Katy and I are off on another adventure. We have spent over 50% of our nights not at ”our house” since the wedding, traveling a ton. I was excited about the honeymoon, but there was so much going on around it. Getting married, trying to spend as much time as possible with everyone in Boulder during the wedding weekend, and moving were minor distractions before the trip that took my mind off it. This trip I am genuinely excited for and felt the excitement for several days before leaving. The goal of the journey is to take advantage of being a three-hour flight from tons of pacific islands and to explore the South Pacific for a few weeks. I have to admit that before this trip I don’t think that I could tell you that all of the places we are going to were countries. The trip starts with five nights in New Caledonia, then eight nights with my parents in Vanuatu, and then ten nights in Vanuatu just the two of us, a quick one night in Fiji, and then back to New Zealand.
New Caledonia is officially a special collectivity of France, which is just another name for being a territory. New Caledonia had a referendum in 2018, and ~53% of the population voted to remain part of France and ~46% voted to become independent. The turnout for the vote was over 80% with very high participation among young Kanaks, the indigenous population. There will be another referendum in 2020 and 2022 according to an agreement signed by France in 1998. Since it is part of France, there is a large number of European expats and French tourists, especially this time of year since it is summer holiday time in France.
We had an early morning, catching a 5:35 am shuttle for our 6:40 flight to Auckland. When we got to Auckland, it actually took a while to get through immigration, and we only had 10 minutes to grab breakfast and a few Bloody Marys (Katy). We had a very uneventful flight to New Caledonia. Despite being in row 14, we had about an hour wait for a cursory immigration passport stamping. The wait turned out to be a moot point since our bags were two of the twenty last bags off the plane. It was at that point where I was starting to hope our bags actually had made the flight.
We took an expensive, disorderly shuttle bus to our hotel. It turns out that since New Caledonia is part of France, they drive on the right-hand side of the road, and this is the first time in about nine months that I’ve seen drivers not on the left.
The only reason we are in New Caledonia is that the Le Meridien hotel was offering any room in the hotel for 4,000 more points per night (than the base rate) and the fifth night free. That means for 160,000 points (fewer points than opening one credit card and making two referrals) we booked the 2,000 sq ft presidential suite. I assume it was a glitch, but who knows. It priced that way for several months, so I am not sure if it was intentional or just a very long price mistake.
We arrived at Le Meridien, and I have to say that I was slightly disappointed. This is the only time in my life that I will have reserved the presidential suite beforehand, and they didn’t even mention it upon check-in. It was a very French, very efficient, check-in. Upon arriving at the end of the corridor, we had a slight hesitation since the room numbers ended, and there was a door without a keycard blocking the hallway. We pushed that open, and our terrace was to the right, and the room was to the left. During their recent renovations, they had turned five rooms into the suite we have for five nights.
There is a dining room table for eight, with place settings for eight, including a stove and dishwasher. One thing that was lacking was a single piece of cookware. Enough silverware for a seven-course meal, but not a single pot or pan. Hmmmm. I think that there is not a positive correlation between having the only stove out of 250 rooms and actually using it. We were slightly bummed since that meant either getting aluminum foil to cook eggs on or forgoing eggs for five days. Luckily, I have experience with attempting to use aluminum (please pronounce this in your head al-you-min-EE-um) as a cooking surface and recognized that that never ends well.
We then discovered our rather large couch (Katy: perfect for cuddling!) with a good-sized TV (so far this space makes up 2 of the previous five rooms). Then we had a desk, and a media room with a larger TV equipped with a remote containing exploded batteries, which made the tv permanently stuck on. I halfheartedly tried to remove them and failed. There was also a half bath off the media room.
Then we had the bedroom (size of two rooms) with two chaise loungers and a circular couch. Behind the bedroom was the bathroom, which was approximately twenty feet long and only had one upholstered chair in it.
We had about 60 feet of balcony off the room and a private terrace across the hall. It was acceptable. We unpacked and went to the pool and beach for a bit. Even though we woke up early, it was nice to be settled in our room by a little after 2 pm and only to have traveled one-time zone, making us 15 hours later than EST instead of 16.
Our first activity was to cook in the sun at the beach/pool for a little bit. The beaches in Noumea are public (which is not the case for many Pacific Islands) and being a Saturday, and there were a fair number of people out. We then went for about a two-mile walk along the beach and walkway to a grocery store. New Caledonia/Noumea is “weird.” It is the first beach destination that I have been to that doesn’t cater to English speakers. The design aesthetics are a mix of French, island, and pseudo-Soviet block concrete buildings. It is by far the most prosperous South Pacific island that we have been to. There are Porsche’s and Audi’s. Buildings seem to be recently painted and in good repair. It has a very functional bus system. The main town is sort of a mix of Waikiki, Cancun, and France without the crowds. Since it is part of France, French wine is cheap, and there are a ton of specialty wine stores. Bakeries plying people with freshly baked baguettes, and grocery stores with a large, cheap cheese and cured meat selection (imported from France) are abundant. It is a cool place. We are just staying in the main city since we are doing outer islands in Vanuatu, but there are a ton of smaller islands that you can visit too.
My feet had some rubbies from my sandals after not being used to wearing them (during winter in New Zealand), and we had groceries, so we decided to take the bus back. We waited 20 minutes, paid our $2, and hopped on the bus. We then ate ramen, cheese, cured meats (only me), and baguette for dinner. I drank some IPA that I had brought, and Katy drank a French Bordeaux. After we finished eating they surprised us with a cheese platter and a bottle of champagne, which reaffirmed our happiness in the hotel room.
The next day was forecast to be the worse weather day of the following five. It was sprinkling in the morning, and we decided that we should do a morning snorkel. We asked the towel guy where we should go, and he said between the wharf and the restaurant on the pier. Katy put on her wetsuit, and I put on my 1mm wetsuit shirt, and we headed out. We saw some huge stingrays, but no coral and few fish for the first ten minutes. We started to think we had been led astray when we started to swim back to the shore and discovered the coral. The coral was some of the least bleached coral that I have seen in years, with a lot of fish. Unfortunately, it was approaching low tide, so we swam around the edges since it was too shallow to go over and visibility was less than awesome.
We then rinsed off and put on some sunscreen on and took our rain jackets and headed to town to go to the cultural center. Luckily they offered Katy an umbrella to borrow at reception, and I had a well worn, rather sad, pocket umbrella that is half-collapsed and turns inside out with the smallest of wind gusts (it is about 23% effective). We grab the first bus and deftly get off where we aim to and then discover the next bus we need doesn’t come for 40 minutes. We start walking around town and discover that Noumea shuts down on Sundays, and everyone hibernates when it rains.
After some consternation about where to wait for the next bus, we get the line 40 and head to the cultural center. It is a very impressive building with a lot of potential, but it lacks some of the background history on the Kanaks that Katy and I would have liked.
During the week the buses run every twenty minutes, but since it was a Sunday, it was down to every hour. We then headed back to the center of town and waited for line 10 back to our hotel. We waited and waited. Line 90 came, which would have taken us halfway, but we passed since it was raining heavily. We waited. Eventually, a little soggy, our bus arrived after thirty minutes. We took the bus to the stop before the hotel and grabbed an ice cream and a fresh baguette from the store. We decided to repeat the dinner from the previous night in the room, albeit with the bottle of champagne we didn’t drink the night before. I won both games of Catan.
Read about the next step on our adventure in New Caledonia.