Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Northern New Caledonia
The problems that arose in New Caledonia because the local indigenous people, the Kanaks, wanted more say in the governing of New Caledonia and eventually independence meant that tourism to the northern part of the main island, Grande Terre, was brought to an abrupt halt in the mid-1980s. Most of the activity of the Front de Liberation Nationale Kanake Socialiste (FLNKS) was centred in this area and many previously thriving hotels and resorts were forced to close or were even demolished.
The signing of the Matignon Accord in 1988 has led to a period of stability over the whole country. Agreements have been reached between traditional landowners and outside developers leading to the reopening of existing hotels and the construction of new ones.
Located 410 km by road north of Noumea, the sleepy locality of Poum has seen the construction of a world class holiday resort, Malabou Beach Resort. Operated by Novotel, this resort was opened in November 1991 and consists of 37 individual bungalows. Each one has three single beds (two can form a double), TV, video (PAL, Secam, NTSC etc) fridge, shower and toilet. Only metres away from an attractive beach and very close to all the facilities, Malabou offers everything you would need on a holiday. As well as pool and protected beach, the resort offers use of bicycles, windsurfers, hobiecats, canoes, tennis court, golf driving range, pool table and many other activities, all free of charge.
In October 1992, Bruno Civet, Frederic Piarre and Eric le Coedic started a dive operation at Malabou. Located on a man-made island straight in front of the resort and connected by a bridge (see photo at left), Pacific Plongee (Pacific Diving), offers dive trips to New Caledonia's Barrier Reef. Using a six metre aluminium boat built in New Zealand, Pacific Diving can take up to eight divers per trip. The dive sites are about 35 to 45 minutes away and in the morning it is a pleasant trip out, although the trip back can sometimes be a bit wet due to onshore winds.
|The lagoon and dive shop area at Malabou|
The dive sites are all located on the outside of the Barrier Reef. Due to the reef's isolation, the lack of rivers and no passing boat traffic (including divers, fishers, sailors), the reef is in almost pristine condition. Pacific Diving has 16 sites that they currently visit and more are being found each month. This isolation also means that they get marlins on dives (7 at once) and 11 species of shark (5 species on one dive).
The two dives I did here were False Pass and the second Les Pitons.
In this area, the mainland looks anything but tropical. The coastline is very reminiscent of the South Coast of NSW and it is hard to believe where we are really (later on a bike ride from the resort, I could have easily believed that we were north of Broken Hill in arid western New South Wales!). As the name of the site suggests, this is a break in the reef that looks like an entrance to the lagoon. However, while there are three real passes, the water here is too shallow for anything larger than the dive boat to safely navigate. This dive is done as a drift starting from the south and ending in the middle of the Pass itself.
Between dives we go to a sand cay where we anchor. It is a bit too rough to get ashore without getting really wet again so most of us stay on the boat. A great fruit tray and some fruit drinks refresh us.
From the second dive site it is a 45 minute trip back to Malabou Resort. On the day I visited the south-east sea-breeze was up so it was a bit rough but not too uncomfortable. Upon our return we used Pacific Diving's washing and storage facilities.
One point to note is that all of their Scubapro steel tanks have French valves and certain regs (eg Sea Hornet) will not fit over the valve. I had to borrow one of their regulators for my dive. This could be annoying if you had your dive computer on your contents hose. Pacific Diving has seven sets of gear and three Apollo scooters for hire.
While this resort is of the highest standard, it is of course reflected in the prices charged for food and drink. While New Caledonia has high prices for virtually everything, Malabou Resort is no exception. The Australian dollar has strengthened considerably since my visit so the following prices are about 15% better than I actually paid. There are no alternatives to eating in the Resort's restaurant as it is over 40 kilometres to the nearest real town. A set meal of two courses costs 2100 FPF ($28) and individual entrees from 750 ($10) to 2800 ($37), average 1200 ($16). Main meals go from 1400 ($19) to 2800 ($37), average 1600 ($21) while deserts average 600 ($8). The food is generally of the highest quality, although I could not recommend the steak which is like leather in all New Caledonia. All meals come with French bread and the servings are quite filling. I found that just ordering a main meal and eating a lot of French bread was very satisfying.
Drinks are likewise very expensive. Cans of Fosters (330ml) are 500 FPF ($7). With your meal, drink chilled water for free. Mini-bars in each bungalow means that you can bring your own drinks from Noumea (beer 180 FPF for 500 ml, soft drinks 85 FPF) and at least have a few cheap drinks. If you are a spirit drinker, bring a couple of duty free bottles and get some soft drinks to go with it.
The water temperature in October was 24°C (Oct to Dec 24, Jan to Feb 28-29) and the visibility 20 metres plus. It is sometimes too cool for a lycra suit but a short wetsuit is okay if you are hardy. Visibility on each of the ocean dives was very good.
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. Note that it will take longer to recharge batteries than normal.
In summary, the diving at Malabou is very good, the Resort excellent (especially good for non-diving spouses and children) but the food and drink are very expensive. Try a couple of days in Noumea and then five to seven days here.
NOTE: Since I visited New Caledonia the Australian dollar has strengthened against the Pacific Franc so things should be cheaper.
Michael McFadyen travelled to New Caledonia courtesy of Dive Adventures, Destination New Caledonie and Air Caledonie International. He dived courtesy of the Pacific Diving Centre. Dive Adventures can be contacted on 02 9299 4633.