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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

New Caledonia: Exploring North of Noumea, West Coast

Territorial view from public observation deck of Farino's town hall.  New Caledonia.
Road Trip Day 2(+):  Farino, La Foa, Sarramea, West Coast, just North of Noumea

New Caledonia's primary island, Grand Terre, is the second biggest island in the South Pacific (not counting New Zealand), 220 miles long, 40 miles wide, and mountainous -- far more than we could see by sailboat. We rented a car.  In my typical not-quite-linear style, our land exploration of New Caledonia will mostly follow a counter-clockwise geographical flow, rather than day-by day.  


Farino Refuge, our first night's stop.  We got there too late to do the waterfall hike and decided to skip it and move on the next morn.
However, for those interested in numbers -- and the car rental cost ~$350 USD for a week, with unlimited miles -- or following our tracks....

Planning
Planning for this road trip entailed a lot of on-line research, supplemented by a visit to the friendly folks at the Visitor Center in Noumea in Coconut Square.  My South Pacific Lonely Planet Guidebook, which includes New Caledonia, was also periodically helpful.  My goal was to come up with a good mix of excellent short walks (mostly between 10 minutes and 2 hours), vistas, potentially some swimming, snorkeling, beaches and cultural points of interest.  Given the terrain and the distance, I wanted to break the trip into several days, and wanted to offer flexibility with lots of camping options to support a loose agenda.  After all the time already spent among villages in Fiji and and Vanuatu and with many miles to cover, I opted out of tribal accommodations for New Caledonia.  Mostly, I figured after full days of driving and outdoor activities, we'd just want to crash rather than socialize.  Trip Advisor and Googling "New Caledonia" "road trip" "hiking" and "camping" netted my most useful info.  New Caledonia offers some great websites as well, but unfortunately they behave poorly when wifi's flaky - typically the case when we're anchored off Noumea, where I did my research.  
Giant Fern Park was easy to find hanks to
great signage.  Farino, New Caledonia
Packing
After all the lessons learned on our New Zealand road trips, I figured this time we'd leave better prepared.  Plus, my research "Aha!" was that unlike New Zealand, where it was pretty easy to pick up anything we forgot as well as lots of fresh food along the way, our options in New Caledonia were few and far between, especially when it comes to gluten-free food.  Wayne tested and packed up our trust New Zealand butane camp stove,  and I packed up a great combination of easy to cook foods, all the condiments and utensils needed to prepare them and store leftovers, several not-that-perishable hearty meal-salad options, and of course plenty of snack and beverage options.  If you want my list of food or "gear" options, feel free to ask.  Eventually there will be a post or two on it.








Lookout tower was gated but wired, not locked closed.
No "don't enter" signs, so we did....
Parc Des Grandes Fougeres, Farino, New Caledonia.
Slow Start
After the prior day's action-packed road trip South, we didn't plan to hit the road early.  Instead, I figured we'd do relatively few miles our first day.  In fact,between packing, ferrying and loading our stuff into the car, and getting some last-minute groceries, we didn't leave Noumea until near 2 o'clock.  Given that, I picked the area of interest closest to Noumea for our stop, Farino.

Stop #1:  Farino -- Town Hall with a View
Maries - town halls for those of us less steeped in French territorial planning - serve a multitude of functions.  As tourists, we find they usually are 

  • fine examples of local architecture 
  • friendly places to ask directions
  • great places to find a clean public restroom.
Farino is a bit unusual in that the majority of New Caledonia's towns are coastal.  Instead, Farino's marie sits proudly on a crest in the the hills, offering a large deck with a lovely territorial view.  Thanks to the maps we already had, ones posted by the marie's deck and excellent street signs, there was no need to ask directions.


Ferns as tall as tall palms Farnino's Giant Fern Park.
New Caledonia.
Refuge de Farino - Camping
I picked the Refuge de Farino campsite because a waterfall in easy walking distace, and the Refuge's close proximity to the Giant Fern Park, and to Sarramea, where there was a niffy natural waterfall slide.  Initially, Wayne was less than thrilled with paying $16 to pitch our tent in a big grassy field partitioned off with a hedge separating it from the road and parking lot.  While there was only one other tent pitched there, it was a family with a very vocal toddler, albeit a happy one that slept well.  The campsite was situated alongside a wide, shallow stream, but there were no picnic tables - major Wayne preference.  There were a few stumps for seating arranged around some fire rings by the stream, but we didn't use them.  And I opted not to load our folding chairs into our already overloaded dinghy and car.

Still, the grounds, set up more to enhance the bungalows there, were beautifully landscaped with lush tropical plants and trees loaded with sweetly scented flowers.  There was also a pleasant outdoor bar / restaurant, complete with a ping-pong table, another nice amenity we opted not to use.  The clean flush toilet, refrigerator-freezer (freezing water bottles for ice the next day - major bonus!), won Wayne over.   Of course, anyplace with unlimited hot showers wins a special spot in my hygiene preferences - so check that box with a smiley face for me! 

When we discovered after leaving our one and only remaining butane camp stove canister gave its last breath in Wayne's testing, we were incredibly grateful for the gas stove.  The canisters are not available in New Caledonia.  That threw a large monkey wrench into many of my meal plans for the trip!

We also discovered that even $100 top-of-the-line backpacking air mattresses don't last forever.  Nor, cruelly, does the previously unused glue in their patch kits.  The grass offered far better cushioning than our aged mattresses, even with three in-the-middle-of-the-night re-inflations.  Borrowing someone else's glue a few nights later for patching also proved futile.
Ferns weren't the only attention-worthy flora at the Giant Fern Park.  This looked like jojoba to me.....  Farino, New Caledonia.
Parc Des Grandes Fougeres (Giant Fern Park)
While there's easily enough trails to spend a day or more ambling Parc Des Grandes Fougeres, we were interested in about a two hour hike.  The nice fellow at the welcome gate collected $4 from us (senior rate?  technically, we're not yet eligible) and marked our trail map for a lookout point and return via the banyan trail.  We missed the lookout until we'd walked a ways past it, then backtracked and found it as a narrow unmarked path by a picnic table.  We're guessing the lookout tower was what the guide meant to direct us to.  

While we've walked many nicer free parks, Parc Des Grandes Fougeres is certainly pleasant enough.  The banyan trail back was a gently windy, intimate forest, with some of the tallest fern trees we've seen.  There were also plenty of great picnic spots, with picnic tables.
Sarramea - definitely a different flavor than New Caledonia's big capital city of Noumea.
Trou Feulliet sign; not so readable!
Sarramea -- Trou Feulliet Waterfall Slide
Sarramea is a land of rolling hills, sweeping trees, jacaranda and tulip trees festooned with showy springtime blossoms, angular bowed pines, fenced ranch-land, rural homes and agriculture.  Much as we enjoyed the drive through, we're grateful both the visitor's center and the town marie were open when we stopped, as we had some trouble finding the entrance to the waterfall.  The place to park is at a more substantial hike's trailhead.  The walk is through a gated off private farm road.




























Public trail entry? Didn't much look like it, but that part on the right opens for walkers to Trou Feulliet waterfall.  New Caledonia.
While one road-tripped described the walk as "through buggy cow paddocks," our timing must've been better.  We found the scenery lovely and wandered bug-free through.  Even with our sight-seeing, the walk was only 10 minutes or less each way.
Walking to Trou Feullliet... a leisurely look at yet another intriguingly unique part of New Caledonia's unique floral ecosystem.
Locals definitely know the place!  It was hopping with them, the Kanaks hanging out in the dive-off spots and shady pools, upstream past the waterfall slide.New Caledonians sprawled across the sunnier spots downstream from the waterfall.  We hung out between the two spots.
Trou Feulliet waterfall... a natural slide.  Sarramea, New Caledonia.  And it's free, too!
I enjoyed several rounds down the waterfall slide.  The afternoon was warm, the water cool but not cold.  Wayne enjoyed people-watching.

It was early afternoon.  We were feeling mellow.  But time to get serious about finding another place to camp towards the east coast before too long.  More on that in the next post.
Waiting for one of the local Kanak kids to complete his splashy cannonball jump into Trou Feulliet's emerald pool
before following with my slide in.  Sarramea, New Caledonia.
Location Location
Our boat remained anchored in Noumea (S22.16.722 E166.25.662), whilst we traveled by car, nearly end-to-end across New Caledonia's big island of Grand Terre, October 16-22, 2016.

Cruising By the Numbers
  • Our September 2016 sail from Vanuatu to New Caledonia was 305 miles.
  • Our August 2016 sail from Fiji to Vanuatu was 525 miles.
  • We cruised just under 440 miles in Fiji, between late May and early August.  
  • Our May 2016 sail from New Zealand to Fiji was 1090 miles.
  • December 2015 - May 2016 if we weren't cruising New Zealand or hunkering, we were making massive road trips from New Zealand's tip to its tail.
  • From December 2014 - November 2015 we sailed from Northern Florida's Atlantic side to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles, with more than a few stops in between.
  • December 2013 - May 2014 we sailed 1792  miles from Jacksonville Florida to the Bahamas. and back.
  • March 2012 we bought Journey in St. Lucia.  September 2012 we moved aboard, did some boat work, then sailed her to Jacksonville Florida by June 2013, 3762 miles.

Next?  Going from A, New Caledonia -- too small to see next to Australia -- to
Bundaburg, Australia to clear in.  Our last long passage on s/v Journey.
Up Next
We plan to catch a safe sailing weather window - likely later thus week to Australia, about a 1 1/2- 2-week ~760 mile passage.  Meanwhile, there's some prep and we plan to make a few more cruising stops in New Cal before we give our final goodbye to this lovely country.  We'll  be out of wifi range for posting about them, until we're set-up for wifi again in Australia.  There will be some pre-posted catch up posts on New Cal while we're underway.  Once in Oz, we'll check in at Bundaberg, then travel South down the East Coast to Pittwater, near Sydney where we'll park Journey.  We'll travel over land there for a bit and figure out where to go back to work somewhere in the world.  Job tips are appreciated!