Written by Helen Hayes
Photography by New Caledonia Tourism
With Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) reintroducing the Sydney to Nouméa Yacht Race in 2018, thoughts are returning to this cruising wonderland complete with French flair.
The race will start in Sydney Harbour (2 June 2018), and while entries are already coming in, the floodgates will open once the partners and families of the crews get wind of it. After all, who can resist the idea of sailing in the world’s largest lagoon, with its azure blue waters hosting a myriad of sea life, its pristine beaches and surprisingly green interior? All just a three-hour flight, or a week-long sail, from Sydney.
Nouméa sits on the eastern side of the island Grande Terre, which means ‘big land’ in French, and is the first port of call whether you fly or sail. With its perfect blend of indigenous Kanak and French sophistication, there is much to love – a melange of boutiques, shops (South Pacific Pearls are great value here), restaurants and attractions.
First-time visitors on a tight schedule will find the two-hour tour on the Tchou Tchou train a good introduction to “the Paris of the South”, with a knowledgeable guide filling passengers in on sites including the picturesque Anse Vata and Baie de Citron beaches; the Michel Corbasson Zoological and Forest Park; the Place des Cocotiers and the excellent Tjibaou Cultural Centre. And one can’t forget the crown jewel of the island – the lagoon.
The biggest in the world at 24,000 square kilometres, the lagoon is spectacular. Created by the massive coral reef that circles the island nation, it is second in size only to our very own Great Barrier Reef. Needless to say, the snorkelling, the gorgeous white sand beaches and verdant vegetation just adds to the experience.
Briar Jensen, an experienced yachtsman from Sydney, says: “Cruising inside the world’s largest lagoon with the world’s second largest barrier reef makes thrilling sailing, though it pays to go with someone who knows the waterways.
“Within easy reach of Nouméa are mountainous islands, rocky islets and coral cays surrounded by inviting turquoise waters, so it’s easy to island-hop.
“As a major nesting site for marine turtles, you can expect to see enormous specimens swimming by, and with nearly 2,000 species of fish, it’s a fantastic location for snorkelling and diving.”
Into the blue on the Isle of Pines
This idyllic island is a short sail from the southern tip of Grand Terre, but packs a real punch in terms of things to see and do. While Kanumera Bay with its sacred rock and neighbouring Kuto Bay are undeniably beautiful, one of the most magical locations is Oro Bay and its piscine naturelle (natural swimming pool).
It is something the imagineers at Disneyland would be proud of. This pool, located off the vast and magnificent Upi Bay, has been naturally carved out of the coral and is a living aquarium packed with fish that are all the colours of the rainbow, and then some. Snorkel to your heart’s content, being very careful not to step on the coral, and maybe snap a selfie by a giant clam in the crystal clear water.
Another place of interest is Queen Hortense’s Cave in the north of the small island. The track to the cave is lined with ferns and other lush greenery and then into a series of caves. Legend has it that the fair Queen once hid herself in the caves for six months back in the 1880s to keep herself safe from warring tribes.
One final place to seek out is Bruce and Lyn Savage’s favourite – Gadgi on the northern tip of the island.
“It is pretty much boat-only access, and the anchorage is protected 360 degrees. It is pure paradise. I think the very first Survivor series was filmed there, and it has superb diving and snorkelling. It really is pure bliss.”
The Sydney Nouméa Yacht Race (2018) will be organised and conducted by the CYCA, with the cooperation of the Cercle Nautique Calédonien (CNC).
The CNC is a private yacht club located in Port Moselle. With 620 berths for its members, the Club House will no doubt be busy once the yachts arrive from Sydney after the race.
For further information, visit www.cyca.com.au/racing/sydney-noumea-yacht-race-2018/.