"Arctracer" Letters

New Caledonia Road Trip & Festival, Oct 2000

Last week we rented a car and did a five-day tour of the island of New Caledonia. This is a beautiful country with lots of roads that go along the seashore. Since we like the sea and the scenery of it from land we loved the drive along the coastal roads. We also enjoyed going through the valleys and mountains on the few roads that cross the island. We bought a cheap tent and camped near the ocean each night. Since this is a French country, we usually ate a good hot lunch at a restaurant and then had great French baguettes and cheese and/or pate for supper at the campground we stayed in. We didn't have enough fuel for our cooking stove to cook dinner every night. We wanted to be sure we had enough fuel to make coffee every morning since Jerry gets headaches if he doesn't have his cup of caffeine every day. We tried to buy more white gas for the stove here, but couldn't find any. Hopefully we'll be able to buy it in Australia so that we can use this stove when we go camping for three months there. We now have large jars with sand in them to put our candles in during dinner. The jars are tall and work well to keep the candles from blowing out.

One night when the wind was really blowing and there was occasional rain we didn't know if our tent would stay up. Luckily the campground had traditional huts with bamboo sides and thatched roofs where people could put their tents up under the roofs and on sand. What luxury! They don't sell good tents here like they have in the States or in New Zealand. We're hoping to find a much better tent when we get to Australia!

I (Nina) had to do all the driving, but didn't mind it except on one road which was definitely the most scary road we've ever been on. It was a one-way road which climbed over a mountain pass, VERY narrow, with long drop-offs on one side and a gravel surface. Cars can start at one end of the road on the even hours and at the other end of the road on the odd hours. We went on it after a night of rain and there were some washouts and at times it seemed like there was barely enough room for our small rental car! Driving along the whole northeastern coast was absolutely gorgeous. They do nickel mining here so there were a few scars on distant hills from that, but it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd anticipated.

We visited a few places having to do with World War II, since my Dad was here then. We had a picnic on the beach at Boulouparis where he and his friend Forster camped with the 43rd Infantry Division while waiting for an assignment. We sent postcards to our parents and Forster from this little town. We wonder if they'll be able to read the postmark. Later that same day we visited the New Zealand war cemetery in Bourail where we saw the graves of 7 sailors, 161 soldiers, and 78 airmen who died in the South West Pacific in 1941-1945. All of them were from New Zealand except 5 British and 2 Fijians. At this location we also saw a memorial with the names of 25 soldiers, 3 merchant seamen, and 252 airmen from New Zealand, plus 24 soldiers from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands and 145 from the Solomon Islands. This memorial is to those men "who died in the same operation but their graves are unknown." A couple of days later we visited "Monument des Americans" at Plaine des Gaiacs. This monument is between Kone and Poya. It was not mentioned in our Lonely Planet guidebook, but we had seen it on a map of the Northern Province of New Caledonia. When we picked up a hitchhiking teacher he told us that it was well marked. Perhaps he hadn't been on that particular road for a while because it was difficult to find. When we finally reached it we found it had been vandalized. We took a few pictures there to share with Mom and Forster, but we speculate that the signs to it were removed because it had been vandalized. At the site we learned that it was originally sponsored by the Kiwanis. The steep gravel road leading to the site was quite a challenge to drive too. It seems that since the signs are no longer up to encourage visitors they have let the road deteriorate. The site is very beautiful, atop a hill, with a panoramic view over rolling fields to the sea, and we hope it will be restored. While walking around Noumea the other day we noticed a sign that said American Memorial. There is now a memorial near the marina in a nice park. Perhaps it replaces the above mentioned one. It had a 1992 date and was in the process of being fixed up. It looks great!

We saw some falcons (birds), a lot of wild turkeys, many horses and beef cattle, lots of mountains, and went to a large grotto with stalactites and stalagmites. Jerry kept putting his flashlight up to the roof of the cave. He found many swallows on their nests and one time he put his light on a lot of bats. They all started flying out at him and he quickly moved away. We did lots of beachcombing and found lots of shells that we hadn't collected before, saw an island called the "Brooding Hen" (it truly did resemble one) and a rock called "Pierced Rock" because it looked like that, and visited a neat cultural center for the Kanaks (Melanesians who arrived before the Europeans). At this cultural center we learned that the Kanaks killed people mostly with clubs, since their rules for warfare didn't allow the use of their slingshots with well pointed rocks or their fishing spears. We saw some big shrimp farms. They raise them near the ocean in several huge pools and pump sea water in to them.

We had to take a ferry across one river. A bridge has never been built over that river because of a legend. The waters around the area have lots of sharks and it is said that a particular creature which is part-giant and part-shark, lives at the source of the river. Because of its huge size, it would not want a bridge being built because that would prevent it from going to the ocean. This same giant is said to have left a huge footprint on the bank of the river. He/she is so big that it takes only one 'giant' step for him/her to cross the river. Because of this legend and the very real presence of sharks, the people of the area never swim in the River either. The cable ferry holds one good-sized truck or two cars and was quite rickety, but we made it across.

We walked to a very beautiful waterfall where Jerry went swimming in a pool, but it was way too cold for me. After going to the waterfall we went to a fairly good-sized town. Our guidebook said that it had a restaurant so we looked for it. Finally we found it, but it had no signs above its door or outside. We happened to look through the open door and see people eating at small tables with tablecloths as we drove by. The food wasn't really great, but at least we had a hot meal. Unfortunately I think I ate a pretty reef fish. I'd never been served one of those in a restaurant before. I won't order fish again here! After the main meal we wanted ice cream cones. We thought we ordered them (in French, since they only spoke French there) but when our dessert came we had chocolate sundaes. Jerry wanted a vanilla ice cream cone and his sundae came with some kind of vanilla sauce on the chocolate ice cream.

(view photos of road trip)

The Pacific Arts Festival started the day after we returned from our road trip. We went to the opening ceremonies, but they were postponed because of rain. There is no stadium with a roof in Noumea so it was held three days later in the outdoor sports stadium. At the opening ceremonies we saw about 500 dancing children from New Caledonia. Each of the 24 participating countries also gave a sample of their dancing or singing. We were lucky to have sailed to Noumea early so that we were able to get good seats for this performance. Many people were unable to get tickets at all and many others got tickets for the "end-zones" which were far away from the action. We noticed some people leaving early from those seats.

The day after the opening ceremony we went into town to see some exhibits from some of the countries at various places. When we took a break to get some lunch Jerry picked up a paper on the counter to read. Guess what he saw on the front page of the newspaper called "Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes?" It was a photo taken of the audience, including us with our arms in the air. On the opposite side of the stadium from us were all the performers and other delegates from all the participating countries. They made several attempts to have a "wave" action continue around the stadium. Finally it went around the stadium about six times before the audience got bored with it. Needless to say, we were surprised to see ourselves in the paper. We immediately went to the newsstand to get a copy for us and some for our parents.

I went to the opening of the Arts Festival Village with Jerry, but I didn't feel well. I completely missed the events of the following two days. I didn't even feel like getting out of bed and my stomach was really bothering me. After drinking lots of liquid it finally left my system so that I could start enjoying the many varied events. We have seen lots of people from the South Pacific Islands dancing and singing in their native costumes. The Polynesians definitely have the liveliest dances and the dances of the Melanesians and Micronesians have a lot to offer too. Often their dances are "sit-down" ones for the women while the men are more active. The groups with the most elaborate costumes and access to choreographers had the most polished dances. These groups included the Maoris of New Zealand and the Polynesians of French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island). The other countries mostly performed their traditional dances, which were of all different sorts. We saw elaborate performances using long bamboo poles - keeping rhythm and tossing the poles - and the "sit-down" dances mentioned above with lots of hand movements. Traditional instruments such as drums and nose flutes were used during some traditional dances, while other groups had rock bands with electronic instruments and more modern dances.

(view photos of Noumea)