Noumea – New Caledonia

“… a sparkling jewel in the Pacific Ocean.”

Rollin' down the river to Noumea
Rollin’ down the river to Noumea

If Moorea was an unspoiled, and largely undeveloped, paradise then Noumea is a gem which has been polished to a sparkling jewel in the Pacific Ocean. My goodness what a fabulous place this is and I can see why it is known as the ‘Paris of the Pacific’. It is more like the South of France in appearance with its palm trees and beautiful bays but infinitely nicer (fewer traffic jams and very polite locals).

Promenades and palm trees
Promenades and palm trees

However, before I start thinking in terms of it being a future holiday destination and mentally awarding it 5 stars on Trip Advisor, I need to give myself a very stern reminder that the only way to get here is to fly from Australia or Japan. In common with the South of France, it is also ridiculously expensive.

Queen Victoria safely in port
Queen Victoria safely in port

We arrived at the spectacular archipelago just as dawn was breaking but had a long transit along the river to Noumea, the capital city of the French special collectivity of New Caledonia.

Part of the welcome committee - the drummers and one of the warriors
Part of the welcome committee – the drummers and one of the warriors
Warrior with attitude!
Warrior with attitude!

Did I know that the barrier reef off these islands is second only to Australia’s Barrier Reef? Absolutely not. The islands of New Caledonia have a sub-tropical climate and at its coldest, Noumea’s average daily maximum temperature is still 28C. Today was much warmer. Our welcome was nothing short of ‘hot’ with a display of drumming and war dances from grass-skirted warriors enthusiastically performing on the quayside before the ship could properly dock. Once clearance was given, people were keen to go ashore and, for me, the chosen tour of the island was via one of the brightly coloured, open-carriage little trains – locally known as ‘The Choo-choo’. It was absolutely perfect as the day just got hotter and hotter.

My 'wheels' for the sight-seeing trip
My ‘wheels’ for the sight-seeing trip

We did the sights and saw bay after bay of beautiful aquamarine water. Some were breezy and perfect for kite surfing, whilst others provided calm waters for safe family bathing. People in New Caledonia are passionate about sailing, which is obvious from the number of yachts and huge variety of crafts filling the marinas and at anchor in the bays. Each family owns at least one and they are used for visits to the other islands, visiting friends and just enjoying life. Generally speaking, Noumea has an up-market population and buying a house with a sea view here costs over US $1m for something basic. Very few are basic.

“Education is incredibly important…”

Different races live happily side by side and some have intermingled. The Melanesians, who were here first, have been joined by Polynesians, Europeans, Indians, Vietnamese and Chinese. The Indians and Vietnamese came to mine the nickel which was discovered here and two huge nickel mines feature on the island’s landscape. The Chinese came and developed their China Town. It never ceases to amaze me that almost everywhere I go in the world, I can be sure of Dim Sum and Sweet and Sour! Of course amongst the early settlers were white missionaries who brought both Catholic and Protestant religions to the islanders. Today 55% of the population is Roman Catholic, 35% Protestant and 10% Muslim (the latter being courtesy of prisoners who were shipped here from Morocco when Noumea was a penal colony).

But religion ‘bends’ a little more here. We saw a fabulous looking fish restaurant which is owned and run by nuns! Apparently you can go and have a delicious lunch and sing an Ave Maria with them at the same time.

Horse racing is very popular
Horse racing is very popular

Education is incredibly important and schooling begins at 3 years old. When children go into Primary School, at the age of 6, the school day is from 07:00 until 16:00. When they are in High School or University, the day stretches from 07:00 until 18:00 or 19:00. The children all wear bright blue shirts as their school uniform. Skirts and trousers seemed to be grey or blue. It doesn’t matter which school you go to, the uniform is the same across the island and, just like children everywhere in the world, passing visitors were an excuse to forget the lesson, rush to the windows and wave furiously.

French ‘chic’ is much in evidence amongst the European population. Everything is put together with style and elegance and the shops cater for lovers of French designer goods and matching prices. The native population is also ‘très jolie’ with vibrant colours and flowing garments. Bars and restaurants offer local brews and delicacies but our morning treat, on board The Choo-choo, was a delicious pastry and some local ice cold cider, enjoyed whilst gazing out onto the world’s largest lagoon. Not quite your average Friday morning!



Just one of the harbours of Noumea

After a lengthy wander along the promenades and through the parks, a visit to the beautiful Lemon Bay rounded off my day perfectly. Waiting for the sun to drop behind the distant hills in a water’s edge bar, with a glass of chilled Chablis, served with canapés and a flourish, was a perfect time to reflect on some of the quite outstanding experiences of this trip. And still there’s more to come! Hop on the shuttle bus back to the ship and Australia next stop.


“…where an invitation to dinner may once have been, “Come and be the main course””

Intensely humid Fiji
Intensely humid Fiji

When we sailed into Suva, the capital city of the Republic of Fiji, I knew I had to build on my sketchy knowledge about the country and its people, most of which I had acquired from having watched them play some very energetic rugby. Fiji is actually made up of (currently) 322 islands, only 110 of which are inhabited. The total number of islands is often an approximation as it would appear that every time there is an earthquake somewhere in the world, a new atoll springs up out of the sea to add yet another island to Fiji’s collection.

Welcome to Fiji
Welcome to Fiji

Our quayside greeting was extremely loud at about 6.30 am and I stepped onto my balcony to look down on something reminiscent of an “Oompah Band”. Then came the drummers beating out their complex rhythms whilst some pounded the floor with their large bamboo sticks and finally the grass-skirted warriors with their painted faces and bodies performed a war dance. Then I remembered a long forgotten geography lesson; these people were cannibals at one time. I think it was the white missionaries that went into the pot but based on the fact that these guys looked well fed, I felt reasonably safe. But would I ever get any half decent photographs? The minute I stepped out of the air conditioning into the open air, my camera lens misted over and resolutely refused to clear. The humidity here was incredible and like walking through fog.

The warriors were waiting for us
The warriors were waiting for us
Every large shop comes complete with warriors and a band!
Every large shop comes complete with warriors and a band!

As hundreds of passengers poured off the ship to go on various excursions, the free newspapers we were given carried a banner headline “Cyclone arrives tomorrow”. The ship’s captain had warned us that the bridge was monitoring a massive deep depression coming towards Fiji and hoped that we would be unaffected today. The locals seemed unperturbed…it’s the cyclone season in this part of the world, no problem!

“We had been warned about the Kava tradition”

"Come to share our Kava with us!"
“Come to share our Kava with us!”
This is what drinking Kava can do!
This is what drinking Kava can do!

My tour was going deep into the countryside to experience life in a Fijian village. The welcome we received was exceptional and was in no way dampened by the monsoon which arrived at the village with us. They sang their welcomes to us and the village ladies performed gentle swaying dances. We had been warned about the Kava tradition (a local drink which should in no way be confused with the sparkling Cava). There was a ceremony by the local warriors (who in their spare time play for the local rugby team!) for the preparations to share the drink. This drink, which I can best describe as looking like muddy water, is made from crushed and ground roots of the pepper plant and is, allegedly, lethal. I got the impression it had the same sort of effect as LSD and even though women are now allowed to drink it, I thought sitting this one out was the way to go. Then it was off for a walking tour of the village…that’s right, in the monsoon. The umbrella I had acquired in Buenos Aries was once again put into service but the local lady who was showing us around had the best idea – go barefoot, forget the umbrella and totally ignore the deluge. Back at the primitive village hall after a 15 minute wander, it was possible to wring water out of our clothing but it was hot and steamy anyway so no-one was going to suffer.

The village communities are amazing places. Everything is shared, everyone is provided with any help that is needed, they keep communal livestock and grow all their own fruit and vegetables. Everyone is expected to work in some way. They also sell anything not required by the village which enables them to buy salt, sugar, tea, material for clothing and, most importantly, stationery and books for their children’s schooling. Education is free but not the books. The villagers build their own houses, many of which are “work in progress”. It can take several years to acquire sufficient money for building materials and several more for the basic furniture and creature comforts. Only a few have flushing toilets! No-one is denied shelter and new homebuilders are willingly accommodated until buildings are ready. The ladies make handicrafts and jewellery to sell in the markets and the profits support the village It really is a co-operative society and the smiles said it all.

Even the Tour Guides wear skirts
Even the Tour Guides wear skirts

Back in the city it still took me by surprise to see very smartly dressed gentlemen in jackets, shirts, ties…and skirts! They may be called sarongs but they are definitely skirts. So all the men wear skirts and the warriors wear grass ones. And why not? The city gents strode through the puddles whilst those of us in long trousers tip-toed around the edges, although there was a very good reason for the ship’s population being all covered. We had been warned about mosquitos which carry Dengue Fever and the fact that it is rife in Fiji. Therefore most of us had gone for maximum cover, trailing behind us the rather unattractive aroma of DEET as a result of zealous spraying of the repellant.

Once on board again, I can feel the ship swaying in spite of its moorings. Time to go and, hopefully, get ahead of the cyclone as we head out to Noumea in New Caledonia.

Moorea – this is what paradise looks like

“Happy talk, keep talkin’ happy talk,
Talk about things you’d like to do.
You got to have a dream,
If you don’t have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?”

The ancient explorers knew a thing or two when it came to finding great places to pull down their sails, drop anchor and stay for a few months.



Early morning clouds begin to lift

Our sail into Moorea in the early morning sun had a real wow factor as the volcanic peaks were high and jagged and the coral reefs around the island provided clear turquoise lagoons. This heart shaped island has been described as a ‘picture in a frame’ because of the reefs that encircle it. This is not an island with large docks and harbours and we dropped anchor some way out. The air was like silk…soft and gentle as it touched your skin…and the day promised spectacular things.

It really is like this.

After quite a long tender ride to the shore we went on a circular journey of the island and deep inland to capture the unique beauty of this jewel in the Polynesian Sea. There are no towns here, merely small villages, and a population of just 12,000. Our mini-coach driver kept up an amusing banter for hours, frequently stopped, leaned out of the window and picked flowers and branches off trees to provide us with nature’s remedies for every conceivable kind of ailment. I could see many of them working but had to laugh at the island’s cure for constipation….eat three mosquitoes!! There were certainly plenty of them and I have the souvenirs to prove it.



A land crab

We were shown the most enormous land crabs and warned not to put our hands anywhere near the ground as these things were known to bite fingers off. The islanders capture them and feed them nothing but coconut for three days in a purifying process before cooking them. Although there is not much work on the island, the villagers live simple lives and food is plentiful. The sea is rich with fish and the coconuts, breadfruit, bananas, pineapples and mangoes are in plentiful supply. In fact the landscape is full of plantations, and not only do they export the fruit, but extract its juice and make liqueurs.

Once again the clouds hovered across the mountains at times but the valleys and beaches were sun-filled all day. The beaches and lagoons were certainly eye-catching and one or two 5 star hotels have appeared on the island, with bungalows on stilts built into the lagoons, each with its own steps into the water providing snorkelling and swimming literally on the doorstep. This is the cheap season because of the heat and the fact that it can rain a lot, so the hotels have offers at about US $400 per night. In the high season, when it is cooler and permanently dry, the costs can rise to US $6,000 per night…but coffee is included!

All the mountains have names and some have significant meaning for the islanders, for example the Rotui Mountain (which divides Opunohu Bay, where we are anchored, and Cook’s Bay) is regarded as sacred. For me, the one which was the most fascinating was Bali Ha’i as it alternated between showing itself in full sun, then appearing to wrap itself in cloud before finally shedding misty wreaths to allow access by the sun once more. I am sitting looking at it as I write this wondering if the clouds will lift once more as we say goodbye and sail away.



Bali Ha’i… was calling!

“Bali Ha’i may call you,
Any night, any day,
In your heart, you’ll hear it call you:
“Come away…Come away.”

Bali Ha’i will whisper
On the wind of the sea:
“Here am I, your special island!
Come to me, come to me!”

Your own special hopes,
Your own special dreams,
Bloom on the hillside
And shine in the streams.
If you try, you’ll find me
Where the sky meets the sea.
“Here am I your special island
Come to me, Come to me.”

Moorea is, as the tourist guides describe it, a magical island full of myths and legends. I could happily go on another exploration tomorrow, perhaps on one of the quad bikes which are rented to tourists, or on an exciting ascent of the mountains in one of the 4X4s. But there are other places left to visit and after crossing the International Date Line we are heading for Fiji.







Enjoying the lagoon… and… and… “Some enchanted evening…”
But our ship was waiting to sail…

Tahiti – and not a grass skirt wearer to be seen

The beaches, with their black volcanic sand, remained in the sunshine as we toured the island.

Early this morning we docked at this beautiful tropical island in the city of Papeete (pronounced Pa-pae-ett-ae because the Polynesians sound every syllable). The word ‘city’ is an exaggeration as it is probably smaller than most of our towns. But Tahiti is the largest of the 130 islands which make up French Polynesia and the next time I see the Olympics I will watch out for the “Society Islands”, of which Tahiti is a part. It is certainly remote – 4,100 miles from Los Angeles, 3,800 miles from Sydney and in the South Pacific, so not exactly a hop, skip and a jump from the UK.




Preparing to go fishing…

1F0EA0D2-3731-4544-BA34-921914A96BB3Of course, Tahiti is known for the famous people who have lived here. Captain James Cook started the trend in 1769 and in 1788 William Bligh stopped by in HMS Bounty to collect breadfruit for the slave plantations in the West Indies. He stayed too long, his men enjoyed life with the happy-go-lucky Tahitians and the day of departure was not greeted with any enthusiasm. Hence the legendary mutiny and the departure of a group of beautiful Tahitians who sailed to the Pitcairn Islands with Fletcher Christian and his crew (having dispatched Captain Bligh and his supporters in a long boat). Moving on a year or two, Gaugin, Somerset Maughan and Rupert Brooke all chose to live on Tahiti.

You realise that it is a tropical island when the craggy volcanic mountains (covered in lush vegetation) peek in and out of low cloud and steam appears to rise from the tops of the trees. The beaches, with their black volcanic sand, remained in the sunshine as we toured the island. The surf was spectacular although the undertow is fiercesome and sea swimming is only recommended for strong swimmers.


There she blows…
Ginger Plant
But by far the most spectacular part of the tour was a visit to the Faarumai Falls.



Chasing waterfalls!

We were taken to Point Venus where the early navigators landed and there stands a rather spectacular 75 ft high lighthouse. It is also the spot where the 1962 version of Mutiny on the Bounty (with Marlon Brando) was filmed. We were taken to see the Arahoho Blowholes where waves force themselves through a tunnel in the rock so water then spurts out at the top of the cliff.


But by far the most spectacular part of the tour was a visit to the Faarumai Falls. The first waterfall is set in a lush green valley and we were able to climb to the point where it cascades from a great height into a deep pool. The noise was deafening, the rocks were slippery with the spray but the reward for perseverance was a breathtaking view.

Lunch included local specialities such as poisson cru (raw fish marinated in lime juice and topped with coconut cream, onions and oil) and fafa (spinach served with young suckling pig). But the local breadfruit (a bit like potato but drier and sweeter) served as fries was a gastronomic experience in its own right. Fabulous.

Even the locals say it is expensive here and my goodness they do not exaggerate. The unit of currency is the French Pacific Franc but American dollars are very welcome. The island specialises in the sale of black pearls, which are really beautiful. However, family and friends should not hold their breath… the shop’s credit card machine had broken!! The local market hall (where you cannot barter) actually had some hand made ‘grass’ skirts but, sadly, I couldn’t think of an appropriate occasion to show up in one.

The locals are delightful and the children especially are spectacularly beautiful. For anyone with ambition to live in the middle of nowhere, this is indeed a ‘nowhere’ worth considering.



Pitcairn Islands – no mutiny but bountiful!


In the early hours of dawn the Pitcairn Islands loomed into view and as the sun rose in the sky we were boarded! Not by pirates, although some claimed they were, but by a boat load of direct descendants of Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers from HMS Bounty all those years ago. And here they have remained, on this remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, living (now) a peaceful life with only recently installed telecommunications (complete with New Zealand phone numbers).









They brought their own ‘bounty’ in the form of souvenirs and once most of the passengers had disembarked from their boat, the remaining men lifted panels from the floor to reveal crate upon crate of goodies. All these were hastily lifted aboard and stalls were set up. The trading was all in American dollars with people who had a distinct New Zealand accent. This is because, as children, they are sent to New Zealand for their final two years of high school. Many never return because jobs and money here are extremely limited.

Then there was time to chat with Jacqui Fletcher. She is a seventh generation descendant who left the island, qualified as a pharmacist, worked in New Zealand, Australia and the UK before finally returning to the place of her birth. She is no longer a pharmacist as medical needs are met by the island’s doctor and a part time nurse, but this bright, well educated woman takes pride in doing a lot of administrative work on behalf of the 52 islanders. That’s right, just 52!!!



96CD10AE-485D-46CC-AAA0-70EAE8E56B74.jpegThe cruise around Pitcairn left me wondering how on earth they got on and off this lush green volcanic island with its towering cliffs and steep rock faces. In spite of the calm seas, the tide raged relentlessly against the craggy shore line and it was difficult to spot any natural harbour. A circuit of the island seemed to reveal just one inlet, complete with a slip-way which appeared man-made. So how did the Bounty fare? There seemed to be no roads on the island but steep pathways linked houses built in terraces on the hillside. Jacqui enlightened us that the only mode of transport is quad bike (how exciting) or by walking the 2 square miles.

As for the landing possibilities….freighters come by 4 times a year with provisions and often have to wait for a couple of days for the sea to be calm enough to get the goods to the shore.

The island’s history is fascinating. The mutineers arrived with some Tahitian women (but not enough). There was fighting because the Tahitian men who also came were only allocated 1 woman to 3 men and eventually Fletcher Christian was shot, along with two other British men, when the Tahitians staged their own mutiny. Of course we had to ask about the clear dangers of small populations being limited for marriage opportunities. The answer was amusing. Pitcairn is an island with a small gene pool but because it is an island it is visited by ships heading to and from Tahiti and sometimes genes just happened to get left behind!!

Some children accompanied their parents to the ship and were some of the friendliest kids you would find anywhere. They are immensely proud to count the generations separating them from their ancestors. One little boy had his arm in a plaster cast and was happy to tell anyone who asked that he “fell off a cliff”. Ouch!


There are 4 islands which make up the Pitcairn Islands, two of which are atolls. Henderson Island offers beautiful sandy beaches with palm trees but no population! I didn’t expect to feel quite so proud to have got closer than most people to this truly fascinating island but I now fully intend to keep in touch via their website. As a protectorate of the UK they are immensely grateful for the small amount of support they receive and I will now follow the islanders’ progress with interest as they sell their honey (said to be the purest in the world) and their beautifully carved wooden goods.

We are now doing what most people do who pass by here and heading for Tahiti.

Easter Island – early Easter but I didn’t land!




image.pngOne of the things I had looked forward to on this trip was today’s visit to Easter Island. Sadly, for me, it was a disappointment, simply because we were not allowed to set foot on the island and had to make do with a ‘sail-around’.


It is certainly not the most accessible place I have visited and I could see that the harbour was about the size of the ship’s theatre.

Rocks with waves lashing over (on a really calm day) also indicated that the ship’s tenders would have trouble, but the real decider was that the islanders didn’t want us!! That I could understand. Unlike places such as Stonehenge, they have not protected their wonderful statues and people are free to walk around them, touch them, etc. Imagine 2,000 passengers (and probably most of the 1,000 crew as well) trampling all over the sites which contain the island’s famous several hundred figures (moai).


19CD9B43-765F-43BD-8AE0-54C6163D4B1F.jpegLike many islands in this region of the world, Easter Island is volcanic (now extinct). The moai were carved from the volcanic rock and some of the island’s ‘red’ rock was used to further decorate the statues with ‘top knots’, some of which still survive. Some statues stand, some kneel and some sit. Some are half buried by deposits of soil and minerals washed down the hills during bad weather (cyclones are known to hit the island). The early statues tend to be smaller but as the Polynesian islanders became more proficient, the later ones were much larger.

Interestingly, this small island boasts an airstrip – and it is not just any old airstrip either. During the time that America was regularly sending up space shuttles which might have been coming down to earth in the Pacific area, there had to be somewhere in the middle of this vast ocean where they could land. Easter Island fitted the bill. Normal flights take place about twice weekly to Fiji and Peru but as far as I know, they were never hosts to a returning space shuttle. They have recently built a couple of hotels and people actually come to Easter Island for a holiday. It must be a real “let’s get away from it all” kind of place and certainly not attractive to internet users if my experience was anything to go by! Satellites serving the South Pacific must be fewer than in other parts of the world and ten minutes to send an e-mail felt to me just a little slow!

“… site for ‘Brown Boobies’!”


Photography today was also a bit of a test. The Captain got as near as possible but long lenses do not always produce clear pictures. An additional complication was that the moai all face inland, so you could only photograph the front view at an even greater distance and from an angle. Ah well. We heard fascinating stories about the island’s ‘bird men’ period when young men climbed down the sheer cliffs, swam off the rocks to one of the smaller islands (now a bird nesting site for ‘Brown Boobies’) a good mile away, collected one bird egg, swam back and climbed the cliff face. The egg was presented to the tribal elders and the first man back with his egg intact became the tribal leader for one year. If the egg broke, he had to go back and do it all again.


We spent a good couple of hours sailing right around the island before heading off once again into the sunset. In a few more hundred miles we will find the famous Pitcairn Islands, still home to direct descendants from the crew of The Bounty. Meanwhile, calm deep blue seas, hot sun and warm breezes have been with us and, amazingly, the days simply fly by in the middle of this vast ocean. Often we are too far from land for any bird presence but have been entertained on occasions by flying fish… to say nothing of the ship’s company and guest entertainers.


A sunny Sunday in Santiago




The long drive from the port of Valparaiso to the capital city of Chile took us through countryside which was lush, green and filled with vineyards. These were interspersed with orange and lemon groves and with the high, snow capped Andes towering in the distance, the two hour drive was a visual delight.



Not so delightful was the entry into Santiago. I have never seen so much graffiti anywhere! There were political slogans, anti-police slogans, some dubious art work and then the hideous scrawls of kids just wanting to leave their mark. And these marks were everywhere. Statues, buildings, pavements…none were immune and it was difficult to look past and focus on something else.

It didn’t help that, in common with most cities in Catholic countries, everything was closed. Even the ubiquitous Mcdonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC were resolutely shut. Not a coffee to be found anywhere. Therefore a visit to Constitution Square in the blazing sun and a long talk from our guide on the political and constitutional make-up of Chile could not be assuaged by the simple pleasure of ‘an Americano to go’. But at least the guards protecting the President’s formal residence (even though he only goes there on official occasions), smiled benignly as they indicated we should step no further forward.




So, onwards. We couldn’t go to the main square because there was a ‘demonstration’…no details given, but at least this was unlikely to have an anti-British flavour. However, the drive through the new part of Santiago, with its fabulous modern architecture (free from the graffiti which adorned places like the Opera House), was fascinating. So were the open spaces and lovely parks throughout the city.


2FAF7253-D325-4521-BB32-AD6E016C2359.jpegI have to mention lunch at the partially open air restaurant. A traditional drink in Chile is ‘pisco sour’. This is made from distilled grapes and is ‘soured’ by lemon. Delightful! We were given this in Puerto Montt as an aperitif and it was definitely not strong. However….. Santiago wanted to leave a lasting impression. Bigger glasses and a punch like a swinging sledgehammer caused general noise levels to rise and loud laughter joined in when copious amounts of the local wine were added to the mix. I had visions of people sliding gently under the tables for an early siesta but fortunately everyone arrived back at the bus.

Those who were then sleeping (!) missed the joke about our next stop. The coach driver navigated his way through cyclists and walkers to take us up ‘Conception Hill’ for a panoramic view of the city. This is a local name given because it is a favourite place for young couples who cycle or walk to the top, watch the sunset and, eventually, come down again. Great views from a myriad of private viewing spots on this densely wooded hillside.

What day in Chile would be complete without a visit to a vineyard and a chance to simple the local wines? But it’s a great way to sell the products and people came away laden with cases of wine. Sadly, my baggage allowance is already tight and ‘getting tight’ on board by drinking in my room is not an ambition.

Next stop Easter Island.


Back in Valparaiso we were in time to catch the local ‘flea market’. Stalls sold the usual goods that few people wanted or stopped to buy. I was amazed to see a huge number of second hand stalls (a bit like an English car boot sale) which attracted a lot of attention. I was even offered “nice relaxing smoke”. Time to sail off into the sunset! Next stop Easter Island.