After Bali and Samoa we looked for our next holiday destination. The priorities were that a final destination would offer various things to do and also that we would not have to spend hours on a plane to get there. We investigated our options, did some research and eventually chose New Caledonia.
Our early joy from a purchase of cheap flight tickets immediately changed for the annoyance when we realized that each of us had two tickets to Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, but none back to New Zealand. Usually helpful customer service from Air New Zealand was a bit hopeless this time but in the end, we got our return tickets and were all ready to go.
As we planned to travel around the island, we booked a car in advance. In total, we were going to stay for 7 days, not much time then. Therefore, due to the fact that we were going to spend most of the time on the road, and also because of high prices of accommodation, we decided to camp. New Caledonia has quite a good network of campgrounds and holiday parks. Apart from that, we also read other people’s reviews and tried to avoid the ugly places.
October and November are probably the best months to visit the islands. The temperatures are nice and it is the least rainy period of the year. Although, it might be too dry, as we realised later. The day before our flight, there were extensive bushfires between the international airport and the capital. Luckily for us, we were going to head the opposite direction up north first.
At the international airport in La Tontouta we picked up a car, bought some food in a nearby supermarket, and started our adventure. But no real adventure starts with empty belly and so shortly, we turned off the main road and drove to the beach to have lunch. The menu was a baguette, cheese, and paté. A combination which we repeated with little deviations every day for the whole week.
Our next stop was Ouano’s mangroves. This extensive swampy area is a unique environment and home of wealthy fauna and flora. There are three short educative walks with a number of informative plaques. We chose one of the walks. On the way, we saw heaps of small crabs moving with amazing speed across the muddy surface before disappearing in one of small holes under the ground. Later, we drove along the beach to Pointe Sauveur – a lookout providing stunning views – and also stopped at Plage de Ouano to cool our feet.
We moved on via La Foa where we supplied food and passed a local monument – the Marguerite bridge. Although, we didn’t find it worth stopping. In Moindou, we made another turn off the road and headed inland to the royal palm forest. The royal palms are the local pride and we spotted them easily standing out from the rest of the vegetation.
After a couple of more hours, just before Bourail, we turned left to Poé Beach. There was a campsite which we’d booked for the first night – La Reve de Nemo. It was a nice and tidy place only a few meters from the beach where we could watch a sunset.
An interesting thing about the lifestyle of locals is that they get up early. Very early. Between 5-6am. Luckily, thanks to the time difference between Caledonia and New Zealand, we didn’t mind that because it felt like 7-8am to us.
We started the second day with the Three Bays track. Getting up early had one advantage – the cooler weather. As the track went up and down between the bays it was definitely more pleasant to do it in the morning than under the midday sun. The track provided some beautiful views and we explored small beaches which we had just for ourselves because nobody else was there. The only downside was that we didn’t spot any turtles which sometimes come there.
Before midday, we were back on the road and headed further north. As we were passing through the scorched landscape we were more and more surprised what a massive barrier the central mountain range is. All the rain is caught on its other site. When we drove through the section where the ground was burned and tree trunks were black with dry leaves, the entire picture looked really depressive.
When we arrived at Voh, we made a break for a walk up to the near hill. A guide book said it would provide a view of famous Heart of Voh. Initially, I had thought that we would break our piggy bank and took a flight in an ultralight over the area. It would possibly provide the best views of the landmark as well as a view of deep sea blue holes but unfortunately the weather was not very impressive and we decided the flight was not worth the fortune. Instead, we tried to drive up to the lookout but our tiny Peugeot 108 was definitely not a right car for a crossing of half a meter deep gullies. So, we drove back, parked at the bottom and walked up again.
Well, we got some good views but from the elevation, almost everything resembled a flat clearing of a heart shape and we could only guess which was the famous one.
From there we carried on to Koumac where we’d booked a site in Gite Du Lagon. The campground was very basic. It was located next to the beach which was not particularly pretty but it had all we needed. An owner was a nice guy who we had a good chat with. We wrapped the day up with dinner in Koumac Marina where we enjoyed another portion of baguette while watching a wonderful sunset and listening to waves lapping against the beach.
The next day we were going to drive across the top of the island and explore the fresh green east coast. More about that soon.