We’re currently in New Caledonia. It is French. By that I mean that a croissant costs about as much as a new Renault.
It is very sophisticated. By that I mean it has all the drawbacks of Paris.
The big industry here is nickel mining. It is tough, dangerous work and the local mine owners don’t want to pay decent wages——so they keep importing foreign workers. Alas, it doesn’t take those workers long to realize that mining, especially new-cal-style, is closer to suicide than profession——and refuse to work.
…which is remedied by importing more foreigner workers.
Thus the island is filled with Africans, Polynesians, Indians, Indonesians, Vietnamese and various other poor immigrant saps who arrived looking for gold and ended up with ashes.
In fact, it is hard to tell who-is-who in New Cal… even the locals go by confusing appellations. A Frenchman is known as a Frenchman… unless he is white Frenchman who is born here, then he is known as a Caldoche… if he lives in the city… but a Brouusard if he lives in a rural environment.
Still with me? The indigenous people are called Kanaks which was French slang for the people who were ‘blackbirded’ to Australia and elsewhere in the 19th century. At first, the Kanaks didn’t like this name and preferred to be called indigenes or simply, native. However in the 1970s, when they collectively began a cultural revival, they reclaimed the discarded name Kanak with pride.
If all this wasn’t bad enough, many Caldoches prefer to me called Caledoniens… which is often increasingly used to refer to as ALL New Caledonians.
So, basically, this is a place were people can’t agree on who they are… or, for that matter, who the other guy is either.
Currently, the island is (surprise!) paralyzed by a strike. Nobody is quite sure who is striking——but they are in sympathy with who ever it is. (Sympathy=day-off-work=fun!)
“Island Paralyzed” is today’s headline and, well, often the headline. (Maybe the headline-writers are on strike and have been for a year or two?)
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the French and visit France whenever I can. I also love St. Barts, St. Martin, The Saints and Martinique.
But the capitol city of New Cal, Noumea, seems to lack soul. It could be anywhere vanilla: America, Australia, Britain, or… worse!
There is a clash of cultures going on. The local Kanaks seem like ghosts in their own land.
They’ve come in from the bush to panhandle in the urban parks——hardly upward mobility at its best.
So much for the good news.
Seriously, Noumea isn’t a particularly happy place. True, it is relatively wealthy in comparison with its neighbors of Vanuatu and Fiji——but the latter joyfully laugh ten times more than the former.
But, from a strictly marine standpoint, the actual cruising grounds of New Caledonia are splendid.
New Cal boasts of the World’s largest ‘reef lagoon.’
It certainly is big and long. It stretches for over a hundred and twenty miles.
There are sailboats everywhere, with the marinas brimming with fine yachts, rusty multi-chimes and rugged cruising vessels galore.
There are also more kite-surfers here than anywhere on the planet that I know of. (We counted almost thirty sailing on the day we arrived).
There are basically two marine seasons here, with a pulse of boats in the autumn escaping the winter in Australia and a second pulse of vessels waiting to return to Australia and New Zealand in spring.
This is a GREAT jumping off point to Australia’s Gold Coast. Many vessels heading for Brisbane (considered by many to be safely below the hurricane belt) are currently waiting to depart from here.
It is relatively close (900 miles) to New Zealand as well. However, it is northwest of NZ and, with the brisk southeast trades, the trip south in the early spring can be an adventurous one. (We plan on close-reaching until we pick up the westerlies below 30S, THEN turn east to New Zealand.
But, back to the most important thing about any French country: the pastries. Carolyn and I have happily gained ten delicious pounds since our arrival. In fact, our ‘waste’ lines are expanding as fast as our bank accounts shrink!
Our pudgy little faces are covered with sugar, our lips with almond butter——and our entire boat is drowning in crumbs, crumbs, and more crumbs.
Bottom line: we’re happy. Especially dessert-wise. So happy, in fact, that if we don’t get a good weather window soon, we’ll have to get a bigger boat to carry us onward.