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After Chip and Dave's departure, Bradley and I set off to explore the Tjibaou Cultural Center. It was a good chance to experience the local bus system which seemed to be quite efficient. The buses ran right on time and it was a fun way to get there and back. We invited our new friends Mary and Rick from the yacht Tranquility and they invited another friend named Randy. We had a great day learning about the Kanak culture - the Kanak are the native inhabitants of New Caledonia.
The next day we opted for a more physical activity - a hike in the Mt. Koghis range. We rented a car and drove 20 miles outside Noumea. It was a bit of an adventure because the signage leaves a lot to be desired! Several times we had to stop to ask directions - and none of us speak much French. But we finally arrived and then began the uphill drive to the starting point of the hike - a small restaurant a good way up the mountain. As we kept driving up, we began joking that we were going so far up there wouldn't be much left to hike. Not to worry - if we had only known what lay ahead!
Finally we arrived at the restaurant and began the hike. We opted for a loop - up to one peak, across a ridge to a second peak, and then down. The first stop was a magnificent waterfall (after a 30 minute walk) where we stopped to eat our lunch and watch Bradley skinny dip. Bradley's knees are still bothering him so he decided to head back down and wait for us. Ron and I continued up. The trail continued to increase its slope and after an hour of walking we began to occasionally climb on all fours. Still the trail went up. Soon it was all fours all the way until we gratefully reached the first summit. Looking down we were glad we were not going back the same way we came. Surely the other trail would be easier! After a rest and some photos, we started off across the ridge to the second summit. We had envisioned a leisurely stroll but it turned out to be a path through a long field of boulders, requiring climbing all the way. It took another hour to reach the second summit. But at least it would be all downhill from here! Hah! The fun was yet to begin. The way down was more of the same - rocks and more rocks - big ones, small ones, sharp ones and round ones. Ron is like a mountain goat, but I was a little more careful. Finally, after more than five hours, we arrived back at the restaurant. Besides being exhausted, we were covered in the famous New Caledonia red mud - stuff that doesn't like to come off even when you scrub!
We're still waiting on the part for our dive compressor which won't be in for several more days, so we decide to go sailing for a few days. First it's off the the Baie de Prony which is reported to be very scenic and where there is an interesting dive - an area where fresh water bubbles up from below, causing stalagmite like formations to grow in the coral. The bay lives up to its reputation - it is very scenic and peaceful. Our first stop was at Ilot Casy where there is a small hotel and a nice hike around the island. More red mud and some incredible spiders that like to build their webs right across the trail. I made sure that either Ron or Bradley led the way!
Next it was off to the dive site. We have three full dive tanks and had a great dive. Unfortunately I have encountered a problem with my new camera equipment - the flash unit has quit working, so for now I can only take pictures when we snorkel close to the surface. The dive was great - we could see the bubbles rising up from below and the stalagmites were impressive. There was a great variety of fish life too. But it did get a little chilly! In the afternoon we went ashore and visited the old convict settlement. The French used to send prisoners to New Caledonia just like the English did with Australia. We saw several old building that have been completely engulfed by strangler fig trees - really incredible!
The next day we moved to another anchorage where we cruised around in the dinghy and visited the thermal hot springs. This was incredible. Out in the middle of nowhere, completely removed from civilization, with no way to access it by land, is this beautiful dock and boardwalk with a huge, new hot tub where you can enjoy the natural thermal spring. Although the water was only lukewarm, it was very nice. After a short hike through some more red mud, it was off to the next stop.
Then it was off to Il Ouen, a larger island on the way back to Noumea where we are headed to pick up our part. There is some nice reef with great snorkeling and terrific spearfishing. After a couple outings, our freezer (and our stomachs) are full with a great variety of tasty fish. Ron and Bradley certainly haven't lost their touch! There is reportedly a hike on this island too - we even have a map showing the trail. The hike starts along the airstrip and continues in a loop for 3 km. The first bad sign is the airstrip - probably built in WWII and not used much since. It is simply a long strip of waist high grass. We had no luck finding the trail after quite a lot of exploration, but at least we didn't end up with any more red mud on our shoes!
We finally had some luck with the wind - our trip back to Noumea was wonderful. We had 15-20 knots of wind on a comfortable broad reach and a clear sunny day. Too bad Chip and Dave didn't get to experience this! Back in Noumea, we picked up our part, and made preparations to leave for Isles de Pins (Isle of Pines) about 60 miles away. Our first leg was about 20 miles to Canal Woodin where we stopped for the night. Another quiet, peaceful anchorage where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner aboard. Our plan was to leave at 6:00am the next morning to cover the remaining 40 miles. We got underway just as planned only to find that once again the weather had conspired against us. The wind was right on our nose and the seas were very choppy. We seemed to pass through one squall only to encounter another. We decided to alter our plans and head for a closer island to spend the day and night. But even that proved difficult. After two hours of winds fluctuating between 15 and 30 knots, we decided to head for the nearest anchorage and wait for better weather. We pulled in to a peaceful anchorage in the Baie de Prony and re-evaluated. Given the weather forecast, we have decided to skip Ils de Pins altogether and head directly for the Loyalty Islands, about 120 miles away. We will leave around noon and sail overnight, arriving in mid-morning. So stay tuned for our next adventure!