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Yesterday, our day started with a flurry of activity onboard, including catching up with friends, getting through some landlubber matters and following up with various marinas in Australia. By then it was time for our breakfast ashore of deux grande café au lait and a selection of crepe au chocolat, chaisson pomme, pain au chocolat et croissants at Le Marche de Noumea - Nothing like a caffeine and sugar rush to start the day! Of course, this luxury was repeated again this morning - Hey, in Rome...

Prior to leaving Fiji, we had considered our options for sailing around Vanuatu and New Caledonia. In particular, how we would reduce our beats to windward, given the orientation of the islands to each other. Our chosen route meant a sacrifice of the Loyalty Islands, especially Ouvea, but having seen what else New Caledonia has to offer in terms of sailing destinations within the lagoon, we don't feel like we've sacrificed too much.

Since we'd planned on leaving Baie de la Moselle today for a week or so of exploring further afield, we topped up on our provisions yesterday and enjoyed another meander around the fresh fish and produce markets this morning prior to our departure. An exercise walk, followed by sundowners at Bar Brasserie and another beautiful sunset, with another "green flash", filled in the rest of the day yesterday.

This afternoon we enjoyed a rather brisk 7 Kts sail on headsail alone, with a few knots of current on the stern to help us along. Late this afternoon we anchored in Anse Majic, Baie de Prony for the night, before making our way to Ile des Pins tomorrow, the southernmost island of New Caledonia.There is one aspect of sailing that never ceases to astonish us though.

When we entered Baie de Prony we had at least six anchorages to choose from, all of which would have been convenient for an early morning departure. We could just as easily have turned to port, but we turned to starboard. When we arrived at the first anchorage, we decided it wasn't sheltered enough. The second one was too deep, so we settled for a mooring ball in the third anchorage and, lo-and-behold, on one of the mooring balls, is Time Bandit (Anne and Stuart). They had just arrived from the Loyalty Islands this morning.

There are so many cruising friends who we've tried to meet up with during our travels and never quite managed it. For example, we'd made arrangements with Cattiva (Maria and Maurice) to see them in Tonga, New Zealand and twice in Fiji, but it never materalised. We barely managed to cross paths with Blue Summit (Kate and Steve) in Fiji, but missed them in Vanuatu. We'd even tried to touch base with Time Bandit in Suva, but that fell through as well. Now, in the most unlikely place, here they are and we thought they were sailing around northern Vanuatu. A small world indeed! Unfortunately we probably won't get to spend any time wit h them here as both yachts are in transit, but you never know where we'll see them again.

Tonight, as the sunsets, we're enjoying a delicious dinner of fresh yellowfin tuna, seared bok choi in ginger and garlic, ginger infused carrots and steamed rice, accompanied by a bottle of French chardonnay. Lets hope we can still make that early morning departure tomorrow. If not, we'll get to visit Time Bandit after all.

Yesterday Roy was up early to head to the market in order to purchase dinner in celebration of our 34th Wedding Anniversary - Lobsters, langoustines and prawns, along with some French pastries for breakfast and a baguette for lunch. We're definitely taking advantage of the Fresh Fish Market with decent fish, as we haven't had the privilege of one which has something other than reef fish, surprisingly, since leaving Somoa a year ago.

We then spent a lazy day onboard catching up with family and just pottering around, something else we haven't had a chance to do since leaving Fiji, before Roy cooked up a storm in the galley - our shellfish delight served with savoury rice and a salad. After last year's fiasco in Savusavu, Fiji with Nina (Lynda and Steve), we decided to play it safe this year and cook for ourselves. At least that way we knew we'd actually get a meal!

Today we spent the entire day giving Paw Paw a well deserved detail cleaning, one she hasn't had since Fiji. At least we don't have to deal with soot from burning sugarcane fields or volcanic ash.

This morning we decided to enjoy breakfast, while lounging in the sun with the locals, at Le Marche (Noumea's Market), following which we wandered around the fresh fish and produce stalls to select the ingredients for our meals over the next few days. Roy was also fortunate enough to receive a hug from a group of girls handing out free hugs around the market. After returning with our wares to Paw Paw, we prepared our picnic lunch and set off in search of a dinghy dock closer to the area we wanted to explore today.

 

Our explorations took us across Baie de l' Orphelinat and into the biggest marina we've seen. It just keep going on and on as we weaved our way between the slips, but not a dinghy dock in sight. We eventually tired up to a slip in front of one of the restaurant and discovered it was a private marina nestled up against Pointe Chaleix. Fortunately we had noticed a number of dinghies tied up near the fuel dock and fu rther inquiries informed us that we could do the same for the equivalent price of $3USD. With the dinghy secured, we set off on foot towards Baie des Citrons and Baie de l'Anse Vata.

 

En route we passed a number of very fancy apartment complexes and shops before reaching the white sandy beach of Baie des Citrons. Being a Saturday, the locals were our enjoying the good weather, so we found a bench with a view and enjoyed our picnic. Next stop was Aquarium Des Lagons Nouvelle-Caledonie. Elaine had read about the coral at this particular aquarium, but nothing prepared us for the fabulous sights. The most unusual, brilliantly coloured varieties of coral from around New Caledonia have been successfully "cultivated" and preserved here and they are stunning, not to mention the amazing array of fish we had never seen before. It is definitely a "must see", one that left us in awe. We're definitely looking forward to snorkeling around the islands now to see everything in its natural environment.

 

En route back to Paw Paw, we stopped at one of the myriad of bars and restaurants along the beachfront to enjoy a refreshment. While our feet ache from all the walking over these past few days, it's been a while since we've had so much to explore in such close proximity to our anchorage and there's still more!

 

Having found the location of all the usual services we need - laundry, grocery stores, diesel, petrol, propane, etc, it was time to become tourists in our new home. New Caledonia, surrounded by coral reefs, bathes in the world's largest lagoon and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.

First stop was La Baie de la Moselle et Le Marche (Moselle Bay and Noumea's Market) where we browsed the large selection of fresh fish and produce available, as well as all the handicraft stalls. From there we wandered along the waterfront to La Sorbetiere for chocolate crepes and mid-morning coffee. By then we were ready for our walking tour of La Ville de Noumea (the Town of Noumea) which took us to the beautiful La Cathedrale Sainte-Joseph (Saint Joseph's Cathedral), high on the hillside overlooking La Baie de la Moselle.

When the tiny church of Sainte-Clotilde near the hospital could no longer accommodate the growing Catholic congregation in Noumea, a plot of land, known as "Cap Horn", was purchased in 1874 to build the Cathedral. The foundations were completed in 1876, following which funds were raised by Father Pionnier for the construction which started in 1888 using convict labour. It was blessed by Father Montrouzier in 1890 and eventually completed in 1909. There is also a statue in the grounds, dating back to 1901, dedicated to Joan of Arc.

Next stop was Maison de Higginson (Higginson House), a beautiful chateau-style home that was occupied by one of the many affluent families in the 1900s. Our takeaway lunch was enjoyed under the trees along with many of the town's workers on their lunch break in Place des Cocotiers et Ses Jardins (Coconut Square) before making our way to Le Musee de Nouvelle-Caledonie (Museum of New Caledonia), which depicts the history of the indigenous "kanaks", who still reside in the villages scattered around New Caledonia and continue their traditional lifestyle.

Our wanderings also took us through the Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter), Polynesia China Town and along the high-end streets of Rue de L' Alma and Rue de Sebastopol with their upmarket clothing, perfumery and cosmetics stores.

It was a very interesting day and, although we spent most of the day touring, we barely scratched the surface of places to see and things to do here in Noumea. Still plenty to look forward to.

The day ended with another beautiful sunset and an amazing "green flash", given the crystal clear horizon.

With nowhere in particular to go this morning and the fact that it was a rather chilly morning, getting out of bed was definitely not a priority. When we eventually did surface we enjoyed a breakfast with the last of our bacon from New Zealand which hadn't been confiscated and the last of our eggs that had to be removed from their shells yesterday so that the shells could accompany the rest of our organic waste for incineration by biosecurity. By then it was time to head ashore and commence our explorations in earnest. First stop was the marina office to inquire as to where we could get our laundry done, purchase groceries, purchase a data service plan and get directions to any other patisseries in town. Armed with a map and directions we set off.

Of course the first stop was the patisserie and coffee shop. From there we made some additional inquires at a local cell phone store on what data services were actually available, given that we ha d been told so many different stories, including one that indicated we would be unable to buy a service because we weren't residents. That meant we'd be bound to using the extremely slow wifi facilities offered by various businesses in return for using their services. Surprise, surprise, we discovered that we could in fact purchase a data plan that didn't involve a six month contract as previously informed. All we had to do was find the right person with the right information and voila!

Once that little issue was resolved, we visited the local Casino Johnson supermarche and discovered a very well stocked store full of all our favourite French goodies. En route back to Paw Paw we discovered a number of waterfront restaurants and cafés which we're looking forward to visiting in the not too distant future. Last stop was the obligatory visitor's centre, which provided us with a host of tourist information on the area.

Satisfied with our morning explorations, we returned to Paw Paw to enjoy one of our favourite lunches, al fresco style in the cockpit under glorious sunny skies, surrounded by turquoise waters - French brie, fois gras, a freshly baked baguette, a granny smith apple for Roy and a pear for Elaine, accompanied by a refreshing glass of Savignon Blanc.

The afternoon was spent napping, given that all our sailing of the past few weeks seemed to catch up with us. This evening, while we watched the sunset and the locals out in their pirogues, something we haven't seen since leaving French Polynesia, we enjoyed our dinner of tuna sashimi for starters, then a delicious tuna steak on the barbecue, accompanied by a fresh salad for our main course.

It was yet another early start as we weighed anchor at daybreak in order to make our way to Noumea. Our first sighting of the New Caledonian capital revealed high rise apartment complexes as well as modern homes and arriving in the Port Moselle anchorage area reminded us of Le Marin in Martinique - yachts everywhere. The marina is a modern facility with very helpful staff who pointed us in the right direction to clear immigration, customs and biosecurity.

After a lovely long walk along the waterfront to stretch our legs, we found the immigration offices just before they closed for the day. A brisk walk to customs in the hope of catching them before their lunch break didn't payoff. Unfortunately we were too late so, instead, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Restaurant Captain Cook, where Elaine had a steak accompanied by a roquefort cheese sauce and Roy had octopus in a creamy tomato based sauce - Unbeatable French cuisine!

En route back to the marina to meet the biosecurity official, we stopped in at "Les Petits Choux" patisserie to enjoy a grande cafe au lait and some French pastries.

What never ceased to amaze us about any of the French islands we visited in the Caribbean is that there was never any fuss during the clearing in / out process and the most it ever cost us was a small donation to cover the cost of the ink and paper for the printed clearance form or, in most instances, it cost us nothing. New Caledonia was exactly the same - It didn't cost us a single Franc, not even the cost to have our leftover organic produce incinerated by biosecurity.

New Caledonia is a French overseas territory consisting of the main island, known as Grande Terre, the Loyalty Islands of Ouvea, Lifou and Mare to the east, Isle de Pins and Ouen to the south and the Belep Islands to the north. It is the fourth largest islan d in the South Pacific, exceeded in size only by Papua New Guinea and the north and south islands of New Zealand. New Caledonia is located at the southerly portion of Melanesia and, although tropical, is neither too hot or damp. It definitely seems to get a lot cooler overnight though. Captain Cook was the first westerner to find the islands in 1774 and named it New Caledonia because, to him, the pine-clad ridges bore a resemblance to Scotland. It became a French colony in 1853 and was essentially used as their penal colony, in a similar way to how the British colonised New Zealand and Australia.

While the sights and, particularly, the smells of Vanuatu made us feel like we could have been anywhere in Africa and, therefore, not really a new experience for us, we are definitely looking forward to a different experience here in New Caledonia, especially the French culture we both love. This evening we bumped into Discover II (Gillian and Dirk), whom Elaine first met in Fiji and enjoyed a rather extended happy hour with them. It seems we've started off on the right foot!

Yesterday morning we were up at daybreak to weigh anchor and set sail for New Caledonia. With full sails up, under glorious sunny skies, dotted with fair weather cumulus, we enjoyed a fabulous sail all morning. By the afternoon, though, the winds had started to pick up, bringing with it very lumpy and confused seas. With that, it was time to reef. We'd no sooner put one reef in the main, when it was time for the double reef and a reefed headsail. By midnight we were double reefed on both sails and still making excellent timing, doing around 8 Kts. A very fast sail indeed!

We knew that would mean an earlier arrival at Canal de la Havannah, but we'd decided to hove-to, if need be. As things transpired, we arrived exactly at slack water, but turned around after our first attempt at transiting the entrance, given the surprising and extremely strong outward flowing current. So, while bobbing around, we enjoyed lunch and waited for flood tide. Then we saw another yacht, Lucy, appear out of nowhere. It looked like she was launched from a rocket as she was spat out from the mouth of the channel, going from 2 Kts to 7 Kts in as many seconds. We couldn't believe our eyes. After a brief chat on the radio, we decided it was our turn. What an unusual experience we had. It was like trying to sail across the surface of a giant jacuzzi, with a 4 Kt current against us, even at flood tide. Parts of the surface were slick while other parts had breaking waves, but we made it through safely with yet another yacht, Cavelo, following close behind.

Tonight we're "yellow flagging it" while anchored in a lovely tranquil bay just off Canal Woodin, following which we'll make our way to Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, tomorrow for our clearance. While enjoying the peace and quiet, after having the ocean roaring in our ears for 30 hours, we're struck by how desolate New Caledonia seems and by the striking coppery colour of t he landscape, which appears to be the aftermath of surface mining. Regardless, we're definitely looking forward to our explorations and enjoying some French culture again.

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