New Caledonia Sat. Feb 13, 2016 4pm local time
Yesterday and today we visited 2 islands that are part of New Caledonia (NC has 4 large islands and many smaller ones). NC was discovered by the Brits but later became a French territory. (Caledonia was the old name for Scotland, hence the New Caledonia name.) France used the large island of Grande Terre as a penal colony in the mid-1800s, and convicts built much of the island’s infrastructure. Grande Terre was the South Pacific headquarters for the US military during WWII.
As with many other islands in the South Pacific, early migrations from Africa and then from China provided the forerunners of the indigenous peoples, but New Caledonia is slightly different because the African/Chinese background is melded with European influences and more recent and current French ties.
New Caledonia sits on a large portion of the world’s nickel reserves (nickel is used to make stainless steel, among other things), and the nickel is mined in a cooperative arrangement with several other countries. New Caledonia is still heavily forested (pine trees and coconut palms are everywhere). The locals are enjoying the benefits of mining nickel, but wary of the long-term environmental results.
New Caledonia is surrounded by a coral barrier reef, so the entire country is effectively one large lagoon of over 9000 square miles. The water colors run the gamut, and Joe will try to post some pictures that provide a sense of how vivid and clear the water is.
Yesterday we anchored off of the small island of Mare’ and enjoyed a nice visit to a lovely beach and small town. Mare’ is home to 7000 people (29 tribal villages, with chieftains), and is largely undeveloped (by that I mean that there are roads and elements of the modern world, but still a lot of trees and forests between the small settlements. The beach we visited had a few rustic beach bars, and there were a number of shuttle vans to collect people from the local dock and get them to the most popular beaches. I noticed a lot of satellite dishes at residences, and large bins for residential trash pickup that look like anything you’d see in NJ or elsewhere.
Today was different – we docked in Noumea on Grande Terre, a busy modern port, and it looked like we were back in Honolulu. The City has a population of 100,000 (there are about 270,000 on the entire island of Grande Terre), and is a sophisticated city where French influence is strong. The French government has an unusual power sharing arrangement with the locals in New Caledonia, and there are provisions to harmonize French and EU rules with local and tribal customs and practices. NC is considering a resolution to declare itself independent of France, but apparently this is a decision that the New Caledonians are finding difficult, as France supports the territory strongly.
We visited the Botanic Gardens in Noumea and saw a lot of beautiful plants, birds, peacocks, iguanas, etc. Hopefully Joe will post some pictures that he deems worthy of your view.
One last note – we had a chance to chat with the Hotel Director of the ship the other evening, and he was telling us about some of the logistics of taking care of 1000 guests over an extended period of time – definitely harder than planning a dinner party! He also told us that in many of these smaller port stops, the local chieftains have welcoming ceremonies and gifts are exchanged. In Mare’ Island, the captain of our ship received an enormous wooden spear – not exactly what we might think of bringing to a visitor….
Happy St. Valentine’s Day to you all!