November 14, 2012

Notes about islands in New Caledonia: Ile Maitre, Iles de Pins and Loyalty Islands

It has been 2 years since we started our journey around the world, and we just had our 2nd anniversary sailing together. I decided to write my first story! (Daria) It is more like a notes for our friends who are sailing in this area or will sail next season.

We arrived in Noumea and parked Downtime in Marina for a week. It was very cheap, we paid around $30 per day include water and electricity. After salty sailing and all the ashes from Tanna it was really good to have unlimited water to wash the boat and do all our laundry. After one day of cleaning and another day looking around, we decided to rent a car and see "Grande Terre" - main island with "3000 indigenous plant species and 4300 species of land animals" most of which we never saw…. You can read all about it in our previous story! What I can say, it was not as exiting as driving around NZ. But if you are still planning to do this, first make a reservations for hotels and second, when you rent a car you need rent it with unlimited mileage, or you will have to pay $0,30 for each extra km like we did…(always read the fine print) and it will make the price of the car go from $60 to $120 per day... They did not explain it in the rental place... But for seeing the best part of "Grande Terre" you will need a tent and hiking shoes!

After we come back, bought some goodies, we left for Iles des Pins a 30 mile sail south. Wind and rain stopped us in Ile Maitre just a few miles from Noumea. This island divided on 2 zones, one half for kite surfing and another for relaxing in nice Resort. Just remember it's a popular spot for local people and it can be VERY crowded during weekends or holidays. Resorts have a special promotion - return ticket from Noumea, lunch and access to swimming pool for just $60...

The island is surrounded by a nautical reserve, we did not snorkel, but I fed a huge Jack from back of the boat and Pete saw few turtles while he was kiting! I had sore throat and relaxed and did nothing for few days with free Internet via our wifi booster. Thanks Le Meridien. It was not the fastest connection but enough to talk on Skype or do shopping in Ebay! Yippie! It was kite paradise for Pete with wind blowing 20 knots every day and for me with free Internet!

We sailed to Iles des Pins and anchor in Baie de Kute and the weather was still crappie... Rain, rain, rain, no sunshine for 5 days. We saw few turtles just from the back of the boat. But I didn't want snorkel in this kind of weather. Finally the sun came out and we rented a car just for a day and saw all of this small island, you can do it in a half day! I could not say that this Island is "must see" and there are a few other islands in New Cal more pretty. But if you are a tourist, take the ferry to Ilse des Pines - Great deal! You will see all the best spots! I don't know how much it costs, but it is worth doing!

 The next day we decided to sail back to Noumea. On our way we saw few whales, they were jumping and splashing their huge fins in the water!! We stopped again at Iles Maitre and ran into Linda and Brian with their kids on Malekite. It was fun to meet them again, the last time we saw them was in Fiji. The next morning we took SD to Noumea to buy provisions, to clear-out and to buy some alcohol in Duty-Free. Our friend Bob on Braveheart asked us to also buy some for him and in the end we needed a van to carry it all to the marina! At first they were just going to limit us to two bottles but I persuaded them to let us buy a few more! And it turned to unlimited deal, they told us: " hmm, probably, you will pay a lot for tax in your next country". "don't worry, Lady, we will manage it!" So they even delivery all alcohol to Marina Office.

You can also ask about vouchers for diesel in Customers! But Pete decided to wait until Vanuatu with diesel. This turned out later to be a really good decision since one of our fuel tanks cracked on the way to Vanuatu!

We tied the dink on the dock near Market and later we realized this was a privet dock. (no signs though?) When we got back to dink the gate was locked and when we asked to get in they wanted $5000 ($54 US) to open the gate! Pete said that is way too much for a few hours and the extremely rude lady would not budge! We walked around to the marina dock just when some friends were pulling in and Pete asked for a ride to SD. He got SD untied and was motoring away while the lady was yelling at him in French about paying We loaded the supplies and got out of there fast!

By the way I never saw so many rude people in any country during all our trip... Just few assh*les in French Polynesia... While we were anchored in Ile Maitre, the water taxi's were always driving so fast and so close to the boats, once even glass fell down on Downtime I cannot imagine what it would be like on a mono-hull.... I guess it's kind of the French mentality....

We set sail with the fridge full of expensive veggies, Thai herbs: lemongrass, keffir-leaves, galagan, (which you can buy in the Market). We had clearance papers to sail to Iles Mare, in the Loyalty Is. With over night stop in Port Boise, where you can have free fast Internet (22.21.18S 166.57.53E) we were able to anchor near Roh, Mare Is. We explored the area around on super dink and it was a lot of fun. This area is a lot like Lau Group in Fiji with big rocks making a labyrinth in turquoise water.
There is an excellent snorkeling on the west side of Roh with a lot of fish and sharks of course with beautiful corals, which make canyons to swim through... Visibility up to a 100ft or more! Beautiful!
Mare Is, with its cliffs high above the waves below, seems to be the most secret of the Loyalty Islands.

Our next island was Lifou, the largest of the Loyalty Group, 1150 sq km. It's actually larger then Martinique or Tahiti! It is the main island and the most populated with a few shops, restaurants and hotels, you also can find Internet and pharmacy if you need it!

The first night we spent near We, a funny name for of the town? There is Marina and an anchorage is inside the bay. But I can hardly imagine 3 boats being anchored in at the same time, or even 2! But it was the end of the sailing season, so it was just Downtime! But the little Marina was full!
If you have a booster you can catch Free Internet on you way in or out from the Bay! We stopped Downtime and were drifting for half hour checking ours mails.
 This is a main town of the main island and it is kind of spread out. We start our walk from the south side where Marina is and spent 40 mins to reach the other side, where there is a pretty hotel, Drehu Village with nice restaurant and server French and local cuisine... this day they caught a lot of lobsters and crabs. We asked if we could get a ride over for dinner but their were no cars for hire and we would have had to wait 3 hours for dinner time….what a pity!…

Next morning we moved to Eacho, we didn't stop in Baie de Doking, but if you have time you should! There is hotel there, with nice restaurant, you need to make reservation! with great view and you can rent bicycle there and explore the area around - the Vanilla plantation and botanical garden.
Eacho is a place where cruise ship brings tourists. We were there exactly on the same day, so we enjoyed all local preparations, food, music, massage, souvenirs and ext. . I even don't know if it is all that bad be with all this crowd... Probably once for a while it's good. We felt like we were on a cruise!

Next day we moved to Baie de Gaatche. There is a reef - Recif Shelter (20.53.51S 167.02.78E) Snorkel or diving MUST BE DONE!!!! I did snorkel just for half hour and it was spectacular, I saw thousands fish different types, beautiful untouched corals (all corals 100% alive), sea-snake, black-fin sharks... It was better then Suvorov atoll and better than Fiji! Pete doesn't like snorkel so much, so I was by my self, but I still don't feel comfortable swimming with few sharks alone for a hour... so I spent just a half hour underwater... But I wish I can do it again!

We were just a 30 miles away from Atoll d'Ouvea, for so experience sailors it should have been an easy sail. We did not even think it necessary to check the Grib-file (weather). But this short passage was the worst passage so far this season.! We started the trip with calm winds and sunshine, we stopped near Recif Shelter on our way, where I did my snorkel. We set sail and after just one hour we were ready to change the Screecher for Jib sail (big sail to little sail), because the wind started to blow 35 knots... The waves were sharp and big... Nasty weather... But lucky we were just 25 miles away from Ouvea. Pete did a great job with navigating the boat through the small pass and then the winds died and we were in Paradise!

Atoll d'Ouvea is the most beautiful atoll for this season and reminded us of the Bahama Islands, and I think it is one of the most beautiful atoll's that we have ever seen.

You can easily spend 2-3 weeks there exploring with a paradise all to your self. Our first anchorage was on I. Mouly (20.43.05S 166.25.47) White sand beach and absolutely clear, blue water, it looks even better then Tuamotu Atolls. There is a church and few houses along the road and behind church maybe 100 or 200 meters, you can find keffir lime tree! With the price on the market $12 per kilo, that was a treasure, but keffir leaves are priceless, they make taste of the curry like a heaven! :)

Next stop is near a brand new Resort, which when we were there the first time was not done yet but a lot of people were working hard for the opening in two weeks... I found hundreds of beautiful shells for my collection while I went for a walk on the soft white sand beach while Pete was out kiting.

We took SD under the Mouli bridge, where you can snorkel with giant fish, and found a sheltered lagoon with an amazing limestone island (Lekiny Cliffs) with cliffs and grottos that I hiked up a took pictures of the blue lagoon.

              From the Mouli bridge, there is a splendid view of Lekiny bay and Mouli island!
 We continued to sail along the coast and anchored in front of the sailing club, which for some reason was closed. Across the road you can find quite big grocery shop with bagets and the basics, but we were looking for Internet. A local guys explain me where we can find a connection. In the end it was easier to take a boat there, being just few miles down the island. We decided go for a walk which was pretty with all local gardens, a lot of Magnolias and it was the cleanest island, which I saw so far... About Internet, you can park the boat (20.37.99S 166.32.05) and just cross the road, there is a small guest house, inside the restaurant you can use Internet 500Fr ~ $5 per connection, it means doesn't matter how long you will use it or how many Gb! Very good deal, for someone who want to talk to Mum and upload pics! The next day was grey and rainy and I spent it in this strange little Internet CafĂ©, a shack with a few table and chairs with sand floor.

Next morning we sailed directly to aquarium in the end of the island (20.25.51S 166.34.02E) Snorkeling in the pass and it was AMAZING. I saw hundreds of big fish, really interesting corals and of course more sharks - black-fin, white-fin and lazy leopard sharks!
Attention! This anchorage has little mosquitoes, and they were really bad!

Next morning we decided to stop near Motu Veiloa. Very beautiful anchorage, and very sheltered, between 8 and 12 feet, so with great visibility, I felt like we on the ground looking down through the crystal clear water. We took SD around rest of the motus and I did few snorkels, trying to find right spot to dive... But the best spot was pass near aquarium... it was a shame... But I took some awesome pics!!

Around midnight a strong wind start to blow from South-West, and we had to move to a safe place... It was really dangerous navigating out of this shallow anchorage, but Pete did a great job again and we anchored Downtime near Oudetr (20.26.84S 166.29.33E) just a mile away for rest of the night.

Early the next morning we sailed to little atoll de Beautemps-Beaupre 20 miles west. We tried to catch a fish on our sail there, but had no luck... But here were bigger fish in the sea and just before the pass we saw a few whales. These whales were being sneaky and stayed away from us but when we cleared the pass we saw a few others jumping a few miles away! We hurried to go see them and were able to get some amazing pictures of them jumping high out of the water and coming down with huge splashes. And some were playing close to the boat for over an hour!

There was a space just for 2-3 boats in the small anchorage and the first day there was just one other boat and rest of the time we were anchored alone.
Attention!! There were swarms bugs there!! They were terrible!!, they didn't care about fruits or food, or even not much about you, but they liked my orchid, and even more the white plastic speakers :) They even covered all our plastic trees... These bugs were really annoying and there were thousands of them. So be sure to close all screens before you come close to the Island!

Snorkel is okay, but nothing spectacular, we checked few passes and bombas in the middle... Some fish, some sharks, corals half way alive... I paddle board to shore and saw some crabs of course and few hermit crab tracks... you can easy pick up few coconuts, if you like! The easiest way to open them to use a cordless drill and a half inch bit and stick a straw in!J

Somehow I persuaded Pete to sail back to Ouvea for few day! We already stayed few weeks longer then we planed. It was 13th of Oct...In two weeks we should already leave Vanuatu for Kiribasi… lucky we didn't have any crew or guest to worry about and could change our plan!

We moved to I. in Pleiades du Sud. No wonder why it's UNESCO site(marine preserve). It was AMAZING with clear water and very colorful bombas, they almost talked to us - hurry up, jump in water! Finally we did and put on our dive gear! We saw some giant grouper, black-fin baby sharks, some huge silver fish and a lot of reef fish, hundreds of them! Visibility was Excellent!

The level of the snorkel is the same like in Suvorov atoll or Tonga! Corals half-way a life, but with very interesting construction, very rocky with a lot of holes and caves! It is paradise for people , who enjoy snorkeling and diving! And on our way we caught the fish -a big Walloo and a small Barracuda, the second one we let go. I am too scared to have ciguatera (toxin from the corals, which fish eat) one more time!

It had been 2 days since we left atoll de Beautems and after all my cleaning and Pete's spraying all his poison stuff everywhere (bug killer), that seemed more like it was killing me, than the bugs, we still had the nasty creatures with us on the boat!!! We realized that it was breeding season and that's why they are so crazy, but thank goodness at least they were not biting us...

The next day was 15th of October, two years since we have been at sea, we decided to sail to new Resort, which was due to opened on 11th and celebrate! The resort was open and we had a decent meal. The resort looks like a nice place to come get away from it all and should be done soon.

The weather was stormy again and we moved to place with Internet Cafe, to order a new underwater camera (which still "being shipped" after 2 months, what's up with this??) and a few other things for the boat.

The weather forecasts did not look good any time soon to sail back to Vanuatu but The Captain decided to get out there while the wind was still blowing….not always the best idea! Our sail back turned out to be another adventure in itself…but that is for another story…

I hope it was useful information and you are very welcome to leave your comment or question or write us email


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