Finding the New and the Old in New Caledonia
by Floyd Cowan
The pristine yellow rays of the rising sun melted the night as the Aircalin Airbus A330neo slipped into cruise mode after eight hours of skimming the edges of the atmosphere. The engines purred as we settled closer to the Coral Sea. Closer to shimmering turquoise, glittering, pure enticement. Smiling, winking, welcoming.
The first direct Aircalin flight from Singapore was about to reach its New Caledonia destination, La Tontouta International Airport. (https://youtu.be/FE_EyH147DQ)When the possibility of this trip arose, I began reading about the French territory that lies off the northeast corner of Australia. When sponsors New Caledonia Tourism, Aircalin and Airbus, sent me the draft itinerary I began to get a picture of the land, the people, the culture and history. Details to be filled in during the four days we were there.
We were greeted and given lais (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmsI_wx57IU) as we made our way from the skybridge into Arrivals. Outside the terminal a troupe of Kanak, in traditional dress, gave us a very energetic welcome dance. (https://youtu.be/seotIzdjJZo)
New Caledonia Tourism had arranged with Lyvai Transport for a bus take us to Bourail, a two-hour drive to the central part of the island. Though I could’ve used the sleep I also wanted to take in the passing exotic scenery.
Nellye Kamouda, Trade and Media Trips Manager, New Caledonia Tourism, was our greatly appreciated guide for the four days that we were there. She went out of our way to make sure we got everything we needed and wanted. I can’t say enough about her.
Bourail, on the West Coast of the main island has extensive open spaces (the population of the country is just under 300,000) which provides space for cattle farming. Unfortunately, our flight had been delayed by two hours and this impacted our schedule. The lagoon is stunning, but we didn’t get the view of it that we expected. Due to the flight delay we missed the opportunity to go out on the Great Barrier Reef with Ouest Corail, on a glass bottom boat. I am sure that would have been spectacular, but we had to keep to schedule.
Bourail has been a top tourism spot in New Caledonia for a long time. The lagoon and its lenticular reef are registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Arriving at Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Spa & Golf Resort with its traditional building inspired architecture I wished I was just a tourist and could stay for at least a week.
The suites inside the conical thatched roofed huts were spacious and decorated and designed in the most modern way creating a comfortable ambience with acres of wood and cool colours contrasted by vibrant stripes that were sure to have been inspired by the coral reefs and sensual lagoon.
Lunch was served outside near the beach, at the the Sand Beach Grill Restaurant (https://youtu.be/Uk13NC0yu1E). We were able to lounge about and enjoy the food and drink and marvel at the beauty of the resort. A colourful bird with big feet strode about the parameter of the restaurant. I thought it had an unfortunate name, swamp hen, for such a beautiful bird. And though the resort had direct access to 13 kms of white sand beach, perfect for nature lovers and sports enthusiasts, I never got the time to enjoy it. I will when I return to New Caledonia for a holiday.
We took a short drive to the House of Deva in Domaine de Deva where we were welcomed by Audrey (pictured) and by Emilien Consigny, the director of the Domaine de Deva. We were presented with large hats that would be typically be worn by the locals. Our group had been given a choice of golfing or going on a 4-wheel drive experience with Emilien and Audrey. We all choose the 4-while drive adventure. We were given a short presentation of the estate and the different activities visitors can do during their stay in Deva.
Domaine de Deva is many things, from an archeological sanctuary, with remains 3500 years old having been found here, to the only dry forest in New Caledonia to a place where a variety of tourism activities to take place, such as hiking, mountain biking, horse riding (there are many different trails for each activity) orienteering and visiting the ornithological observatory.
There is so much to do I suggest you visit their website (www.deva.nc) to see what they are doing now, and keep in touch because one of their responsibilities is to develop more tourism activities. After the short briefing we jumped into two vehicles. One group went to watch birds at the Observatory and the others went to Bovencoy View Point (https://youtu.be/IOIUeCV3lLU) were there were spectacular 360° views and then we switched.
As the sun was beginning to retire for the evening, we got brilliant reflections of the trees in the still water. A variety of birds perched in branches and swooped here and there. Inside the hut, large binoculars provided close up views of our feathery friends. There was information about them on the walls of the wooden enclosure.
The 4-wheel drive had no problem powering up the steep hill on the dirt track. As I said, when we got to the top there was a beautiful world spread out at our feet. Lingering until the sun was about to draw the curtain on the day we made our way back to the Sheraton where we got refreshed before heading out for the evening.
It was about an hours drive to the tribe of Pothé, to their village of 300 people located in the central mountain chain. I was fortunate to be in a minivan with all NC locals and it was an interesting conversation as we exchanged information on each other’s country. The night was dark and the road was narrow but that didn’t slow our driver. There was little traffic on the road and we arrived safely at the village where we were welcomed by the Chief of the tribe and Franck Coq the manager of Bourail Tourism Office. It was billed as a "Melanesian night with traditional dinner and a traditional Kanak storytelling evening" and that is exactly what it was.
The Chief played guitar and with friends sang songs in their own language as we gathered around. ( https://youtu.be/lweWQ-LgShg). A Kanak tradition is an exchange of gifts when you first meet. We were told of this tradition before we left Singapore so we could bring small gifts for such an occasion. I fretted over what to buy and what to say but was relieved as at the ceremony all our gifts were put together and a local guide gave the speech for us.
They had been preparing dinner at the community centre for some time before we arrived. The meat and veggies are slow cooked in leaves for two hours before they are served. (https://youtu.be/pJVJ6n9pN2k ) Long tables were set in the covered open-air hut. Real local fresh vegetables, rice and meat. We ate our fill.
After dinner a local myth was told by the Chief, more songs were sung (https://youtu.be/RiMmjO6gXYY)
We returned earlier to the Sheraton than we would’ve liked to, but we were facing an early morning flight to Lifou in the Loyalty Islands.
Owner: Mr Alan Choupeau
Contact: (+687) 776 059
Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Spa & Golf Resort
Tel: +687 265-000
Domaine de Deva