Noumea New Caledonia

September 9, 2016 was the three-month anniversary of the collar-bone accident in Tonga, and the injury was still causing me discomfort. After leaving Vuda Marina Fiji that day (with crew Kyra de Baan and David Brites) Ocean Child arrived at Port Moselle, Noumea, on September 14. We received favourable winds on each day of the journey. According to our GPS log, the trip was 700 nm in five days, using 25L of diesel (for electricity generation). We still had a problem with the boat's deep cycle batteries, which I had been unable to replace in either Tonga or Fiji.

On September 13, we stopped at Durand Reef, actually the top of a seamount which rises from a depth of well over 1000m to 10m, creating a flat area of several hectares in size, remote from land.

As you can see from the images below, the reef, while within New Caledonia's EEZ (extended economic zone) is relatively inaccessible, and I had hoped to see schools of ocean going fish, as well as a few of the larger reef-dwellers. But no.

The blue triangle marks the location of Durand Reef (Recif Durand). This seamount is part of the ocean ridge (chain of seamounts) forming New Caledonia's Loyalty Islands (including Walpole Island and Lorne Bank).

Above: the contours show the structure of the marine topography.

The flat top of Durand Reef, here at a depth of 10m. The surface is made up of dead coral, possibly long dead, with a scattering of small sand patches. In my estimation, the scattered colonies of live hard coral made up only 1 or 2% of the surface.

I saw two small black-tipped reef sharks, and a few fish which resembled snapper, about 20cm in length. I put the absence of schooling fish down to overfishing.

 

September 13 was also Kyra's birthday! Kyra is a natural-born sailor. Never sea-sick. Intelligent. Always happy. This was her first ocean crossing and she loved it.

 

The modern city of Noumea fronts Port Moselle Harbour, which handles recreational and commercial shipping (tourist services and fishing). There is no obvious discrimination between the white French and the native Kanaks, although in general one group is rich and the other poor. From a sailor's point of view, Noumea is a good destination, with most of the sailor's needs met. There are however no laundromats, so we had to use the rather expensive service laundries, charging about $7AU per kg for washing and drying. The government has made no attempt to streamline entry and exit procedures: however although time consuming, they are functional and the cost is minimal. And the walking from office to office, in this mild weather, is enjoyable. Top temperatures were around 25 to 26 deg C.

Just north of the city lies the separate industrial port. Nickel is a major export.

 

The city has pleasant and shady places.

New Caledonia is well-known for this species of native pine.

 

Art in public places...

And in private places... this piece in a cafe  caught my eye. I enjoyed the picture almost as much as the delicious boeuf curry.

 

Some of the older buildings are being demolished.

 

Almost next door to the marina is a fresh food market where we shopped for supplies. As you can see, a wide variety of olives are available, and very tasty. Also fruit, fish, meat, vegetables and cut flowers. Lots of fresh locally grown stuff, as well as apples, grapes and plums air-freighted from NZ.

 

Lunch in the park. Smoking here is still very popular (more so I think than in Australia) in spite of health warnings on cigarette packets. Sometimes you see older Kanak women wearing the more traditional loose and colourful dress, but the young (as here) dress in western style. As an aside, the soft drink Solo is marketed here, as in Australia, by the Coca Cola Company. Although the packaging is much the same, here in New Cal there is no lemon juice concentrate mixed in, only colouring and artificial flavour.

 

Noumea has an aquarium of world class. The exhibits, most of which are extremely well designed and maintained, cover freshwater, estuarine and marine habitats.

At 10:30am each morning, a guide (the girl on the right) conducts a tour, assisted by volunteers (the girl on the left). I picked up very little as the briefing was, of course, in French. But enough to learn that the aquarium has a strong educational emphasis.

A reconstructed jaw from a large shark living in these waters before the Quaternary Period. Fifteen meters long and weighing 20 tonnes, a deposit of fossilized teeth has been found south of the main island, at 350 m depth. The fossils were discovered by accident during a geological survey. Why did all these sharks die in the same place, leaving behind a concentration of teeth in the soft bottom sediments? 

 

New Caledonia has, according to the museum, the third largest global population of dugongs (1000), after Australia (60,000) and the Persian Gulf (7,000).

 

A map showing the global distribution of coral habitats. As the fine print shows, several large areas in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and in the Caribbean are under French governance.

 

As mentioned above, most of the aquarium's exhibits are of a very high quality. The turtle pond, however, is a disgrace... just a small pond with three green turtles, clearly distressed at their confinement. I have written to the Aquarium Director suggesting the turtles should be released and the pond used for something else.

 

We left Noumea heading towards Australia on September 18.  I had not been able to solve Ocean Child's battery problems, and I decided to source new batteries in Australia. After watching for ideal weather conditions I concluded we were unlikely to find them, so we left under a rather unfavourable forecast showing several days of weak winds and head winds. The grey patch on the upper right hand side is Noumea. The 'hook' on the grey patch on the left is Fraser Island, just south of Bundaberg Queensland.

 

Like Durand Reef, Cato Reef (Australia) is the top of a seamount, rising from very deep water. We called past on the way to Bundaberg, but a gale was building and it was too unsafe to anchor.

The closer to Cato Island we got, the more birds there were. Terns with long forked tails, and a dark-looking variety of Gannet. Near the island birds in their hundreds were feeding in water over a plateau at around 50m deep.

What a lonely and isolated place to be ship-wrecked.... the black dots in the sky are, of course, birds. Maybe the shipwrecked sailors liked omelettes...

It certainly was disappointing to have to move on. We looked for an opening to the lagoon, but we could not find one, in spite of a gap marked "boat entrance" on our Navionics chart.

 

We arrived at Bundaberg (situated on the Burnett River) on September 27, and Kyra and David left for land-based adventures. The trip of 800 nm as the crow files (that's Jonathan Livingston Crow) took us nearly 1000 log nm, and ten days... and 140 L of diesel fuel. We had hoped for an average cruising speed of 100 nm per day, which we had achieved on all previous trips. However on this trip we encountered a lot of unfavourable weather, and I count myself lucky that the trip did not take even longer.

Bundaberg Port Marina is quite a few miles from Bundaberg. We took a bus to Bundaberg and found a smallish attractive city with friendly people and a sense of civic pride.

I am quite fond of old steel bridges: Bundaberg has two steel bridges over the adjacent Burnett River. This is the railway bridge (obviously!).

Bundaberg used to have two small marinas, the "town" marina and the "port" marina. Unfortunately the town marina was washed away in the floods of 2013, with the lost of dozens of boats. It has not been re-built. Ocean Child stayed at the port marina, which although small is well serviced, and it is a national port of entry. There is a substantial hard stand area across the road from the marina itself, which seems mainly used for boat storage.

The last cyclone to hit Bundaberg was in 1995, over twenty years ago.

 

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