Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Noumea
Famous for being a little bit of France in the South Pacific, New Caledonia gained a reputation over the years for the arrogance and unfriendliness of the French residents. This reputation was well deserved and led to New Caledonia losing a lot of tourism. In my previous two visits to the capital Noumea, the attitude of the French (as opposed to the Kanaks) was, in my considered opinion, not just cold, but quite hostile.
My visit in 1987 was at the height of the independence push and all English-speaking people, especially Australians, were treated quite rudely by the French. Australians were especially reviled due to our Government's support for the Kanaks and the independence movement FLNKS.
At the end of 1993 I returned to New Caledonia and spent three nights in Noumea. As soon as I arrived I noticed a marked change in the attitude of the French people. Not only were they warmer to tourists, they were even quite friendly and sometimes helpful. This difference was immediately noticeable and was commented on by other people on my trip who had also previously visited Noumea.
Since my previous visit, the French Government has instituted the Matignon Accord which sets an agenda for a transition from direct rule to a federal system with a referendum on independence to follow. This, together with a large drop in the need for nickel (New Caledonia is the world's largest producer) has meant that the country must be more dependent on tourism.
During my visit to Noumea, I stayed at the Le Lagon Hotel which is quite good and located very close to the main beaches at Anse Vata. Only a few minutes by local bus from the city centre (the best way to explore Noumea), Le Lagon is well situated.
Bernard Andreani, one of the four partners of Amadee Island Diving, met us at the hotel and transported us in his minibus to the Club Med Wharf only a few minutes away. Here we joined his 11 metre Australian built Cougar Cat, Spanish Dancer, for the 40 minute trip to Amadee Island. Capable of carrying 18 divers, the Spanish Dancer gets along at 20 knots and is very comfortable.
Amadee Island is located at the start of the Havannah-Boulari Passage, a scenic short cut for cruise ships travelling to Vanuatu. The first part of the name of the passage obviously comes from HMS Havannah skippered by Captain John Erskine which passed though the passage in 1849 on its way to Efate in Vanuatu. I am not sure where the second part of the name comes from.
|Amadee Island and its lighthouse|
Only 200 metres by 400 metres in size, the island is famous for its metal lighthouse which was manufactured in Paris in 1862. The foundation stone was laid on 18 January 1865 and the light first shone on 15 November 1865. Bernard's dive shop is on the island near the lighthouse. Once you arrive at the island, you gear up on the wharf before transferring to the 6 metre rubber ducky for a 10 minute run to the outside of the famous Barrier Reef.
I did two dives here. The first was Boulari Pass and the second was the La Dieppoise, a French Navy minesweeper. In between we had lunch on Amadee Island and generally relaxed.
The water temperature in October was 23°C and I was comfortable in a short 3mm suit, but most people would probably prefer a full 3mm suit. Visibility on the first dive was 20 metres plus and 10 metres on the second. The water temperature varies from 21o in late winter to 27o in late summer.
Amadee Island Diving, a PADI facility, has two minibuses and picks up from all hotels. All its diving sites are within the Noumea permanent marine park reserve. They do night dives each Wednesday.
The general cost of living for tourists in New Caledonia is quite high and uncontrolled spending could send you broke. However, by using a little commonsense you can dramatically cut your costs without affecting your holiday. For example, breakfast and lunches should not be taken in hotel restaurants or even snack bars. Find the nearest general store and buy juices, croissants, bread rolls, meat, soft drinks and you will cut your costs. Likewise, there are some cheap restaurants at Anse Vata (San Remo is especially recommended for pizza and Italian) and even some restaurants have set price meals. The Le Legon charges 1500 or 1800 spf ($23 or $28) for 2 or 3 courses. Likewise, buy your wine and beer at the general stores and drink on the beach or on your balcony. The local beer "Number One" costs 165 spf ($2.50) for a big 500 ml can compared to 300-500 ($4.60-7.70) for a 330 ml can in a bar or restaurant, while Coke is only 85/65 spf ($1.30) compared to 160 spf ($2.40) in shops. Worth noting is the fact that the Fosters, 195 spf ($3) for 500 ml, is made in London, not Australia. If you are travelling to other places in New Caledonia, buy some supplies here.
For your last night, Les Colonnes de Dir restaurant (51 rue Jean Jaures) is excellent and not too expensive for a quality meal. Mains are 900-1500 spf, average 1200, ($14-23, av $18.50) and desserts average 400 spf ($6). Drinks are 300-400 spf ($4.50 to $6).
All prices in 1997 dollars.
Power in New Caledonia is 220v (close enough to our 240v) but you will need to buy an adaptor as the power points only accept French round plugs.
One more thing to note, the international airport is well over 50 km from Noumea so make sure your travel package includes transfers.
Michael McFadyen travelled to New Caledonia courtesy of Dive Adventures, Destination New Caledonie and Air Caledonie International. He dived in Noumea courtesy of Amadee Island Diving. Dive Adventures can be contacted on 61 2 9299 4633.