Travel dates 19th and 2oth August 2009
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We left around 9 am after a leisurely breakfast, cooked on my trusty little skillet. The dawn view was glorious, interrupted by a couple of inquisitive deer. We decided to make it a short day's drive, intending to have a relaxing afternoon at the next town. The scenery was similar to the day before with the road separating the steep hills from the beautiful beaches with occasional small coastal plains. The small Melanesian "Tribu" villages were more frequent and so were the pedestrians, with always a smile and a small wave acknowledging us as we passed.
A pleasant observation was the care taken in caring for the departed in New Caledonia. The grounds were always well looked after and it seemed that every grave had fresh floral tributes. These were typical of every cemetery we passed.
One of the little things we noticed was the minimal use of motor vehicles in the Province Nord. There seemed to be few cars used by the villagers and even fewer motorbikes. I rarely saw a truck on the roads, which surprised me because I expected to see goods delivery trucks and mining trucks. Maybe we just picked a quiet week. I doubt that I saw half a dozen trucks on the road in the entire trip outside Noumea.
This flower intrigued me; I have no idea what it is, it just looked interesting. Again, that feeling of Bali Hai was in the back of my mind as I wandered down this coast and stopped to look at some of these beaches and scenes. I almost expected to hear Mitzi Gaynor and Rossano Brazzi bursting into song beside us. It really is a beautiful and almost unspoiled coast. Until you get to the mines.
We spent the night in Poindimié at La Tapendouri Hotel; not our best decision. My review is on Tripadvisor. The town was interesting; another small town with very limited tourist facilities. We had lunch at Le Rasta. The food was very ordinary, overcooked chicken and chips, but the surrounds were fascinating at first. Very Caribbean and Marley, with appropriate T-shirts and souvenir goods. They became less fascinating when three dogs, including one that looked extremely unwell, decided to join us at the table. They were friendly but very inquisitive and appeared very unhygienic. The staff didn't seem to care; possibly they owned the dogs. We had finished, so we left. We tried them again for dinner, as there were limited alternative choices, but the dogs beat us to the table so we made other arrangements.
Next morning we continued south. These "honour" sales tables appear regularly beside the road all the way down the east coast, mainly near tribu villages. Sometimes they sold fruit or vegetables, often growing in pots, but more often they sold carved small totems or shells, usually cowries of various shapes. The prices were occasionally marked on them and the customer is trusted to leave the right cash.
Creeks and rivers, some quite large, regularly crossed our path. Very often the river and the local town shared their name; this was the entry to Ponérihouen.
We stopped at the only proper cafe I can recall in Province Nord for a pleasant and surprisingly cheap coffee. The guy using the computer appeared to be getting wi-fi - but I couldn't detect it. Wrong spot in the room?
I took the second picture because of an unusual spindly pine tree that appeared regularly along the road. Very high, very slender, usually alone but occasionally in small groups as a copse.
After Houailou (no, don't ask me to pronounce it) we started to see more signs of mining until we were eventually driving through the middle of the Poro Mine. The road was sealed and good but became steep and winding. The mine was enormous but there was very little activity. Possibly this one is played out; there is a much bigger and newer mine at Goro further south. There seemed to be no effort made at rehabilitation of the resulting lunar landscape.
I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. To get an idea of the scale, look for the car near the top right in the fourth picture.
There were small cairns of rocks at several points on the road verges, then we noticed this collection which appears to be a shrine of some sort. I don't know their meaning and I could not find it on the net; if anyone knows I would appreciate the information.
Although we saw very few cars or trucks while circling Grand Terre we saw several abandoned vehicles in roadside ditches. Some were damaged, but some were not. Maybe it was too expensive to tow them away instead of leaving them when they become uneconomically repairable. This one was a bit extreme as there had obviously been a recent crash and the vehicle had burnt out on the road before it was pushed to the side and abandoned.
After leaving the Poro mine well behind us we encountered this conveyor as we left the East Coast to head towards the West. It went for many kilometres and eventually climbed the side of a mountain and disappeared over the top, connecting another inland mine to the coast.
En-route to La Foa in the heart of the mountains we paused here to look at this magnificent flowering Poinciana Tree (I'm open to correction, I think that's what it was - looked good anyway) and noticed a waterfall in the far distance in a valley.
We stayed the night in La Foa, which is a pleasant town about an hour north of La Tontouta airport. La Foa's main claim to fame was as the headquarters for the US forces on New Caledonia in WWII. It is claimed that over a million US servicemen passed through New Caledonia at that time. The Hotel Banu was used as a headquarters and the walls were covered with photos from that era and later photos of senior French visitors. The ceiling was almost as interesting, with a collection of over 4700 caps from past travellers. We stayed in a pleasant bungalow for two in the grounds and had a good dinner at the Vietnamese restaurant opposite the hotel.
The child-care centre was on the road behind the hotel. Coming from a country that seems to get more politically correct and over-sensitive every year, I smiled at the title.
Tomorrow, back to Noumea.