Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Friday, February 28, 2014

Noumea ( New Caledonia )

We docked around midday and yes, a dance group greeted us. A huge hollow tree drum was beaten by about four grass-skirted men and another six or eight more modernly dressed women. All were singing and dancing wildly. We docked in a very clean, very secured area. All the containers on the dock were lined up neatly, no trash anyplace. The shuttle buses that took us to the town center were cleanly scrubbed and all were air conditioned. Not a speck of dirt in them. The five minute ride to the terminal center in town immediately gave the impression that this stop in the capital of the French protectorate of New Caledonia was special.
The name Caledonia was given to this island chain by the famous Captain Cook. The island's topography reminded Cook of Scotland (today's Scotland was at Cook's time known under the name of Caledonia). The name stuck even though Cook was wrong. If you want to compare the island to a European area today, most would say the French Riviera. With caf├ęs, sunshine and good beaches this is a modern resort town.
NC (New Caledonia) however, does not live off tourism alone. Huge, I mean HUGE, nickel mines are being mined in the north end of the island. I did not see the actual mines but our onboard presentation showed us some photos. Open pit or strip mining where a whole area of the ground is dug up, is used. Then the ore is processed and shipped to the users. It seems all of this huge island, the island is as large as the state of New Jersey, is one Nickel deposit. Nickel is used in many products we do not think about too much, such as stainless steel or even nickel batteries. NC is getting rich on the ore alone. Tourism is just an additional source of income.
Not as hot and humid as the other groups of islands we just visited, NC is a delight. Trade winds create a steady breeze that keeps the temperatures between 20 to 30 degrees Celsius all year long. Around 33% of the population is of European heritage, 45% are Kanaks (the original people) and the rest are of other backgrounds.
The islands started off as a penal colony for the French in 1864 with 98% male population at that time which makes it easy to understand why 55% of today's population speaks French only. Still there is unrest between the Kanaks and the French. So much so that officially NC has two official flags. The political pressure to secede from France is high amongst the Kanaks and will be determined in 2018 when the first open elections will give a clear mandate. It is not easy for them to say they want to be independent. With independence, France will stop all support to the island, along with all benefits and entitlements. Yet a lot of the Kanaks would want to have their own say. We will see how this will develop in the future. It will not be easy to manage a small county, independent from France and keep up the lifestyle they are used to living. Changes are coming to NC for sure.
We took a city bus tour in a very modern bus and climbed some hills providing vantage points to see the town. This town has some beautiful views and is certainly a blessed island. World class resorts of course know this, one can live in total luxury and have the latest of the latest at one's fingertips. Yes, it is an attempt to copy the French Riviera in the Pacific but I had no problem with that. NC, Noumea is worth a visit. If you want to live cheaply here, bring your boat or ship. There is no time limit on anchoring your vessel anyplace on the islands. You can just live on your vessel. We met a guy who did just that, living the life, paying no rent. He loves it on NC, so would you.

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