No one seems to know anything about New Caledonia – or Nouvelle Calédonie to give it it’s French name – which seems an excellent reason to visit. Even Stanfords of London, one of the world’s most venerable travel bookshops, couldn’t supply us with a proper map of this South Pacific archipelago. Neither could the tourist office in the capital, Nouméa, nor the Hertz hire car office – but fortunately we find this printed sarong!
If you’d like to see my TOUJOURS TROUSERS and TOUJOURS TOP patterns inspired by this crazy French adventure read on or click here.
Grande Terre, the main island, is shaped like a baguette with a crust of mountains capped with berets of cloud. On the map it looks like it’s been hurled from Brisbane in Australia to Auckland in New Zealand but fell into the South Pacific instead. Fortuitously, I just happen to be en-route between those two places.
The AirCal in-flight magazine tells me to expect boutiques full of top French designer labels in Nouméa – instead I find most of the locals favour the Mother Hubbard – a loose smock dress imposed by the missionaries in the 19th century on many of the women and girls of the South Seas. Think modest frock rather than sexy sarong – not quite as chic as Chanel but probably more comfortable in the steamy heat.
Some of the prints are very pretty…
We visit the capital’s two charming old school museums, the Musée de Nouvelle Calédonie and the Musée de la Ville de Nouméa, with their entertaining carvings.
Also the excellent Aquarium des Lagons.
Here you can admire this aptly-named Napoleon Wrasse – New Caledonia is surrounded by a massive World Heritage-listed lagoon and has some great snorkelling and diving.
I gen up on some local history at the Jean-Marie Tijabou Cultural Centre. Designed by Renzo Piano of Pompidou Centre and Shard-fame it’s inspired by the wooden buildings of the indigenous Kanak people and named after a political hero.New Caledonia was discovered by Captain Cook in 1774 – who may have named it after Scotland on account of the mountains. It was later colonised by the French who used it first as a penal settlement and now mine nickel here. The islands remains an overseas territory of France with the typical Gallic trappings of Marie and Gendarmerie. and you can buy French necessities such as imported foie gras and fine wines. That’s after you get your head around the restrictive licensing laws which are apparently designed to stop the locals getting drunk and shooting each other! However, everyone I meet is sober and polite. Being over 16,000 km from La Métropole, there are very few tourists and on our two week road trip we have the mountains to ourselves.
It isn’t all glamour being a travel writer’s mate – especially when it’s wet. Still, at least it’s warm rain!
Despite the weather it’s time to hit the road – although I don’t think the Renault Clio was designed for this!
By the time we get back to base our poor little car is so dirty we have to pay a penalty for extra cleaning!
In the Parc des Grandes Fougères (ferns)
I find these towering specimens looking just like 18th century etchings. The park is also home to the curious cagou. Endemic to New Caledonia this elusive bird wears elegant silver grey plumage worthy of any chic Parisienne.
Being a French bird it seems to be able to ride a bicycle – handy as it can’t fly.
Along the west coast the road passes some striking skeletal remains of past mining
and some funny rocks – these are known for good reason as the Poule Couveuse (brooding hen).
The road weaves along a very scenic coast with lush river valleys, one of which has to be crossed on this little free ferry.
By the time we reach the top of the island the sun has come out which is a good excuse to take a stroll on the beach in my TOUJOURS TOP and TOUJOURS TROUSERS. These are so-called because I have many versions in different colours and fabrics and they always make me feel snappy and work well for numerous occasions and climates.
I accessorize my outfit with a matching mosquito repellent armband from Australia – a great idea but it doesn’t work. Oh well, back to the dreaded DEET… (Any suggested alternatives welcome!)
At Relais de Poingam, a rustic beach resort on the very northern tip of Grande Terre, I sit down to do some work on my next Downloadable Patterns…
Here’s my naturally air-conditioned office where I make my designs before uploading this post from a very hi-tech Wifi hotspot!
All images © nigeltisdall.com
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You are the first person I know to have visited New Caledonia – and probably the last! But up here everyone on the scottish side raves about ‘Scorcha’ who sing about longing for Caledonia emigres’ homeland I think rather than a South Pacific Island. Keep up the travelogue cannot wait to find out where you will be writing from next time. xS
I think I might be singing about my homeland soon. I’m in Sarawak just now where Karaoke is very popular. But I haven’t dared get up and sing for fear of being deported!
Envious… Cath and I were talking about you today. Not missing anything here , I can tell you. How has your hair stayed so short ????? Looking forward to seeing you and hearing all about it, bet you’re not looking forward to seeing all of us. xxxx
Of course I’m looking forward to seeing you all – back at Easter for some much needed chocolate! My last haircut was done by my brother in law with his clippers in the back garden in Taupo New Zealand. It came out alright much to all our surprise. He has a hidden talent!