September 19th – Noumea, New Caledonia
New Caledonia. Modern. Big. And very, very French.
Noumea surprised us. I had visions of that old television series, McHale’s Navy, but this place is nothing like that. The island itself is the largest we’ve visited. The people here predominantly speak French, and yet they all have a good handle on English.
Crusing is not new to the South Pacific, but the supersized Carnival Legend is bigger than anything they’ve yet seen. Consequently, we wind up docking along with all the cargo ships. Not a pretty sight – kind of like an Angel Fish settling in among the catfish! In fact, the pier is like a maze of stacked containers waiting to be loaded. Pedestrian traffic is not allowed, so you get door-to-door shuttle service, straight from the ship’s debarkation points to the a shopping terminal or excursion departure point.
Once outside the unsightly pier area … wow! Stunning. The architecture is a curious mix of ultra modern, old French, and quaint native. Signs are in French, English, and the local dialect. Quite a melting pot.
Our excursion today was our favorite so far. We sailed the harbors of Noumea on a catamaran – only twelve of us. No swimming. No snorkeling. No diving. Just relaxing in sun. Once we cleared the harbor area, the male passengers put their backs into helping the captain (Pierre) raise the main sail. The other two sails went up by automatic hoist. And then Pierre cut the engines. Oh, the quiet. I lay on the netting between the two front skids, soaked up the rays, and listened to the gentle lapping as the skids sliced through the sea. Blue? Aquamarine? Turquoise? Azure? I don’t think a name has been invented for the color of these magnificent waters.
Our guide, David, gave us much of the history of the area, pointed out landmarks, and told a few tall tales. A painter (homes) by trade, he spends one or two days a week during the tourist season running tours for the owner of this ocean-going catamaran. Ho-hum. Such a hard life. We learned it recently returned from a ocean trip to the Fiji Islands. I can’t imagine how wonderful that must have been.
The Legend sailed away with the sunset. Now that was an awe-inspiring sight – a lava red sphere sinking inch-by-slow-inch into a watery sleep. Fingers of purple, gold, red, all in blazing glory, clinging to the rapidly darkening sky until they too slip into the depths. Nouvelle Caledonie also has a coral reef buffering it from the open ocean. We watched the waves break on the reef for a long time … until that too, disappeared into the night.