New Caledonia and Lifou


It was great to get to Noumea and to pull in to the marina at Port Moselle. The staff there were friendly and helpful and sorted out our questions about customs and immigration quickly and efficiently. It was a simple uncomplicated process to enter the country and we quickly felt welcome.

Our first stop was the market where we found fresh fruits and vegetables, some of which were unfamiliar. The colour and energy of this market brought us back there repeatedly over the next few weeks, as did the good coffee and happy service of the stallholders. The fish market too is part of the complex so we had pretty much all we needed just a few metres from the boat.

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We had plenty to keep us busy as we looked to the repairs on the boat. They say that cruising is the art of travelling to exotic locations to do maintenance. They're not far wrong!

Of course we had to sort out the problem with the auto helm as a first priority and quickly discovered that the issue was simply low fluid level in the hydraulic system. As a precaution we ordered a new seal kit in case we needed to do more serious work than topping up the fluid. This meant a few phone calls to Sydney and then 2 weeks of waiting while the parts were sent to us and, eventually, cleared by customs. As ever, it was the helpful people at the Port Moselle Marina who helped us negotiate the system.

We have a few other issues on the boat to address most of which were something of a storm in a teacup and easy to sort out - in fact one of our bigger problems emerged when Chris dropped her phone into the toilet!. But a problem we had with the AIS turned out to be more difficult to trace and we were lucky to have the help of our friend Gavin living in Noumea to track the problem down to the VHF antenna and to advise us on how to fix it.

We loved the French ambiance of Noumea, quickly finding the finest French cheeses, the wines and lots of other French goodies to stock the lockers on the boat.


The restaurants were fun and food beautiful.

One of the particularly French experiences was the Bastille day parade which was full of the pomp and circumstance of French colonialism - crisp uniforms, polished equipment, serious faces contrasted with the bemused looks of the local people who clearly were not enthusiastic supporters of this outpost of Empire. It seemed that every military or paramilitary organisation marched including the firemen who made an impressive site in their polished helmets carrying polished chrome axes.

We had a few excursions from our snug marina berth at Port Moselle. We travelled up to the north of the island to visit friends with Gavin and had a wonderful overnight stay there; and we also sailed a couple of times out to Isle Maitre to swim and snorkel off the boat. The waters were warm and the fish wonderful - it was very much the tourist brochure paradise and we felt lucky to be there soaking up the sunshine rather than back in Sydney as winter began. 

Video -  Sailing from Ile Maitre to Noumea

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We also went further afield and sailed to the Ile des Pins, and we went via the Baie du Prony for a couple of days. Prony is quite an isolated bay on the mainland, and very unpopulated.  Rather than white sandy beaches it is all red mud.   It literally looks like the pilbara - and like the Pilbara, is a significant mining area. In this case it is nickel mining.

We stopped at Ile Casy in the middle of the Baie du Prony where there is a resort hotel which had been abandoned. Doors and windows wide open - it was clearly derelict and hadn't been used to 12 months or more. But there was a large watercraft with 2 x 90 hp outboard motors sitting on the beach rotting and a shed full of almost new lifejackets, neatly stacked. There was furniture in the rooms and it felt abandoned rather than closed.  The island’s one inhabitant was a friendly dog which had been left there and lived by foraging on the island and fishing!  He leapt off the jetty as we were pulling up a mooring and swam out to the boat. He seemed not to want to come on board but was more interested in catching the fish that were around the boat. When we went ashore a bit later he was there to greet us like long lost friends and then took us on a walk around the island.  


We followed these tracks which crisscrossed the island and whenever we felt lost he would rush ahead down the right track until we'd done a complete circumnavigation. When we got back to the jetty he resumed his fishing. He would stand motionless staring at the water on the end of the jetty until he would suddenly launch himself into the water chasing a fish. Of course it was all too much for us so we went out to the boat got him some food. He seemed to be well aware of what we are doing and sat waiting until we got back before taking our offering and heading off into the hotel to have his dinner. As we headed off in the morning the dog was lying on the jetty with his head on his paws watching us go.

Then there was the four-wheel-drive that pulled up on the shores of the isolated Bay in which we were anchored and then for some reason known only to the crazy driver, and his puzzled wife and child, drove 20 m into the water and promptly got bogged in the sticky red mud. What followed was pure French farce with real gendarmes who turned up some hours later in a 1950s Land Rover, parading about in a macho kind of way displaying their uniforms, pectoral muscles and authority as well as a complete ignorance of how to get a vehicle out of a bog. The humour started to get lost on me when they attached a not very good rope to the back of the ancient Land Rover and tried to drag the car out of the water.


I was convinced it was going to snap and kill us all, particularly since they were adamant that the owner of the 4WD should not try to drive out of the mud as well.  Anyway one of the gendarmes leapt into the land rover and accelerated with the result that the landrover jumped sideways and lodged itself behind a tree. Now we had one car in the water and one behind a tree held together by a rope under considerable strain.  To my horror one of the gendarmes produced a pocketknife and cut the rope. It rocketed across 30 m space between us nearly taking our heads off. Once again the short story is that we survived but my right arm and shoulder took weeks to recover from the efforts to lift the front of the car clear of the mud.

The Ile des Pins was then another 8 hour sail from Prony and we spent five lovely days anchored in Kuto Bay. What a gorgeous place! There’s a beautiful hotel/resort complex on the beach and we had dinner there one night. We walked around some of the bays and hired bikes and rode the 7km to Vao, south of Kuto. There was a local market – absolutely tiny and colourful and we bought a fresh pawpaw and a jar of local citrus jam. The wind was up most of the time and the boat rocked gently on the anchor.   


The SE Trades were blowing, so on the way bak to Noumea we had steady 20-30 knots of breeze – enough to whip up the swells and waves, and to get the boat going beautifully.  We also had an amazingly gentle sail at one point with 25 kt behind us, flat clam water and a current to assist us. The boat was perfectly still and almost silent ...... But we were doing 8kts!  It was as close to flying in a boat as you could get...beautiful!

On the way back a pod of whales surfaced less than 50 m from us on our port side. Although we know that they know we’re there and will most likely try to avoid us, they were doing so many athletic and ballet-like actions, we suspected they were too busy showing off and having fun, and hadn’t registered that we were there so anxiety was high.  On the second occasion we could see the whales ahead of us, and they were again doing all sorts of playful things, slapping the water with their tails and fins, making enormous splashes that you could see from miles away, and the water was white and frothy all around them. We kept them to one side, but that was also the direction that we needed to go. More anxiety on the bridge! We changed course, which then meant that we needed to steer a tricky path through a through a number of tiny islands and reefs to get back onto course…anyway we survived.

We spent a few more weeks in Noumea preparing for our next leg - the trip to Vanuatu via the Loyalty Islands. We left Noumea and headed for Lifou, one of the Loyalty Islands that are part of New Caledonia.  It was a pretty stunning location, much like the brochure! With the clearest water I’ve ever seen. One of the photos attached is of our anchor chain going down into 12 meters of water and you can still see it wandering across the sandy bottom. 

We spent the time snorkeling, sitting on the beach and wandering in the village, looking for the headman to give him our gift of a 5kg bag of rice; when you anchor in someone’s bay it is polite to offer a gift. I’m glad we did because we heard on one of the radio nets that another yacht got boarded by some guys with machetes demanding payment. 

The only machete we saw on Lifou was when we were sitting on the pure white sand under the coconut trees that edged the beach on a little rise behind us. Suddenly a bronzed figure naked from the waist up appeared on the rise with a machete in his hand. After a moment when our lives flashed before our eyes he swung the machete and lopped the top off a coconut he had in his other hand. He then proffered it to madam and said, “you drink”.  We hadn’t found the headman so we offered him the rice and he was very pleased indeed.  I could just imagine him telling his mates over a few kavas how he scored 5kg of rice from the tourists for one lousy coconut!

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So after a short stay on Lifou we headed off to Tanna - the first of the islands of Vanuatu we were to spend time.

If you would like to see more photos of New Caledonia and Lifou visit our photo album

© Michael White 2013