Travel date 15th August 2009
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I'll return to my 2008 trip shortly. I still have to write about Egypt, the UK, USA and Mexico.
But now for a brief diversion to a touch of France in the South-West Pacific, not all that far from my place. I had some frequent flyer miles to use and wanted to take Lorraine somewhere a little exotic but not too far in distance.
On Australian TV we see many advertisements for places like Fiji, Bali, Vanuatu and New Zealand but rarely any mention of New Caledonia. So I decided to give it a try.
We left Brisbane on time with Qantas and a tailwind. We arrived five minutes early at at 17:25 at La Tontouta. Qantas staff were excellent as usual. A reasonable lunch of chicken korma and rice, minus the rice for me, at 3pm and a free, quite pleasant, shiraz.
La Tontouta Airport is about 50km north of Noumea and appears to be undergoing renovations. We were honest in our Customs and Quarantine declarations and had no dramas, although they did confiscate some cheese we had packed for snacks. The ATM worked with no problems, so, flush with giant-sized New Caledonian Pacific Francs I found the Europcar office and collected our wheels for the next 8 days.
The light had faded quickly and by the time we left the airport at 20 past 6 it was darkest night. We had intended arriving at the Anse Vata Motel before 7pm but it quickly became clear that was impossible. The owner's directions of "just follow the bus" turned out to be a bit useless. It probably helps if you actually see a bus. It might also have helped if the motel has a sign that was visible from the road. Eventually we found it, long after the doors were closed at 7pm. It seemed a bit odd calling the place a “motel” when there was no on-site parking; we eventually found a free street parking spot in the next block. The good news was that the code he gave us for the front door worked.
We had a surprisingly pleasant and tasty dinner of hamburgers (I tossed the bottom bun) at the Rimbu Cafe down by the water; they also sold us a couple of eggs for us to cook for breakfast the next morning. The motel had a small kitchenette but the fridge was empty. The basic burgers were 550 francs, about AU$8 which was very inexpensive for Noumea.
The room wasn’t bad for a basic motel; plenty of space, a double bed and a single, a TV that had only French-language channels, a kitchenette and working hot water. Such a pity that the mattresses were made in a quarry - they made rocks seem soft - and every movement of the upstairs neighbours could be traced either from the footsteps on our ceiling or the plumbing noises echoing in our bathroom.
In the morning I didn’t get upset when the manager asked if I had a pleasant night, but I did tell the truth. Maybe it was my bleary unslept eyes that caused him to do the right thing and reduce the tariff. To his credit, I didn’t ask for a discount; he offered it. He claimed we were the first to ever complain. I doubt it.
We spent a couple of hours next morning checking out other places to stay when we return to Noumea in a week and also buying some basics such as bread, eggs, cream, butter and diet cola from an Asian supermarket open on Sundays.
Noumea was a surprisingly modern city, very French in its style. The traffic lights, road system and shops could have been lifted straight from the Riviera and dropped here in the Pacific. However, the palm trees and the well-tanned local complexions were a reminder of our locality.
The younger Melanesians appear to be suffering a geographical identity problem. It would be easy to mistakenly presume we were on a Caribbean Island from the number of young people wearing dreadlocks, Rastafarian green, gold, red and black woollen knit berets and Bob Marley T-shirts. Michael Jackson is a close number two in the T-shirt popularity stakes.
We wandered around Noumea for a little while, just exploring. Well, that’s what I told Lorraine. Actually I was trying to find my way to the La Tontouta road and kept getting lost. Serendipitously we stumbled on a look-out with marvellous views in all directions over the city; there was a restaurant at the spot but it was much too early for them to be open so we had the place to ourselves and the proprietorial cat.
I finally found the road to the north and headed off towards Bourail. We’ll be returning to Noumea before we go home for a longer look.
We were a bit surprised to find that the toll for our trip north was half the price of the trip south. Maybe it is cheaper on Sundays, or maybe our collector the previous night had a tip.
En-route to Bourail I decided to drop in on the Airport again to find out why the air-conditioner didn’t work. Apparently it was just the on-off switch. This is the highly technical Europcar repair:
The manager said there were no other cars in our size for a swap. Heavy hints about a free up-grade to a larger car with a working air-con apparently did not translate into French. I also took the opportunity to visit the ATM again. The prices in Noumea had caused a rapid revision of the budget.
At least I will know how to find the rental car car-park when we return to it next week; it only took me three circuits around the loop road to find it this time.
Next, Bourail and beyond.