Vanuatu had a mixed French-English history, but now in New Caledonia it was all French, about as Frenchy as it gets. It’s like you’ve dropped down in tropical Paris after weeks of fighting for electricity and something to eat that wasn’t rice or fried. Now there were supermarkets stocked full of cheese, pastries, wine, and vegetables that weren’t in season. You could eat lunch at a creperie and filet mignon for dinner, but you’d also have to pay the Parisian price for it. The cafes and bars were lined along the beach, so you could take a dip in the crystal blue water between lunch and dinner while working on your tan. The highways were painted and streets were signed, and a lot of fare skinned youngsters drove around in tiny Peugots.
I looked for a host on couchsurfing, and stumbled upon the same guy that hosted me a year and half ago in Martinique. Him and his roomates treated me like a guest of honour – I took the penthouse bedroom in exchange for cooking meals, and they took me to two of the most beautiful places in New Caledonia. First we spent the day at the base of a water dam, where a bright blue lagoon sat amidst cliffs and house-sized stones that you could jump off from different heights. The second day we hiked 2 hours into the Dumbea river valley, filled with waterfalls and freshwater pools, and did pretty much the same thing.
While the boys were at work every day, I busied myself with ferries to different isles and islets around Noumea. Two of them are reached by a 15-20 minute water taxi: Ile aux Canards is a couple kilometers off the coast, about 200m around, filled with beach chairs and one little restaurant, but I spent most of my time there in the water staring at colourful fishes and huge corals. Ilot Maitre was slightly bigger, a long narrow strip of sand and trees surrounded by a hundred kites. It’s a kite surfer’s paradise on the windward side, and the leeward side has more corals and pretty fishes, plus a handful of luxurious bungalows built right over the lagoon for lovey-dovey Japanese honeymooners.
Amadee Islet was a similar size, but you can only visit by day and its a lot further away. Its kind of a tourist trap, but still a lovely, all-inclusive day trip to paradise island. Its the kind of island you’ve seen on a thousand post cards of the south pacific, the ideal, isolated palm-fringed, white sand beach island, surrounded by perfect reefs holding turtles and sea snakes swimming among the big parrot fishes. There’s a towering white lighthouse in the middle that gives you an amazing aerial view of it all. After getting our fill of snorkeling and beaching, we feasted on a seafood buffet while watching Polynesian dancers shake their tattooed bodies and hips adorned with leafy belts.
Ile des Pins was just that – a tropical island filled with pine trees! They stuck out taller and darker than the palms, but made the island look even more magical than it already felt. People actually live on Ile des pins (there hadn’t been any locals on the other little ones), but it’s a small, isolated and picture perfect place that’s catered to French, Australian and Japanese tourists to come and buy into a slice of heaven for just the day or weekend. The locals work according to the plane and ferry schedules, opening shops and cooking stalls just for our arrival, and once we’ve left or gone to bed, they disappear back to their private lives, unmolested by light, noise, or any sort of hectic stress that Noumeans have to live with.