Cruisin’ Part One: Bonjour New Caledonia!

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We’re home! 


My flat looks much the same as it did when last we met … half-packed suitcases, to-do lists and laundry everywhere. (Apparently one end of a 15-day cruise looks much like the other).


When Partner-in-Crime suggested that we consider taking some of our new found free time to grab a great last-minute South Pacific cruise deal, we both loved the idea, but also had some hesitation (first-world problems, I realize). P-i-C was concerned that two weeks was going to be too long. Myself, a cruise virgin, had no idea what to expect, and was a bit nervous that I might become a “cruise person …”. You know, someone who eats buffet food, watches third-rate musical theatre “entertainment,” takes cliche pictures like this,


and wears outfits like this …


Above all, I promised P-i-C that I would NOT take this photo …


As it turned out, 15 days was perfectly comfortable for us, even if we did have to find the humor in our occasional forays into “cruise people” cliches (see above, for merely one example).

Washcloth animals and Theme Nights aside, what we were really in it for was the ports of call. All total, we had a glorious 7 stops in 3 countries – New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Fiji. I must hand it to the cruise organizers that they did a brilliant job of putting together a collection of ports which offered  a vast array of experiences – from busy cities to a (literally) deserted island, we came away with a richly varied South Pacific experience.

We began and ended our journey with New Caledonia. Or, rather, Nouvelle-Calรจdonie, as it is a French territory. 


Residents speak French and trade in either Euros or 

the very flash looking South Pacific Franc. 

Our first port was Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. After two sickeningly rocky days at sea, we were suffering from mal-de-mer, and were quite happy to have our feet on terra firma.

In hindsight, Noumea ended up being the least remarkable of our ports, but we did manage a nice wander around, if not terribly memorable day.

After a quick stroll through the downtown fruit market (our favorite activity in every city), city park, and frighteningly imposing Catholic church on the hill, we decided to brave the city bus. 

P-i-C, who (among many other features that recommend him) is pretty fluent in French, so he was exceedingly useful in Noumea as we made sense of bus schedules, ticket buying, and so forth. Words of high school French drift through my fingers like sand, so I could do little more than offer an occasional “Bonjour” or “Merci.” 

We got off the bus at the beach, which was pretty, but in truth we really wanted to be at the cultural museum, which our map suggested was a long haul from our current location. To make more sense of where we were vs. where we hoped to be, we befriended a local gentleman (when I say “we” befriended him, make no mistake that I mean that P-i-C befriended him – I am not a stranger-approacher or conversation-striker-upper). Beach Gent turned out to be incredibly friendly and, despite any warnings we may have learned about Stranger Danger, we decided to trust our best instincts and take him up on a ride to the museum. I am happy to report that he did not murder us or do anything other than offer lovely conversation in faltering English and drop us off at the front gate with instructions on how to get home. 

The  museum was unexceptional, but the long bus ride back into town was fun, as we got a good picture of local culture, as well as some free site seeing. Our last stop was the grocery store. Armed with a few remaining francs, we decided that we should certainly partake in a baguette, and I may have ordered a chocolate beignet from the pastry counter, as well (mercifully, “chocolat” is one word that remained embedded in my brain). Completing the meal with a block of glorious and deliciously cheap cheese, as only the French know how, we finished the day sitting in the port in Noumea with quite the feast.


On the last port of our cruise, we retournez-vous-ed to New Caledonia with a day on the much-hyped Isle of Pines, a small island with less than 2000 residents, and no legal private property sales (land may only be inherited). 




I was very much looking forward to spending the day snorkeling Isle of Pines, as I’d read that it was the best spot on the cruise. Also, the best snorkeling location was around a sacred rock (how often do you get to snorkel around a sacred rock?). It was a dreary day, so the water was pretty murky, but I did manage a bit of good snorkeling in the cold ocean – I was rewarded with certainly the most interesting fish I saw on the trip. Unfortunately, I did not have an underwater camera, but I am happy to report that I have a very good memory, so I have created an artist’s rendering which should give you a good idea of what the snorkeling was like …



Around snorkeling, P-i-C and I spent the day rather aimlessly wandering around. We took a muddy hike on what we believed to be the path to a very promising sounding “natural aquarium,” where natives used to dump fish into a little pool, resulting in amazing snorkeling, but our path unceremoniously dead-ended after we’d invested a dirty and slippery 2 kilometers. 

C’est la vie!

The best part of Isle of Pines was the locals. As we got off the ship, we were greeted with handmade crowns of palm leaves and bougainvillea, which I wore like a queen all day. We were offered a local treat, which I can only describe as banana-coconut-fritters. When P-i-C told the local peddler, in French, that we had not brought any money with us, she thrust the warm treats in our hands and told him that “it’s not like France here.”










We also got a great kick out of the local kids, a few of who polished off bottles of Coca Cola and then performed a giggling and joyous native dance.


I also loved this kid, who I think was trying to hide from the hordes of cruise ship tourists who suddenly overtook his island.


A couple more Isle of Pines shots. Despite the terrible weather, it is hard not to see the unprecedented beauty of this spot.



 

… up next, the very, very wild world of Vanuatu.




3 thoughts on “Cruisin’ Part One: Bonjour New Caledonia!

  1. dde6feca-7411-11e0-8a51-000bcdcb5194

    You would not want to become a cruise person. This is a malady worth watching out for.

    But I think you’re safe. I don’t see boring head shots of you sunbathing on the deck.

    Looks really interesting and pretty and as a side note I am glad that your stranger turned out to be the helpful, not the harmful sort.

  2. C. In Oz

    Jennie – definitely worth it for the wealth of experience you get for the different ports. It would be a lot of work to put together such a varied, experiential trip on one’s own! And, instead of queuing for island hopping flights and looking for a new hotel everyday, you get to actually unpack and hang out in the sun with a pina colada while you travel! We loved it – can you tell? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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