New Caledonia – a diving Mecca

By Dave Moran

The descending line disappeared out of view in the clear 20 metre water. A black shape next to the line started to emerge as it slowly came out of the deep blue towards the sun baked surface. The black wet suited diver’s smile said it all. He had just freedived to 27 metres. My son, Ethan, and I were enjoying a day’s snorkelling Noumea’s inner fringing reefs with an old friend, Andreani Bernard.

I always called him Bernard, as it was much easier to remember that Andreani, he was okay with that – which is amazing for a Frenchman! In fact everyone calls him Bernard!  Bernard had a scuba diving operation for many years and over the years realized there was a real demand to provide a world-class facility for snorkelling and freediving to visitors of his beloved Noumea.



He established Aquanature. His purpose built, motorized 10.6m (35ft) catamaran has a complete array of freediving gear, wet suits, fins, mask/snorkel sets and weight belts all set out in compartments that make size selection easy. It was a Saturday so besides tourists there were freediving enthusiasts from the  local Apnea Club, who regularly go out to perfect their skills. The reefs we dived are in the worlds largest enclosed lagoon, a UNESCO’s world heritage listed site. If you’re a scuba diver, I encourage you to leave your regulator and cylinder behind and enjoy the exhilarating freedom of snorkelling.

The sun warmed my body as its piercing rays kissed the whiter than white sand below and brought alive the florescent colours of the surrounding corals. The reefs apartment doors were open, the byways and freeways were full of morning commuters! The marine life danced as we were encapsulated by the experience of being as free as the fish encircling us  – we were as one. For me the experience reinforced what we sometimes forget, the pure joy of being a part of the marine environment – being free!

In this marine reserve the fish life was in abundance – beautiful coral trout and the occasional greasy cod would give you a cheesy grin as you cruised by their home ports. A purpose sunk wreck at around 23m also adds interest and a challenge for you to surprise the scuba divers inspecting her decks as you swim by!



When in Noumea make sure you book a day with Aquanature (I guarantee you will not be disappointed – its a day you will remember!

Just a short drive past Noumeas main shipping port you arrive at the picturesque Kuendu Bay where Kuendu Beach Resort is located. The resort is a favourite with the locals and visitors alike – very laid back. It is currently having a facelift.

Next to the hotel is Kuendu Dive Safaris, managed by Sandro Iannuzzella. Its always a good sign to see local divers using a dive operator! We were diving on a Sunday and some local divers joined us on board one of the operations large RIBs to escape their busy lives ashore.

The place to dive and see the most active fish life is in the areas adjacent to the passes cutting through the outer barrier reef. The fish life can be prolific and sharks are often seen! In season up to 100 tuna may thunder past you! On our dive we encountered large schools of Chinaman fish with schools of Jacks paying a fleeting visit. The majestic Maori wrasse as usual kept their distance even though being in a marine reserve. I suspect a little night fishing keeps these fish on their guard!

Due to the slight current running during our dives the dive guide would pop a marker buoy so that the dive boat could keep track of us as we did our safety stop. This safety procedure was the norm for the dive operators with whom we dived. A well run, friendly operation that has all the gear available to ensure you experience what is on offer right at Noumeas front door step.



Time to escape the bustling city and head off along the west coast road that takes you through undulating farming country all the way, if you wish, to the town of Poum 424kms north of Noumea. I had been pre warned that driving on the right hand side of the road in a manual car while navigating down town Noumea would be fun, or at the very least interesting!  There was much laughter as the wind screen wiper went whisk whisk, as we turned corners – after a few dry wipes of the windscreen we worked it out!

On the open road its a whole different story! The roads are magnificent with many long straight sections. Its jandal to the metal out there! I thought I was going backwards sometimes as it appeared all the drivers except me were training for the Monte Carlo rally! I soon learnt that the local gendarmes have a sense of humour as I ‘slowed down’ through a quaint village.’Monsieur, you are on holiday-yes? You are travelling a wee bit fast through town, maybe you take it a little slower from now on – yes? Bonjour, enjoy.’ I relaxed the jandal pressure!

When planning your trip north allow some time to enjoy a light meal and coffee along the way with the locals to experience the village atmosphere and your pidgin French! Our first stop was just before you reach the town of Moindou (124km from Noumea) you leave the main road for just a kilometre to visit the historical fort/penitentiary farm at Teremba. In 1871 a small French infantry unit was established to look after the interests of local farmers. A fort-like structure was built which also housed a penitentiary. Convicts were offered the chance to learn how to cultivate the land and then also given the opportunity to farm and own land.

The fort is well worth a stop, you can visit the jail house and view incarcerated inmates while the district Commanders palatial mansion overlooks the court yard and surrounding farm land. Allow a minimum of three quarters of and hour to fully explore the fort and, if time allows, take a 45 minute walk to wander out of the fort and explore the eight crumbling buildings and foundations of a bygone era.



If you are a Kiwi, there is a compulsory stop before you reach the town of Bourail (163kms from Noumea) the New Zealand Military Cemetery 1939-45. Its not well sign posted so stay sharp! It is sobering to be in such company, so many very young men who fought for the right for my son and I to walk free amongst them. They rest in peace in a magnificently maintained memorial to their bravery.

At the town of Kone we exited the coastal road and meandered through lush valleys, over hill tops and passed quiet villages as the roadside locals gave us a friendly wave. Our next destination was the small northeast costal town of Poindimie 305kms from Noumea. As you travel the long ‘sausage’ shaped coast of New Caledonia, the underwater geography changes from relatively flat reefs in the south to canyons and caves in the north. Some of the reefs off Poindimie are UNESCO’s world heritage sites!

Our host was the very hospitable Martin Ravanat who established his Tieti Diving Centre next to the Tieti Tera Beach Resort. Martin was keen to show us some of the canyon valleys and caves that are home to spectacular cities of gorgonian fans, but the prevailing wind was against us so he took us to a location that was less affected. Wow, below me were beckoning canyons, drop offs and caves whose mistresses were calling! If this was second best Im impressed!

Again we had some local people on board, a sign of a good operator. The water was a crystal 25m even with the seas wind ruffling the surface. It was sheer diving bliss to wander through small cave systems, passing outreaching fans of amazing textures and rainbow colours to the canyon floor below. Martin took us into shallow reefs to frolic in a landscape of virgin white sand and reef outcrops. I love these locations, fish galore and thoughts of running into a decompression penalty is not on the menu. Camera play time!



Martin is a fantastic guide – he lets you do your own thing while always keeping an eye on the whole group. He is a whiz at finding little critters!

Back at the dive shack Martin fires up his computer system and displays the images of the dive that he has taken. He will downloaded the images you like onto a DVD for a small cost – a great service.

At days end he may join you poolside for a refreshing drink and chat about what wonders you may encounter underwater tomorrow! I would love to return when the clock is not ticking so fast! As we headed back to Noumea and Magenta Domestic Airport for our flight to Lifou Island in the Loyalty Group we reflected on the last few days of our travels. New Caledonia has so much to offer.

Above water you have the wonderful cultural experience of tasting a slice of colonial France in the South Pacific – besides enjoying the musical French language you can dine out as if in Paris if you wish. Part of the travelling experience for me is being in a place that challenges and fires up your senses, being out of your comfortable back yard! New Caledonia offers you such an experience. We had just kissed its surface, to spend two weeks travelling the length and breadth of this diverse country would be a rewarding experience! Add it to your bucket list.

The best way to ease your mind and body into the relaxed, seductive French Polynesian way is to fly with Aircalin. Their on board service will have you relaxing on a palm edged beach before you arrive in Noumea! Note: All the operators mentioned in this article are members of the New Caledonian Diving Association.

Sites to visit:

Aquanature:

www.aquanature.nc


Kuendu Dive Safaris:  Email:

kuendudive@canl.nc


Tieti Dive Centre:

www.tieti-diving.com


New Caledonia Tourism:

www.newcaledonia.co.nz


Aircalin:

www.aircalin.com