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New Caledonia (briefly)

Spotting a mosquito bite on my leg the day we arrived in New Caledonia, I feared the worst.

Could it be dengue fever, Zika virus, perhaps chikungunya?

Having only just returned from the United States, I’d done little research on our next destination.

But that’s the benefit of Airbnb: Staying with locals who can answer all your questions, including those you forgot to ask.

“The tap water is safe.”

Sunset strolling. The beach is never far away.

Sunset strolling. The beach is never far away

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Killing time before we could check in... Luckily Noumea is a friendly, safe city. We were wandering with our bags for nearly six hours.

Killing time before we could check in… Luckily Noumea is a friendly, safe place – we were wandering with our bags for nearly six hours

For the first four nights, we were in the heart of Noumea. Used to walking, we’d set out each day on foot, and then catch a bus if we wanted to head to outlying areas.

The view from Fort Tereka near Kuendu Bay

The view from Fort Tereka near Kuendu Bay

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It didn’t feel like a tourist destination, but we did feel like tourists. It was easy to blend in in the United States, but here, not only did we look different, but as soon as we spoke a word of French, it was obvious we were foreigners.

The combination of cultures creates an unusual aesthetic; French flags flutter atop high-walled barracks, while exotic fabrics flow from shopfronts down narrow streets.

There’s a lot of concrete – sun-bleached and covered in graffiti and bright flowers.

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I would have liked to spend more time with locals. From those we encountered, it seemed they’re a laid-back bunch.

Waiting at a bus stop on Sunday night, a low car pumping sounds pulled up beside us. A dark head appeared from the window.

“No bus, c’est Dimanche, hey.”

Bugger. It was a long walk back.

“Jump in.”

The men introduced themselves as Charles and George. Great guys.

Something about churches... I loved that the doors here were always open.

Something about churches… I loved that the doors here were always open

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The surrounding islands provided a different setting altogether. Classic postcard scenes – but substitute swaying palm trees for swaying pines, in the case of Ile des Pins (just as beautiful, I assure you.)

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On Ile Des Pins

The fabric signifies this is a sacred place for the indigenous (Kanak) people

The fabric signifies this is a sacred place for the indigenous (Kanak) people

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On the flight home, just before the plane began its descent through the cloud covering Wellington, William leaned over and said: “Do you think we could just stay up here?”

I looked down at the grey beneath us. Then, I imagined a life of clear skies, cassava chips and limited leg room.

Hmm.

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