Day 136: Dave’s (Half) Baked Bean Theory

Thur. 27th December 2012

La Forêt NoyeeYou may know that the colour of a tin of Heinz baked beans is a carefully-chosen mix of optical illusion and psychological marketing. The blue colour is the ‘opposite’ colour (on a colour wheel) to the orange of the baked beans. After staring at the blue for a little while, when you look away you get an orange afterimage and hence a reminder of baked beans. My theory (other than the one about brontosauruses) is that we have just had a similar effect (but in reverse) today – the river has only looked blue because of the bright red/orange mud on the banks and all around.

We are out on the road today. We have a car so we need to make good use of it, and thanks to Gav’s tip we have a SatNav that seems to work pretty well. Our plan is to explore the southern part of the island over the next two days. That will leave the northern 2/3rds of the island unexplored as well as the other islands in the group but given the time available and the way weekends and Xmas fell, then I don’t think that is too bad a job.

Over the bridgeWe are heading out to the Parc de la Rivière Bleu, a country park built around an artificial lake created by the damming of the Rivière Bleu. As well as being a source of hydroelectric power, the lake and park are now set up with kayak, hiking and cycling trails. It has had mixed reviews on Trip Advisor (which is generally a useful source of ideas) with some people saying it is hard to find or difficult to get in to. However, with our map and SatNav we are pretty confident – also, there are other places we’d like to see if it doesn’t work out.

Getting out of Noumea is pretty straightforward even if we do avoid the péage (cheapskates). Once out to town and the traffic clears we confirm that the little Citroen C1 is seriously underpowered. The winding, undulating roads mean that 3rd gear is used most of the time and that 5th gear seems to be utter fantasy in this car. The park is an hour or so out of town and despite the comments on Trip Advisor, we find it very easily (its signposted off the main road). More surprisingly (remember, we are in France), the park ranger on the ticket desk is friendly and helpful – he tolerated my mangling of his native language and replied slowly enough that I could understand what he meant (if not everything he was saying).

Hairyus Caterpillarus flowerThe ticket desk was near the entrance rather than the centre of the park and so after paying the XPF400 (£2.60) entrance fee we got back in the car to drive into the park. The map we have been provided with shows a lot of trails that are set up for 1, 2 or 3 day hikes along with the option to hire mountain bikes or kayaks. There are even parts of the park on the southern side of the river that can be explored by car. To get further into the northern part of the park, you have to walk across the bridge at the park centre (Pont Perignan) and then take a navette. Again, we had seen sniffy references to all this on Trip Advisor, but the park ranger explained it all well enough and suggested that for our first visit there were sufficient walks without needing to catch the navette.

The baked bean test?It is hot and humid for walking. Despite it being cloudy today (and is that rain in the hills?), it feels hotter than the sunshine in Noumea. Perhaps it is the microclimate here or the fact that we benefited from sea breezes. We head across the bridge and on one of the walks. We don’t fully understand the signposts or the numbering system for the walks but it looks like we have a few options depending on how keen we are. The park ranger said there was a 4 hour walk mostly along the shore of lake and then river up to a view point. The paths looked to have been scraped out of the wilderness using a bulldozer – the mud / rock is bright orange / red a striking contrast to the green of the hills and the blue-grey of the water.

Olly and the Forêt NoyeeWe have our picnic lunch overlooking the Forêt Noyee, a forest of dead trees that were presumably killed when the river was dammed. The sliver grey of the dead trees stretching on through the lake. Presumably the water level in the lake is lower than normal as we can see what seems to be waterline some way up the bank. It is quiet in the park. We are occasionally passed by people on hired mountain bikes but otherwise it is just us and a few birds singing in the trees as we contemplate the pros and cons of the creation of the lake.

Rivers on both sides flowing into the lakeGuess who did which?It is a hot day to be walking far and so we decide to take one of the cut outs in the  loop (via some hill top viewpoints which give a spectacular view of the two rivers joining to fill the lake which stretches on to the distance). Once back to the car, we decide to see some more parts of the park on four wheels. The road is badly rutted in places – the rock is clearly very soft and there are deep channels where the road surface and the banks on either side have been eroded by rain water running off. Still, it is well known that hire cars can cope with much more rutted surfaces than normal cars!

Dave and the Giant HoupWe are intrigued by the prospect of seeing the Houp Géant, and even more by the prospect of finding out what it is! It turns out that the Houp is a species of tree and this particular specimen definitely qualifies as géant – 9m in circumference and over 30m tall. Standing beside it really did put its size into perspective.

The day has marched on whilst we have been sightseeing. The park closes at 5pm (no entry after 2pm) and it has gone 4:30 before we pass the ranger station on the way out. We are hot, tired and thirsty (for once we undercalled the amount of water we’d need for the day) and we retrace our route back in to town. We find that the péage is a worthwhile shortcut and only costs XPF100 (£0.67).

The end of the roadDespite being tired, we are buzzing after another really good day. We thought that the park was really good value and we would go back if we had more time. Perhaps we should have taken the navette to the far end of the park and perhaps we should have hired mountain bikes and seen more of the park. But we feel good about what we have seen and done and are pleased that we managed to get to see a bit more of New Caledonia than just Noumea.

And then there is my theory as to why the called it the Blue River.

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