Thursday, 13 September 2012

Episode 11 New Caledonia's Top End and East Coast


Welcome to Episode 11 of the Hog Blog.

At the end of Episode 10 we had just sailed into Koumac onboard Lorelei along with our travelling friends Ben and Wendy on their sailing Catamaran “Just Magic”.


Monday 27th August.
Koumac is the largest town in the Northern Provence of New Caledonia. It is a mining town and there are modern schools, restaurants, 4 supermarkets and lots of new model cars getting around town.
We spent one day exploring the town on foot. It was a 3klm walk from the Marina district into town to provision. We did a fresh food shop, visited the tourist info centre and checked out the local church which is a converted WW2 bunker. A bit weird having the bunker/hanger style domed corrugated roof with a row of ornate stained glass windows below.
On the way home we raided the local patisserie.

The following day the 4 of us jumped onto the mountain bikes and went and discovered the amazing Koumac Grottos (Caves).
The cave system is in the hills approx. 12klm from the marina.
It was a scenic ride over tar and dirt and we even crossed a weir to get there.

The cave system is quite extensive with the main section being over 3klm long underground. We walked, climbed, crawled and wadded for over 2 hours deep into the system. The terrain and structure varied from large chambers, to long low tunnels, to shallow pools of crystal clear icy water, to vertical ascents and descents where we had to use a rope. It was pitch black without a torch and a real challenge in some spots. Fortunately Paul took his big flash unit for the camera, hence the well lit photos.


Lunch was by torchlight. We were unsure how far in we had travelled but either way a meal underground was pretty cool and a first for all of us.

The ride home had to include the obligatory stop at the patisserie for afternoon tea.

Ile Tanle

The 30nm sail from Koumac to Ile Tenle was a great run. The wind was 15-20 knots from the SE and we ran downwind through the Northern Lagoon weaving past many beautiful Islands and reef systems. We had to gybe a stack of times and really had it sorted by the time we arrived. The landscape looking back to the mainland still never creases to amaze us. The entire length of the West Coast has been stunning with the magnificent ranges.

Our anchorage was behind a tall island with a coral pass separating the next island.
Paul spent 2 days kiteboarding the pass and the bay while the girls went kayaking. This was his first kite since arriving in New Cal 9 weeks ago! Pretty weird considering New Cal in winter is supposedly one of the premier windsurfing and kiting spots on the planet. This was only the second time we have had 20 knots of wind.

Baie De Croissant

We left Ile Tanle early with plans on making a run north to Poum with a stop at Baie De Croissant on the way. We motored past a series of beautiful beaches interspaced with small wooded headlands.
The Baie De Croissant is regarded as one of the nicest bays in the area and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
We went for a walk along the beach and found some great shells including some murex’s in great condition.

On the walk we found a little freshwater creek filled with fish. We put the contour camera in for a bit of fun with some unusual results.

Before we left, we had to have a snorkel on the coral in the bay. While the vis was an average 12m, the coral was varied, colourful and in perfect condition, even in the shallows. It was some of the best we have seen in New Cal.

We managed to spear a Cray for lunch with the handspear.


The run north to Poum was only 5nm, however when we got there we had NE winds so we motored a further 2nm north into the top corner of the bay for better protection and found a great anchorage just off a sandy beach. The view to the West provided us with a dozen islands in the Northern Lagoon.

We had a blast exploring the bays, islands, beaches and mangroves by kayak and by the RIB.

Whilst in Poum we went and had a look at the small town. It was very traditional with buildings of thatched roofs and woven palm walls.
We had a nice local guy come out to the street to say hello. He worked in Tourism, spoke English and really wanted to chat to find out where we were from and were we had been in New Cal. We found out from him that everyone in the village was preparing for a wedding and he also explained that the power was out on the entire West Coast all the way to Noumea (420klm away). This explained the lack of shops opened.

Poum is the last town before the tip of the mainland which is only 15nm away.

Baie De Pam

We left Poum at 7am for a sail over the top and 9nm down the other side to Boat Passage. We passed the west side of the passage at 8am and could see thru to the anchorage on the other side but the passage is only 2m deep and we couldn’t get thru. So it was a 15nm run around Ile Paaba down to the other side. We were stoked to be finally rounding the tip. The northern most rounding point was exactly 20 degrees south latitude. We went 19.59.59 just to say we went above the 20’s.
Ben caught 3 Spanish in quick succession whilst trolling around the tip so that was dinner sorted for us all.

We arrived at Boat passage and weren’t real comfortable with the exposed anchorage so the decision was made to push on another 22nm to Baie De Pam. The run consisted of about 20 different legs weaving thru the reefs and islands. We raced Just Magic on the way. They were better on some points of sail and we were faster on others. We even had to drop headsails and motor directly into the wind on two legs. Well for the first time ever – we won – but only by a few minutes. We did 45nm for the day.
That night and the next morning it blew and it blew – a constant 20 knots. We decided to explore the ruins on the shore which are from the old mining era of 1910. Like the other ruins we have seen over the past 8 weeks, we expected a couple of old buildings but what we found was much more extensive than that. First we found the police HQ and the cells and behind that was a large series of ruins spread over a few acres of old mining buildings. We found old machinery, hoppers, storage areas, cranes and a series of underground tunnels that were brick lined. We spent hours bashing through undergrowth looking at all the cool stuff.

        Wendy took this cool photo. Note the birds flying thru the tunnel

Just as we were returning to the boats the 20 knot SE wind died and went around to 10 knots NE so we quickly packed up and took off for another 20nm sail SE down to Pouebo.
This stretch of the coast from Balade down to Heinghene is rich in Culture and loaded with history.
On the way we sailed past 2 historical points near the town of Balade.
The first being the spot where Captain Cook first landed at New Cal in 1774. It happened to be on a reef so a concrete monument is sitting on top of the reef and about 1klm offshore. We don’t think many would get to see it up close…
For those that have read about Cook’s voyage of discovery, the Island just out from the reef (Ilot Poudioue) is the place where he set up the Observatory to view the much anticipated Solar Eclipse.
The second was at Mahamate Beach where Admiral Febvrier-Despointes claimed New Cal in the name of France in 1853 (much to the disgust of the local Kanaks).
We arrived at Pouebo just in time for sunset drinks for the 4 of us on Lorelei in glassy flat conditions. Not bad considering it’s suppose to be 15-20 SE today and for the next 2 days.


 Pouebo is a small Kanak town with an exposed reef anchorage and river. We took the RIB up the river and parked at a newly constructed bridge and walked into town. On the way into town we visited the Mission Church with its checkered past. It was the site for the first Missionaries in the area which brought religion and disease. Coupled with their eventual fleeing, murders, revolts, exiled Chiefs, and even a Guillotine set up to execute the local Kanaks involved in the revolts. All on Catholic ground…..

The 25nm motor-sail down from Pouebo to Heinghene was amazing with its stunning terrain. I know we keep saying this but it’s getting better and better particularly here on the East Coast.
We think this stretch is the most picturesque coastline we have ever seen with steep hills and large valleys each with its own unique waterfall. The falls were all shapes and sizes with some stretching down the length of the valley over many sections and others with one dramatic vertical fall. We also went past Mount Panie, which at 1628m is the countries highest mountain.


Finally we have made it to Heinghene!
This was on our top 5 places to see in New Cal and No.1 on the East Coast leg.
The area has some amazing natural wonders and like Pouebo, some sad history too. This area was the home of assassinated Prime Minister Jean-Marie Tjibaou who was also the leader of the long standing FLNKS group who have pushed for Kanak independence and liberation.
The biggest event to shape Heinghene was only 28 years ago with the much publicized Heinghene Massacre.
To cut a long story short – 17 men in 2 trucks were on their way home after a FLNKS meeting when a tree over the road stopped them. They were ambushed and open fired upon with most men killed and only a few escaping. The victims had no weapons. Up to 30 bullet holes were found in each of the murdered victims, many at point blank range.
Included in the dead were Tjibaou’s 2 brothers. Jean-Marie was suppose to be there but was delayed in Noumea.
Eventually the killers confessed but the judge overseeing the case claimed they had acted in self defense and they never stood trial.
Amnesty International sited the case in their annual report on human rights abuses but no action was taken.
So the local Kanaks revolted and torched all the whites homes in the area before running them out of town.
Tjibaou was assassinated years later on the Loyalty Islands in 1999.
To this day the area represents a large Kanaky and FLNKS stronghold and whites are still a rarity.
Having said that – the people here are smiling happy people and were very receptive to our presence.

On a happier note – the area has some amazing natural wonders including the Linderalique Cliffs, the strange coloured bay, and the famous rock formations of the Sphinx and the most popular – La Poule or The Chicken. This is a large rock formation on the southern tip of the bay that resembles a Brooding Hen when looking at it from side on. It is huge and certainly stands out from the many lookouts in the area.

We took the RIB up the river to the small but modern Marina and walked around town and up to the lookouts before having lunch at a local Café.
Yachties reading this – The marina’s 8 berths are for the local boats and no berths are available for use. You are not allowed to anchor in the river anymore and the bar is to shallow for monos anyway so the bay is the only option.

We then took the RIB over to the other side of the river and explored the local cultural centre.
We enquired about hiring a car to do a run up the coast for a day exploring the waterfalls but sadly the nearest hire company is 80klm away.

While at Heinghene we did 2 trips in our kayaks.
The first was around the Chicken. The area was strewn with diverse rock formations in shallow water and mangrove areas. We found we could paddle thru the rocks, sometimes with only inches to spare both at the side and under the kayaks. It was a very fun way to explore.

The second was the following day. We kayaked to the Heinghene caves, over to a local village, around the Sphinx (the other rock formation at the northern point of the bay), then south past the chicken up to the Linderalique Cliffs before stopping on the beach for a walk and finally returning to Lorelei.
We estimated on the charts that we paddled over 10klms that day and were stuffed on our return.

That night at around 9pm we could hear crackling and went outside to see a large fire burning down one side of the mountain above the town.

We had our second uncomfortable night of rolling from about 2am thru to daybreak and by day 3 we were tired and over it so we left to move to a more secure anchorage further south.
When we left at 7am the fire was still going…


The motor from Heinghene to Touho was a slow and uncomfortable one and the worst leg of the trip south. We had to motor due east straight into a short, sharp swell and 15-20 knots of un-forcasted wind. It took 4 hours to go 17nm and we were very happy to be in a better anchorage once we got there. The only highlight was going past the rest of the Linderalique Cliffs that we didn’t see by kayak.

The hut on the shore gives you an idea of the cliffs size

Lisa slept for the arvo while Paul went with Ben and Wendy to explore the small town. We found a small open air market with the local ladies all playing bingo. We brought a hand of local bananas each.

The Run South

We downloaded the long range weather forecast whilst in Touho and it didn’t look good for trying to go SE down the coast. A large system was coming in a few days time with strong SE winds that looked like it could stay for many days.
We did not want to be stuck only a 1/3 of the way down the coast and not be able to get back to Noumea in time before our Visa’s expired so the decision was made to get going the next day while we could.
We pushed off at 5:30am and were stoked to find we had 12 knots of ENE wind. We managed to crank the sails on as hard as we could and sail tight onto the wind at 40 to 45 degrees off the bow. By 2pm we had sailed over 50nm before the wind dropped to half forcing us to continue on by motor sailing. The conditions were great and we continued on into the night before negotiating a narrow reef pass into Port Bouquet at 9pm for our overnight stop. We were pretty tired but were happy to have pushed over 90nm SE with minimal fuel usage and discomfort.
On the way down we saw a whale close to the boat and another cruising yacht heading north. Wow!! Sounds crazy but we haven’t seen another cruising yacht since we left Koumac on the East Coast and prior to that, Ouano. Where is everyone? Noumea was full of cruising boats…

Leaving Port Bouquet at day break

 Just Magic at Sunrise

The next morning it was up at 5am to push off again for another run. Well it was a crazy day with a bit of everything – good and bad. We started in glassy conditions motoring and within ½ hour had sails up and flying in a SW’er of all things. By 9am the wind slowly died and we motor sailed until it glassed off and we dropped sails and motored on. We made banana pancakes and had a lovely 2nd breakfast in the cockpit. By noon it was starting to build from the SE and with 8nm to go to the only anchorage in the area, we were punching into a 20 knot blow with some sharp seas. We had walls of water going right over the bow and into the clears of the canopy. Speed was down to 4-5 knots and we smashed on for 90 minutes before having to negotiate another narrow pass at a small place called Yate. Unlike last night, the pass had a lot of swell pushing thru it.
We had exposed coral on both sides and less than 1m of water under the keel as we slowly nudged up the small inlet and into the mouth of the river. We anchored in a picturesque valley in only 4m of water.

We had done over 140nm in the 2 days and were only 12nm from the SE corner of the mainland. We would have liked to have stopped and explored a few of the bays on the way but time and weather didn’t allow it.
Either way we have made it safely 200nm down the East Coast in a SE direction straight into a developed SE trade wind time of year. The hardest part of the trip was over and tomorrow we are sleeping in!! Yippee.


Entering thru the pass into Yate

The view from our anchorage at Yate

The morning we slept in it rained and washed all the salt off the boat.
It was perfect timing. We hadn’t seen rain in weeks!
We loaded up the RIB and took it up the river past a hydro electric station to a rocky area that was as far as we could go by boat.

We hiked up the rocky watercourse and found some amazing swimming holes with ultra clear fresh water. We explored and swam for hours. We also found a high rocky outcrop with deep water underneath that was perfect for jumping off.

We went for a walk into the Yate Township. It turned out to be a lot bigger than we expected, very spread out and a long walk from the boats. It took the best part of one morning.

We returned to the swimming hole again, this time better equipped with warm insulator rashies and snorkeling gear.
When we arrived we found a rare and dangerous Loch Yate Monster sunning himself in the swimming hole. Ben snuck up behind it and jumped on but it quickly reared up, threw him off and swam away…

We knew the viz was good from the photos yesterday but with a mask on, it was amazing. It was pretty much endless. We also found 5 different species of fish including some little Mangrove Jacks.

The day we left Yate we planned to sail the 58nm back to Noumea. This involved a 12nm push SE to the corner, turn and run across the bottom, thru the Canal Woodin and back up the bottom of the West Coast into Noumea Harbour.
The swell had picked up and the entrance to Yate had some big waves on it. It was like a bar crossing back at home. The East Coast then gave us one little going away present and a reminder of who’s boss by giving us SE 20 knots from 6:30am to punch into for the first leg. Thankfully it was only for 2 hours before we set sail and sailed off the wind for the rest of the way into the Harbour, arriving at 4pm.
Thru the Canal we had no swell and had to sail pretty much directly downwind so we dusted off the spinnaker pole and poled out the Genoa for some fun and practice.

As we passed Anse Vate and the beach side suburbs we could see about 50 kiteboarders and 30 odd sailboards all having a blast in the bay. How can there be that many out playing at 2:30pm on a Wednesday? Does all work stop when it blows???  If we ever go back to work – we’re coming here!!!!

So that’s it for our Tour of New Caledonia.
Along with Ben and Wendy we have joked that we saw 20% of the country in the first 80% of our time here and saw the next 80% in the last 20% of our time here. It has been a fast trip over the top and down the East Coast, but we are very glad we did it and sucessfully circumnavigated the mainland which only a small percentage of the visiting yachts do. We feel we have seen a stack of the country in the 3 months that we have been here.
We hope to return one day to this piece of paradise in the Pacific.

So now we are in Noumea for a few days.
The plan is to do a large re-provision, do some small pieces of maintenance and cleaning, refuel and start looking for a decent weather window to get over to Vanuatu. Our Visa’s expire in 1 weeks time on the 21st.
Unlike Australia, you have 3 days to leave the country after clearing out so we will use that time to visit the Island of Mare which is part of the Loyalty Island chain (weather permitting) which is fortunately about half way over to Vanuatu.
We plan to clear into Vanuatu at the southern most island of Aneityum which is also known as Mystery Island on the cruise ship list of ports.
The plan will be to spend 3-4 weeks visiting the southern Islands including Tanna and its Volcano before arriving in Port Vila around the end of October.
That will probably be where we post episode 12 of the Hog blog.

We are going to continue to travel with Ben and Wendy to Vanuatu and onto Port Vila were we will probably go our separate ways from there.
Paul and Ben are pretty pumped to get some good waves together at Tanna.

Here are the stats for the 3 months we have been in New Cal:

We have travelled 870nm in Lorelei since clearing in at Noumea.
We put a whopping 125 hours on the new John Deere Engine.
We used 625L of Diesel and 140L of Unleaded.
We made 4400 litres of fresh water from the desalinator.
Paul and Ben visited over 20 different patisseries....

So it’s off to the Supermarche we go to do some shopping…ohh and a stop at the patisserie!

Cheers for now from Paul and Lisa – The Hoggers onboard Lorelei.

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