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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

New Caledonia: Reefy Little Ilot Mato

View of Ilot Mato’s anchorage, as seen from the island’s trail.  New Caledonia.

Paddling my kayak to Ilot Mato, New Caledonia.  My trusty
kayak proudly sports a Tipu Chai sticker; the tea was
my warm-up that cool early spring morn.
“Stuck in Everett, Washington and feeling miserable, I read your blog about cruising.  Your blog got me inspired to leave and go cruising,”  Wayne gushed to Neville, of Dream Time, blogger www.zeroxte.com. We met in Port Moselle’s marina office, Neville sporting a stylish medallion he carved himself.  I thanked Neville for getting us out of Everett and into the South Pacific.

Wayne offered to thank Neville and his wife Catherine over a beer; we’d buy, of course, or give him a taste of a drink made with Wayne’s homebrew.  Neville agreed; it was just a matter of working out the logistics.  If was our first official day in New Caledonia, a good start.

Ultimately we agreed to meet several days later, at one of Dream Times’s favorite nearby spots, Ilot Mato.   Ilot Mato sits squarely in the middle of a huge lagoon, protected from waves by its ample reef system. 






These striking red and white striated rocks caught my eye, as did the toothy charcoal-colored protrusions thrusting through the white sand.
Ilot Mato, New Caledonia.
Neville, Catherine and their visiting Ozzie friend Louis kindly came by our boat for a visit, as we were hoping to avoid dropping our dinghy at Ilot Mato.  We were there mostly to meet with Neville and Catherine and the next morn head for the Prony area.  It was nice to meet Louis, too, especially once we discovered he’s the one who got Neville interested in cruising, eons ago.  The crew aboard Dream Time planned to spend several days hanging out at Il Mato, exploring its reefs and seeing if they could get lucky spear fishing.

Clive (rock stack) makes a clear marker for the trail to Ilot Mato's summit.  New Caledonia.
Neville and Wayne good-naturedly competed for best storytelling rights; with Neville chiding me with a smile, not to let the facts get in the way of a good story.  Catherine was a tea-totaller, but not averse to trying “my” instant Tipu’s Chai, now perhaps a new favorite of hers*.  Neville and Louis came with their own stubbies, though Wayne eventually convinced Neville to try a martini and a G&T, the latter made with spirits from his still.  We all parted in good cheer, hoping to cross paths again.

*At my request, the nice folks at Tipu Chai were kind enough to share some of their excellent product.  It’s hard to find a good chai – most are way too sweet for my taste --  much less an instant one.  I try to make it worth their while by snapping the occasional photo of Tipus in exotic places and by introducing it to folks who I believe will like it.


Ilot Mato trail offers an excellent viewpoint delineating the lagoon’s line between reef and ocean. The ocean is the dark blue portion on the left.
The next morning I launched my kayak for a paddle over to Ilot Mato island, then a snorkel.  I watched the careful navigation of another dink in the anchorage carefully picking its way across the reef to head ashore.  Requiring only an inch or two for clearance, I had it much easier in my kayak.

After gawking over the vertically striated rocks, I wandered the shoreline.  After a few minutes, I came across an obvious trailhead marker.  There’s an easy 10-minute hike from the beach to a dandy territorial lookout point, offering a great view of the area. 

This is the only butterfly slow enough to let me take its photo.  I was surprised it alighted on the beach at Ilot Mato, New Caledonia.
Warm from summiting in my wetsuit (a thin shorty, thank goodness! Though I was also wearing a long-sleeved rash guard under it), it was just the incentive I needed to snorkel the cool waters.  I’d heard sharks prowled the area, so given my solo snorkeling, I restricted my snorkeling to the island’s closest reef drop-off.  The reefs looked healthy, rife with colorful purple, green and yellow coral and the usual small, colorful reef fish.  The bommies further afield likely attracted a greater variety of fish, but my forays stood between us and moving on to our next stop.  Besides, I wasn’t too keen to explore shark territory solo (but check out this shark image from Richard Chesher which also shows how magnificent Ilot Matos reefs are).


Reefs:  beautiful, protective and treacherous to boats.  This is why sails to and from Ilot Mato are best made in good daylight, arriving or departing between 10 am and 3 pm.
With more time, sunshine, less wind and a snorkel buddy, I would definitely put Ilot Mato on my list of places to visit again.   Ahhh, so many cool places to see in New Caledonia, and so little time!

After checking that our anchor and chain were clear, despite all the reefs and 25-knot wind gusts, we hoisted my kayak about and gave a fond adieu to the Dream Time folk.  We wish them excellent adventures and hope we meet again!


 View leaving the reefy lagoon Ilot Mato, New Caledonia.

 Crisper view leaving the reefy lagoon Ilot Mato, New Caledonia, through my Maui Jims.  Notice the lighter reefy areas are more visible?

Location Location
We were in Ilot Mato (S22.33.141 E166.47.799) September 26, 2016.  We’re currently cruising the Prony Bay area, about a dozen miles from Ilot Mato and less than 30 miles from Noumea.  Our current anchorage is in Anse Majic, aka Rade de L'Est G (S22.22.903 E166.54.816), by the this posts, we'll be anchoring somewhere between Prony and Noumea.  We plan to arrive in Noumea this Friday or Saturday to provision and get more wifi data before we head out.

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.
  • Prior to that we sailed from St. Lucia to Florida and also spent a season cruising the Bahamas.

Up Next
We're planning on cruising in New Caledonia until November.  After New Caledonia, we head to Australia, by December 2016 (but probably earlier).  There, we plan to sell our boat, and go back to work, somewhere.