Cruise Report # Twenty-eight– Day 50 – Saturday, November 10, 2007

In Port, Noumea, New Caledonia

From the Ships Navigator

We will embark the local pilot at 6:00 am. Thereafter we and then sail on a easterly course towards our berth in Noumea, New Caledonia. The weather forecast calls for a temperature of 77 degrees and a moderate breeze blowing from the east with a force of 4. The turbulent seas we had sailed through from Sydney had calmed as we made our approach to the opening in the reef that surrounds the main island, and we were presented with fantastic views of this beautiful island territory. We were all so thankful for the warmer weather.

Welcome to Noumea, New Caledonia

Noumea is the capital city of the French territory of New Caledonia. It is situated on a peninsula in the south of New Caledonia’s main island, Grande Terre. The area in which the city was founded was not an important one for Kanaks prior to European settlement; the first European to set up a settlement nearby was a British trader, James Paddon, in 1851. The French, anxious to assert control of the island, established a settlement there three years later in 1854, moving from the north of the island. The area served first as a penal colony, then as a center for the exploitation of the nickel and gold that was mined nearby. Later, it served as the headquarters of the United States military in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, the US military headquarters was taken over as the base for a new regional intergovernmental development organization: the South Pacific Commission. Even today the US Wartime military influence lingers, both in the warmth that many New Caledonian people feel towards the United States after experiencing the friendliness of American soldiers, and also the names of several of the quarters in Noumea. Districts such as “Receiving” and “Robinson”, or even “Motor Pool,” strike the Anglophone ear strangely, until the historical context becomes clear.

British Captain James Cook sighted cigar-shaped Grand Terre in 1774 and anchored in what is now the Bay of Balade on the east coast. He chose he name New Caledonia because the landscape reminded him of the Scottish highlands, but rugged beauty did not attract British settlers – those willing to venture to far-flung lands needed richer enticement. French forces, vying for new lands, sent their own investigative voyages in the 1790s, and begun to establish missions throughout the South Pacific region. In 1853 Admiral Fevrier-Despointes, claimed the archipelago for France. Mineral deposits were soon discovered and thriving colonies were established.

We could not have asked for better weather for our sail-in on the 232nd anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps. Thousands of Marines were among the 40,000 U.S. military personnel based on Noumea during the Pacific campaigns of World War II. The pilot boat met us near the entrance to the lagoon that surrounds the island and soon we were steaming toward our berth at the Cruise Ship Terminal on the Baie de la Moselle. We were treated to a grand view of “downtown” as we docked. On shore to welcome us to their island was a performance by “We Ce Cha” a Melanesian folkloric group of singers, dancers, and drummers. Our tour to the “Tjibaou cultural centre” was not scheduled to leave until 9 am so our departure was not so rushed. French and Melanesian dialects comprise the majority of languages spoken here, so we were prepared for some more impromptu “language lessons.” Island society is cosmopolitan, but the nation was woven from a broad ethnic fabric as New Caledonians came from France, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu. Our excursion did start out on a sour note however, as the bus air-conditioner had not cooled the interior to some of the “guest’s” expectations and they were not about to be held hostage to discomfort, making somewhat unreasonable demands on our hosts. (Read ugly American here). Soon their pampered souls were further pampered in a bus that was adequately cooled and we were on our way. Our guide was a delightful young woman obviously a descendant of the Kanak culture and was very proud of what the government was doing to insure not only visitors to her country, but youngsters as well, learned more about her ancestors.

In 1991, Renzo Piano, won the architects’ contest to design the center based on Kanak culture’s deep-rooted values and characteristics. Designed as a set of villages and wooded areas, the ten huts blend perfectly with lush green Tina Peninsula. The huts, the highest of which rises to 28 meters were designed to be a visual metaphor of the Kanak home. The material and the way the wood curves recall ancient huts and ancestral building techniques. For the architect they are memories of open huts looking out onto a dream of the future. When seen from a distance one would swear they are made of steel but in fact are made of glulam timbers of iroko, a rot-proof wood imported from Africa that could take the strain of the glulam technique and would be highly resistant to termites. These architectural masterpieces are truly remarkable remarkable sights. We felt honored to be able to experience one small fragment of this ancient culture. The Beretara room at the Center expresses the revival of art through the Contemporary Kanak and Pacific Art Fund. Made up of over 700 outstanding items, it holds the Pacific’s only public contemporary artwork collection and it is constantly growing.

Too soon, our bus returned us to the parking lot of the cruise terminal and we “poured” out into the noonday heat and humidity. After a hurried lunch on the ship, it was time for – surprise – shopping! The fact that there were over a thousand new “shoppers” in town did not seem to make a difference to most merchants as the shops closed at their usual 11am! We did manage to find a few entrepreneurs around the main square; “Place des Cocotiers” or Palm Plaza, and were able to spend our “French Pacific francs (XPF). In all this heat Barbara was starting to look like a lobster so we decided a cold beer and a glass of wine onboard was in order.

Around 3 pm, we were treated to over an hour of Polynesian folkloric singing, drumming and dancing, pierside. Our “all aboard at 4:30 with sail away at 5 pm was delayed as tour groups continued to straggle to the waiting gangway. Soon we the ships thrusters were moving us sideways away from the pier as the ships band played lively music on the portside lower promenade. Several blasts from the ship’s whistle saluted our goodbye to this lovely south Pacific community, with some passengers vowing to return someday.

As we dined, the pilot boat picked up our port pilot and made its sweeping turn for the harbor, I heard our captain signal his customary parting salute.

Till we write again after our next port – Fiji – we bid you farewell.

Jack and Barbara

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