so. I was pleased to see an endemic Notou, the largest arboreal pigeon in the world. Steve and I had heard it’s unusual call while we were visiting Queen Hortense’s cave on the Isle of Pines. Another national symbol is Leach’s giant gecko, which was on display in the vivarium section of the park.
In year 2000 we first visited the Noumea Aquarium, and were delighted by the natural lighting, the selection of native marine species, and that the water in the aquarium is provided by a flow through of clean seawater from the nearby Baie des Citrons. In year 2005 the aquarium was closed for two years for the construction of a completely new facility. All of the wonders of the original aquarium have been retained, and all areas have been expanded and modernized. The original founders, Dr Rene’ Catala and his wife Ida were prominent marine biologists for their discoveries in coral reef ecology, especially the fluorescence of certain corals. More recently, the aquarium has developed techniques for captive breeding of the Chambered nautilus. Two juvenile Chambered nautilus were on display for us to see. Educational displays accompany many of the exhibits, providing scientific information and education.
Following up on an ad we had seen at a bicycle fair in Noumea, we reserved a tour by electric-assisted mountain bikes in the Parc Provincial de Dumbea and Reserve Naturelle de la Haute-Dumbea, located north of Noumea. In Dumbea Gorge, dominated by imposing mountains, the earliest road in New Caledonia was built to serve the timber and mining industries. The road follows the Dumbea River, over hill and dale, crossing the river numerous times. The scenery was spectacular, but could only be viewed while our bicycles were stopped, as our eyes were on the rough road at all times. Joe and Kathy tried out a pair of orbital bicycles as well. We are glad to have had this expedition in the back country of New Caledonia, but would recommend it only to experienced cross country bicyclists.
During each of the many visits we have made to New Caledonia, we have visited the Tjibaou Cultural Centre. You can see more photos of this wonderful place in posts we have made on this web site over the years. This year we came to see a special exhibit of traditional Kanak sculpture in wood. Photography was not allowed, so you will have to believe us when we say that the sculptures were extraordinary. We took a couple of photos of the splendid architecture with our iPhones, including a panorama. The French cafe in the centre is a special place to lunch with friends.
Noumea’s Maritime Museum has been recently rebuilt. A special exhibit has been added, displaying items from the story and archaeology surrounding the French explorer, La Perouse. His two ships were lost at the Solomon Islands in 1788, and it was not until 1981 that the remains of his ships were discovered. Kathy had already been reading about the disappearance of La Perouse, and the discovery of the evidence of the few survivors in the Solomon Islands.
During WWII in the Pacific, New Caledonia became the center for operations by the Allies. The WWII Museum in Noumea displays many items from this era.