Great Escapes: New Caledonia
These codicils aside, and perhaps also skipping the short cyclone season at the height of the southern summer, New Caledonia is one of the most beautiful and intriguing island groups that the South Pacific has to offer. Find out more about the great escapes to New Caledonia.
Great Escapes: New Caledonia
The Cruising Guide offers satellite views of New Caledonia, and the user can zoom in on a particular region, then zoom again to a special spot identified either by sight or a word reference. Overlays can next be added for depths, courses, anchorages and so on. It has a companion Travel Guide to New Caledonia, and there is another set for nearby Vanuatu.
From Richard, who was referred by Chloe, we learnt that there are 12 marinas in New Caledonia, of which Port Moselle, Port du Sud and the CNC private yacht club marina, all in Nouméa, are the largest.
The marinas offer water, 220V AC, wireless internet and other facilities. Nouville Plaisance has a 50-ton travel lift, and slipways are set up to handle catamarans and trimarans. There are about 15,000 registered pleasure vessels around the islands, a very substantial fleet.
Port Moselle Marina, Port du Sud Marina, and the principal wharfs in the Petite Rade, where cruise liners tie up, are the only berths for superyachts, although Jenny Seagoe, President of the New Caledonia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, tells us that a superyacht facility is planned.
On the northern shore of Port Moselle lies the Maritime Museum, and it provides a fitting preface and postscript to this part of New Caledonia’s story. Although Captain James Cook named the islands, and made three impressive voyages in Pacific and Southern Ocean waters, many French explorers and navigators were his late 18th century contemporaries.
They included Nicolas Baudin, Louis de Freycinet, Louis Antoine de Bougainville, who gave his name to the Pacific’s distinctive flower bougainvillia, Antoine Bruni d’Entrecasteaux and Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu. Residents of Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia will recognise many of their town’s titles as having marked the passage of these renowned seafarers or else their ships.
When Captain Arthur Phillip arrived in Botany Bay with the First Fleet to establish a British colony in Australia on 26 January 1788, exactly 230 years ago, he had to share the anchorage, a few nautical miles south of Sydney Harbour, with Captain Jean-François de Lapérouse, whose name still delineates a headland of that bay.
Lapérouse was three years into a westbound passage via Cape Horn, calling at Easter Island, Hawaii, Japan, the China Coast and the Philippines. For historical perspective, Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for Spain, had first reached these waters in 1521.
Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese, rounded Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean in 1498, about 60 years after the Chinese treasure fleet of Admiral Zheng. He anchored off the same East African coast. On 10 March 1788, Lapérouse set off from Botany Bay for New Caledonia in the Boussole and the Astrolabe, and was never heard of again.
That mystery is part of a specially curated exhibition in the museum on Noumea’s waterfront. When nothing had been heard for more than two years, Commodore Bruni d’Entrecasteaux left Brest in 1791 in the Esperance and Recherche to look for him. He came close to an island called Vanikoro in the Solomons, where it later transpired Lapérouse’s two ships had sunk in a violent storm, probably a cyclone, and survivors were believed to be still ashore, but he found no trace of them.
Later in 1826, Irish Captain Peter Dillon came across artifacts in the islands, such as a sword handle, which were clearly of French make. The next year, with a French agent, he gathered more reports and came across items like bells and swivel-guns. Captain Dumont D’Urville arrived in 1828 and discovered the wreckage of one of the ships, from which he recovered an anchor and some cannons.
Since then other expeditions, lately using modern diving and salvage methods, have found more relics, some of which are displayed at the Maritime Museum in Nouméa. We have been comparing this capital and its environs with the South of France, so perhaps worth noting here that we occasionally stay at the boutique Lapérouse Hotel in Nice, on the seaward-facing bluff between the harbour and the old town.
New Zealand is nicknamed “the shakey isles,” and so too did the windows and doors rattle and the earth move beneath our feet in New Caledonia during this stay. A subterranean earthquake measuring Richter 7, with a series of aftershocks, had taken place in the channel between Grande Terre and Maré in the Loyalty Islands, less than 50nm away.
Apparently this happens every 10 to15 years or so, as the Australian Plate grinds into the Pacific one, and although a tsunami warning is routinely issued, only tiddler waves of about a meter are generated.
When swimming, banded krait snakes can also appear even at popular spots in the vast lagoon, which can be a bit disconcerting, but it seems they are rarely aggressive. Advice is to swim slowly away.
These codicils aside, and perhaps also skipping the short cyclone season at the height of the southern summer, New Caledonia is one of the most beautiful and intriguing island groups that the South Pacific has to offer.
Words Bruce Maxwell
Photos New Caledonia Tourism And Dr Richard Chesher
**This article is a shorter version of the original story which can be found on page 90-98 in Issue 41 of Yacht Style.