Day 132: Oh, We Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

Sun. 23rd December 2012

It is a tough jobWe’re starting to know what Tim Rice had in mind when he wrote the song ‘Another suitcase in another hall’ for the musical Evita (which sort of seems appropriate given our stay in Buenos Aires). We are changing hotels again today and that means repacking the backpacks yet again. Back in July, we pre-booked a hotel to stay in over Christmas – we wanted to have somewhere nice(ish) and to be sure that we had internet access so we could Skype with family.

As Christmas falls in the middle of our stay in New Caledonia, it has left us with 2 or 3 nights on either side that we need to fill in. We had hoped either to be able to see more of the main island or to get out to either Ile des Pins or to the Loyalty Islands a short flight away (much as we did from Tahiti). However, the combination of it being the weekend, the run up to Xmas, low-season and the general French-ness of the place means that we are struggling to find a hotel outside of Noumea. Of course, with today being Sunday none of the tour operators are open. Still, we will persevere and I’m sure we’ll sort something out.

Looking back at Anse Vata beachOn our previous walks around the bay, we have seen the water-taxis shuttling over to Ile aux Canards (Duck Island) which we can see a little way off-shore with a forest of red parasols on the beach and so we decide to take a trip over there ourselves. Its not really being a gringo when so many of the locals do it! First there is a trip to the supermarket to sort our picnic lunch. One of the upsides of the French culture here is of course that there are fresh baguettes and great cheese to be had in the supermarket, though I’m not quite sure how I forgot to pick up a bottle of red wine to go with them.

Gas Mark 7 for 3 hours!It only takes a few minutes in the water taxi to cover the half mile or so to Ile aux Canards – wet landing (in Galapagos speak) at both ends – and we get to what turns out to be a small island with a lumpy coral sand beach. On the island is a bar/restaurant and a beachside operation renting out sun loungers, parasols and snorkelling kit. It seems that you have to go to the bar to pay for your kit and then take the receipt to the beach operators. The snag with this scheme is twofold – a) the bar doesn’t know when all of the loungers and parasols have been taken; and b) having to do anything seriously interferes with the beach operators cigarette smoking. To say that these guys are laid back – they are almost horizontal!

That would be fun to sailTo be fair (yes, it does happen once in a while) we did get our parasol and loungers eventually and very comfortable it was too. The parasol was much needed as it was scorchio out in the sun. When not just enjoying the sun or reading our Kindles in the shade, there is the round the island walk which took all of 15 minutes – including stops to take photos. Much of the inside of the island is roped off as it is a breeding ground for puffins, not that we saw any.

Snorkelling trailThe other major activity is a snorkelling trail marked out with buoys out over the coral. Whilst a little bit sceptical initially, it actually turned out to be quite effective. There is a significant amount of coral both in branches and in lumps and this in turn hosts lots of fish of all sizes, shapes and colours. If we hadn’t had such good fish experiences in Rangiroa then we would be absolutely raving about the sights and the fish here. Sadly no underwater photos this time, though Myf has ordered the underwater housing for my camera, so I’ll be able to pick it up once we get to Melbourne (just over a month away now).

Carvings on the beachBy 3:20, the return taxi slot we signed up for, we are pretty much cooked and coated in a layer of  sand and salt and ready to head back. All very straightforward, but we need to return to our old hotel to collect our backpacks and then walk round to the Ramada, our new hotel. Quite what the receptionist of the Ramada thought of us turning up in our damp beachwear with backpacks on goodness only knows. A shower was first item on the agenda when we got into our room.

The furniture in our room is a bit posher than we are used to and we have a bit more space as we booked a Junior Suite (definitely pays to book well ahead or very late in our experience, by booking early we got a good price). However, what we most appreciate is the abundance of electricity sockets. Often, the rooms we have stayed in have only had a single spare socket (sometimes we’ve needed to unplug a light) and we have had to juggle what to charge when. Here there are sockets to spare. The downside of a posh hotel is, of course, that everything is expensive – especially the breakfast which we weren’t able to get included in the room rate. We’ll have to get cereals, milk and juice to make our own or find somewhere cheaper.

Sunset from our balconyOver our evening meal – Chinese, this time – we reflect on our time here and how we want to spend our last week before we get to Australia. The pace of life is slow here and there seems to be no point in forcing it. Its nearly Christmas, the weather is warm and sunny. We’re happy to slow down and enjoy this quieter time. We have booked our dinner on Christmas Day in the hotel restaurant (unlikely to be turkey and trimmings) and have booked times to Skype with family, so all is pretty good.

We are thinking of our friends back home and hope that they are having a very Happy Christmas.

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