If you are seeking the brochure scene: white sandy beach lined with pines and coconut palms in the shadow of a moody volcanic peak, it's here. If your ideal is a remote atoll with only your footprints in the sand, it's here. What you may not have in mind is a mainland coastline sparsely populated but rich in human history, much of it set aside as nature reserve, the surrounding waters rich in spectacular coral reefs and secluded bays. That's here too.
Where a New Caledonia sailing charter takes you
New Caledonia's total yacht charter territory is extensive, allowing for suitably qualified sailors to take ocean passages to the Loyalty Islands and on to Vanuatu. But the main holiday cruising area is between Noumea and the Isle of Pines, within a huge lagoon that nevertheless provides for some open-water sailing. It is suitable for sailors who have chartered more benign destinations, yet have the confidence to handle short passages and navigate around isles and reefs encountered.
If you have less time than that, or you wish to cover a greater area during your charter, there are many alternative start and end points. We can customise this itinerary to suit your particular needs and requests.
What follows is a summary of a recent trip we did with family group, out of Noumea. It takes in the area's top spots but is by no means exhaustive. There is so much to see and do on a New Caledonian sailing holiday, don't be surprised when you read this and decide that your planned 10 days will be all the more enjoyable extended to two weeks, or longer!
Arrival at Base. Port Moselle
Port Moselle is located in the centre of Noumea, New Caledonia's capital and port of entry. Conveniently, there's a fresh produce market in the park adjacent. The Kanuk and Asian traders speak little English, but we came away with abundant healthy provisions for our 10-day charter. Just up the road from the marina is a supermarket where quality French-style food is available at reasonable prices - an easy walk with taxis easy to find for the return trip laden with groceries.
On any charter, preparation is paramount. That's especially the case in Noumea, as there are few places along the way to purchase stores, and the remoteness of many anchorages means any technical assistance is likely to be by telephone.
Use your time with the briefing skipper well, making sure you understand everything you can about your boat. If you are chartering a larger catamaran, take special note of the technology they possess, some of which may take some understanding.
We spent a full day enjoying Noumea before setting sail, provisioning and going over the boat with the base manager. You may like to spend the first night on the marina, but we decided to cast off late in the afternoon, anchoring at Ilot Maitre, an islet just three miles from Noumea.
Fresh Noumea produce in the daily market
Plenty of room to play on board our Catana 47
Turtle Bay, Ilse Ouen
Native hut overlooking Baie de la Tortue
Day 2: to Isle Ouen - 20 miles
On the recommendation of the base manager, we left early to make the most of lighter morning winds.
Our heading was for Baie de la Tortue (Turtle Bay) on the south western tip of Isle Ouen. This pretty sandy bay is well situated as a for exploring the adjacent reefs of the southern lagoon during the day, and a good overnight anchorage.
Baie de la Tortue is ideal for an introductory snorkel off the beach or adjacent reef, while there are easy walks to vantage points from which to enjoy the view of the cruising grounds beyond.
Plants grow only sparsely on Ile Ouen, and there is evidence of the mineral extractions that have occurred there. The island has two villages. However the resort that once occupied the flat land under the coconut palms has closed down, unable to compete with the Ile des Pins, now well serviced by fast ferries.
Day 3: Baie de Prony
From our anchorage, it is a leisurely 10 mile saile through Canal Woodin to the expansive Baie de Prony on the New Caledonian mainland..
The Cruising Guide to New Caledonia suggests It's easy to spend a week in Prony Bay. On the tight schedule of a charter cruise one or two days has to do. The southern end of New Caledonia is famous for its mineral-rich red soil, which contrasts brilliantly against the deep green cover of the pines.
We motored to the eastern side of Prony Bay to anchor at Bonne Anse, Rade de L'Est, a bay that extends to the east of the large Recif du Prony (Prony Reef). The sandy beaches are fringed with coral reefs and littered with the colourful shells for which Prony Bay is famous.
The adjacent land is a nature reserve, with well-marked tracks around the shoreline and up to the lighthouse, from where to view the entire cruising area out to Isle of Pines. In the first couple of likely anchorages we came across, we found the bottom extensively coral. It pays to anchor further up the bay, and explore by dinghy or along the foreshore track. As you venture further into Prony Bay, it splits onto two arms. On the starboard side is Radedu Norde, with an interesting river at its head that can be navigated by dinghy past the ruins of a colonial prison.
On the port side past Ilot Casey is Grand Nord, famous with divers for Recife de l'Aiguille, with its pinnacle that extends 35m from the sea floor. As you navigate into the upper reaches at Baiedu Carenage, the water takes on a reddish tinge and the high wooded hills close in. This area is also national parkland, and there are many walks and interesting places to explore from the dinghy if you have the time.
Motoring up-river in our dinghy
View from Casey Island
Approaching Ile des Pins
Tropical island resort scene, Ile des Pins
Port Boise and across to Ile des Pins
On our holiday we spent one night in Prony Bay and the following night five miles up the coast at Port Boise, where we rode comfortably at anchor sheltered by the reef across the harbour entrance. There is a wharf here servicing the local Eco resort, which welcomes casual diners. There is no need to book.
Our purpose for visiting the resort was to relax in the bar to watch our countrymen the All Blacks play France in the Rugby World Cup, so it was a memorable stop.
We left Port Boise early the next morning, to take on the windward passage of 35 miles up to Kuto Bay in the Ile des Pins. From this direction we were sheltered by the extensive reef marine park to port, as we motor-sailed at 30 degrees to the wind. Halfway across we were into open water and a long swell, which the Catana 47 rode over with relative comfort.
Days 5 - 7: On the Isles of Pines
After an early start we were anchored in Kuto Bay, Isles of Pines in time for lunch. It had been a six-hour passage, we had arrived and seemingly would never want to leave. The best thing to do on the Ile des Pins is not a lot - except take time out to just enjoy being there.
We had a couple of resident turtles for company in the bay, and the water was alive with marine life. Throw scraps over the side and the small remora sharks appear from nowhere. It seems they prefer to suck on to cruising yachts rather than the larger sharks and manta rays they had evolved alongside.
The Ile des Pins is the tropical jewel in the crown of any New Caledonia itinerary. Kuto Beach has sand so white I told the kids they may have to take their shoes off when they went ashore. The sandy bottom extends well out into the bay, unlike many tropical beaches that turn to coral rubble beyond the low water mark. High mountains provide a spectacular backdrop here, dominating a picture perfect foreground that so defines paradise.
The following day, friends we had made the previous evening showed us around the area, after which we dined on fresh crayfish and mahimahi - the fruitful produce of an enjoyable day in paradise.
We spent the next day exploring the Island by rental car. Sailing would have been more enjoyable, but this way we saw all over the beautiful island and still kept to schedule.
Footprints on a desert island, New Caledonia
Bounty of the sea, catch of the day.
Sailing past one of the many islets off New Caledonia's southern coast
Sailing in the lagoon and approaching Ilôt Amédée
Sailing downwind through the Lagoon
Day eight, and we set sail on a reach across open water, heading west for the reef that forms the southern part of New Caledonia. Fish are plentiful here; expect whatever you land to form the basis of several meals. This region is a watery wonderland, described as the largest lagoon in the world.
Navigating around the coral clusters while sailing downwind is surprisingly easy. The crystal clear waters cast colours that define what lies below. Blue is good, if it's turquoise look out for brown, and brown is out of bounds. It is interesting to note the coral island formation being played out in stages.
The islets we are heading for lie close to the outer reef. Ilot Kouare, Marmite and Ua comprise a cluster some 40 miles from Kuto Bay, where there is spectacular snorkelling, diving and fishing, with shelter from all winds.
At anchor, the scene was somewhat surreal. Around dusk, sea birds by the hundreds appeared, searching for a meal in the waves but never engaging to fish. A dark shadow glided past some 50 metres astern that I am left to believe was a manta ray. A squawk sounded in the dark, a large form landing on the stern to dine on its catch before being spooked and flying away.
These small islets adjoining the outer reef provide a fascinating route by which to return home, following the trade winds and weaving a course past many points of interest. Allow time to pause however, and enjoy the natural marine environment at its finest.
Day 9 -10: Exploring the lagoon and back to base
Having arrived late, we made a point of not leaving early the next morning, spending time swimming, snorkelling and just relaxing on the boat. We set sail for Ilôt Amédée, located inside the passage just 12 miles out from Noumea and famous for its historic lighthouse,
Amédée provides a great anchorage. It's a nature reserve though which we walked to the impressive 45 metre structure, made in Paris in 1865 of formed iron sheets, shipped out and bolted together on site. Its rolled base and 16-sided structure is a fascinating piece of architecture, well worth the visit on a day that it is open and you can climb to the top.
Amédée also offers excellent snorkelling, and several wrecks located close by for any divers on board. There is also a shark observatory.
Sun setting on our sailing holiday
As our last day dawned, we took advantage of our final few hours in this paradise, timing our departure for an easy passage back to the marina at the agreed 5pm arrival time. The base manager directed us to safely park the boat where we could spend our final night aboard.
While awaiting or flight home, we had two nights at a Noumea resort. With the adventure we had just completed, this luxury resort felt like an extended stop in a departure lounge, something of an anti-climax after such a wonderful sailing holiday.
Sun setting on our sailing holiday