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I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan

Friday, September 18, 2009

Noumea Revisited

Our hotel is between the palms.

Travel dates 21st and 22nd August 2009
Click on any picture to see a larger version.

After a pleasant night at the excellent Hotel Banu (review awaiting approval on Tripadvisor) we headed south to spend our final two New Caledonian nights in Noumea.

We took our time, just enjoying a relaxed drive.

The picture exemplifies the Grand Terre west coast north of Noumea outside the towns: few dwellings, open spaces, hills and mountains rising from the pasture but very few animals to be seen in those pastures.

Then we were back in "civilisation". After some of the hotels we stayed in during this trip we thought Le Pacifique was marvellous. Yes, I'm getting soft. The pool was the view from our window. Here are the intrepid wanderers, off to see Noumea.

Once we had settled in we wandered the city with no particular place to go. I pretended I knew where I was going, so I was headed for the docks to get to the market when we came across this hilltop Catholic shrine. At least I could see the docks from here. When we finally reached the docks, we could have been in the Mediterranean; extensive marinas and lots of expensive pleasure boats.

The views that the saint was surveying were superb; the shrine was still in use, the small grotto had several candles in it.

The shops were modern and well-stocked with items from all over the world but mainly New Zealand and France and, of course, China. The Kanak penchant for Rasta items was everywhere, with Bob Marley popular as a symbol. So was Che Guevara; see the white T-shirt. Two very different heroes. I respect Marley's music and Guevara's ideals. But I'm less impressed by Marley's penchant for pot and Guevara's bloody methods. I hope the Kanak youth are able to use some discrimination in following their heroes.

Down-town Noumea could have been any French town. This is a typical down-town street.

Next to the dock was Le Marche, the market, in full swing. Not an enormous market under cover, but a very wide range of fruits and vegetables, meats, fish and bakery goods and of course souvenirs and knick-knacks. Compared to many markets we have been to in our travels it was very civilised and orderly with no-one aggressively pushing their wares or harassing obvious tourists like ourselves. The souvenir prices for cowrie shells, carved totems and similar items were many times higher than those we passed on roadside "honour" stalls in the north.

As we left the market we heard a lot of noise and noticed a demonstration heading towards us on the highway beside the market. It was quite large with several thousand demonstrators but very orderly. There were three trucks with sound systems regularly spaced along the group of marchers with people making speeches from the trucks as they steadily rolled along. The majority of marchers were Kanak but there were a few Caldoche among them. Caldoche is the term used for the new Caledonians of French or European ancestry.

The demonstration went on for several hours, winding throught the streets north of the market in an older section of town, with the trucks stopping for the speakers to address the crowd at regular intervals. Between speeches music entertained the marchers. The procession was followed at a discreet distance by a fleet of police vehicles and several walking police, but they weren't over-bearing in their presence. I had no idea what it was about, so I looked it up since. The background story is here. It looks like they have a pretty good cause to complain to me.

That night we were on our way home from dinner when we saw this guy. New Caledonia was expensive, but haircuts must be really, really expensive.

The following day we had a little trouble getting out of the hotel car-park; as we reached the side street we found it barricaded with witches hats down the centre. It was a bit unclear which side of the road was available for us to drive on. Eventually a friendly guy saw our confusion and showed us the way. We had not realised that one of the biggest sporting events of the year, the local marathon, was taking place that morning. We had seen signs and bill-boards with pictures of athletes, but not realised their import. We tried not to run over any of the competitors.

Then we headed south, intending to head for the South-east tip of the island, but never quite made it. Instead we wandered some of the southern villages before heading home.

At one stage we stopped at an enormous supermarket several kilometres south of Noumea in a building like a giant warehouse. It was like a combination of a K-mart and supermarket in one space. Again, very French in style and layout. For example, the red meats were nearly all displayed in large cuts, such as a full rump (or flank) with a butcher standing by to slice it to your needs. There were very few of the plastic-packaged slices of meat we see in supermarkets at home. On the other hand, the cutting board the butcher was using looked rather unappetising as it was crawling with flies, which he casually brushed away as he tossed a lump of meat down for slicing.

The range of packaged fish was excellent; I would love to be able to buy a marlin/mahi mahi/tuna shashlik like this to throw on the barby at home.

This was the spot where I had my last New Caledonian (and quite pleasant) beer; life is tough. The final views are the trusty little chariot that took us around the island, the sunset from the hotel, and a glimpse of the lagoon as we departed.

Departure was little annoying. There are so many good things about New Caledonia, but the understanding of many people within the local tourist industry of the needs of tourists is not one of them. I've tried not to concentrate on the negatives in these blog reports, although you will find some negatives in the hotel reviews, but some of the annoyances will have surfaced. At the airport they included the duty-free shop where I wanted to get rid of the last of my Pacific Francs. The clerk was happy to accept part cash, part card, but the remainder after cash was less than XPF1000 which is a little over AU$14. She refused to accept less than 1000 for the card. Nowhere else had we come across this minimum, but I had to buy extra to meet the requirement. Trivial, but annoying.

Earlier, Air Calin opened check-in late; no big deal but there was already a long queue waiting at the right time. However, they were good compared to the girl handling the departure passport check. She left a long queue waiting outside her closed door for another hour until less than an hour before departure time. We presumed she enjoyed a leisurely afternoon siesta. No-one let the waiting queue, for the only departing plane, know what was happening or when the door would open. Again trivial but annoying. Little annoyances add up over a week and they were just a few examples of many which displayed the local attitude to tourists.

It's a lovely island, like two nations - Noumea and the rest - in one locality and the people we met who weren't in the tourism industry, and some who were, were also lovely. But I probably won't be back even though it's only two hours away. Despite that, I'm glad I went.

Cheers, Alan

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