Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mt Koghi (La Cascade)

Today we went for a bit of a hike on Mount Koghi. It was fine, as hikes go- not too demanding, nice views etc. I only hurt myself once and it was my fault for thinking it would be more fun to slide down the steep gravelly bit on my heels (for the record, it was pretty fun, and the little bit of gravel rash was totally worth it). There was a nice little waterfall at the end of the path too.

Brendan at La Cascade
I took a few photos of the view on the walk and had some fun with the photostitch function on the computer when we got home. This program looks for overlapping parts of an image and uses them to stick several photos together to make a big panorama.

Pretty eh?

Octopussy (I ain't no)

On Friday, I cooked an octopus. Well to be precise I cooked half an octopus, for the following reasons:
1. Octopus (es? ii?) are big.
2. Octopus are not that cheap.
3. I really, really didn't want to have to deal with leftovers.
4. The less legs to strangle me with when I'm not looking, the better.

Lovely fishmonger at the market with my half an octopus.

So I got home from the market with a big bag of slimy legs. Not very appetising.

Big bag o'octopus.

Then I 'cleaned' the octopus, which means to remove the parts that are less appetising than the rest of the slimy tentacly edible bits.

Ink sac and.. umm... other bits.

Then I washed what was left and blanched it (rapidly boiled for a few minutes) which was a bit spooky, it looked like a big pissed off octopus head would come out any minute and get me.

Then (no pictures, this bit wasn't very interesting) I braised Mr. Octopus in the oven for about 4 hours as per the instructions I found on the internet. Afterwards all the fat and skin and suckers came off and I was left with the muscle.

All the nasty bits that came off after cooking- one tentacle worth.

I was left with a fairly disappointing amount of edible octopus which (luckily) looked nothing like what I started with. I sliced the tentacles in half-cm slices widthways and we had one tentacle in spanish style tapas with paprika and olive oil, and the other three in a salad with papaya and tomato and coriander. I had a couple of glasses of wine and forgot to take photos of the finished product, sorry. But if I had remembered, it looked a bit like this:

Photo of octopus tapas from www.

Next time I think we'll be eating something else.


A little while ago I thought I would try to cook rabbit. I hadn't cooked it before and it looked tasty in the recipe book.

Then I got the thing home from the butchers and had to carve it. Of course, it comes with its head and half its guts. Someone out there probably thinks those are the best bits. At this point I started to feel a bit sorry for it, sad little beast with it's paws chopped off.

Please don't eat me!!! Aaaarghhh!!!!!!

I got most of it organised (rabbit + wine + herbs + mushrooms + green olives in casserole dish, put in oven. Not hard) but it wouldn't stop looking at me resentfully.

That's what you get, silly human!
After all that the rabbit had the last laugh- it just tastes like chicken, only twice as expensive.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Wood grubs and horse riding

Last weekend we went to Farino, about 1.5 hours drive from Noumea, for the wood grub festival..... where fair buxom wenches present your squirming lunch for your enjoyment.

Another grub, guv'nor?

Don't mind if I do!

Actually the truth is a bit more difficult. You have to catch your own grubs (though they are allegedly edible). We looked, and looked, and smashed up bits of wood with other bits of wood, but all we got was an angry centipede and a smashed thumb.

Marc-Andre and Brendan looking for some 'grub'.

After having a massive fail at the Bancoule festival (Wood grub = bancoule in French, which makes it more fancy and therefore less disgusting and more of a delicacy), we went horse riding in the nearby town of Sarramea. This was great. We had an awesome guide who was very patient with us, the horses were patient and nice and didn't try to kill us, nobody fell off, we saw some lovely countryside and we finished our ride just as everyone's bum was really starting to get sore. The company is Sarramea Randonnees and it's 5500XPF for 2 hours. The horses are well cared for and the business is well run. Highly recommended.

Sophie, Eliane, Brendan, Marc-Andre, Kate and our guide
After the horse riding we went to check out a local swimming hole called 'Le Cuve' (The Tank). It's pretty but too cold to swim right now.
Le Cuve

Then we ran into some crazy bush ninjas.
The boys with the 'Chop Chops' they bought from the Bancoule festival
Then we took some pictures of an awesome old haunted looking house.
The End!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mare Retrospective 3

Our third and final day on Mare island. We got up early to begin the hike to Shabadran beach. Shabadran is an isolated beach which can only be reached by hiking over fairly unforgiving terrain. See the big jagged headland in the picture below? The beach is on the other side. The flat green bit in the foreground of the photo is the 'beginning' of the walk. To get there you have to travel about 7.5km of dirt road. We had planned to drive to the end of the dirt road but with 5 people and luggage in the back, our hire Peugot 206 was not up to the challenge, so we ended up walking most of that too. That wasn't too bad though- the dirt road is a cool and green walk through a big coconut grove, totally flat and very easy.

Beginning of hike to Shabadran

The hike around the rocky headland is 3.8km long. It doesn't sound like much but it took us about 1.5 hours each way. The climb begins with a bit of rock climbing up a sheer face about 4m high, then continues over razor-sharp fossilized coral rocks. The guide book says 'you need to be fairly fit to enjoy the walk'. A bit of an understatement.

Beginning the climb. Thanks to Marc and Sophie for this photo!
Looking back to beginning of walk

You gain quite a lot of elevation during the walk and have a good view of the ocean breaking on the rocks below.

View down from the hike

The hike can be fairly exhausting, not just physically but mentally as well. You have to judge each step very carefully as a misstep can lead to a twisted ankle, a bad fall down a cliff or cutting yourself on the sharp rocks. The photo below is the result of slipping on a bit of loose gravel and landing on my hands.


I would recommend to anyone attempting the hike in the future to take a camelbak type hydration backpack full of cold water, some high energy snacks, gloves (gardening gloves would be fine) and proper hiking boots.

Shredded running shoes

Now, it sounds like we didn't have a good time on our hike. That's not true- it's just that we didn't really anticipate how difficult it would be, so we weren't adequately prepared. As you can see from the photos, it is spectacularly beautiful, and a real adventure. Shabadran beach itself is your reward for reaching the end of the hike, and it's well worth the trouble. Shabadran is an lagoon of crystal clear water, soft white sand, coral and fish sheltered from the breakers by a rocky reef. Shabadran beach

In the photo below you can see the clear water and coral. It's a good idea to bring a snorkel and mask- the snorkeling is great- but don't bother with the flippers/fins. In the middle of the rocky reef there is a natural spa bath hollowed out by the action of the waves. Waves break over the top of the reef and create a waterfall into the spa. After the sweat and effort of the walk, sitting in cool water that fizzes and bubbles around you is brilliant.

Shabadran lagoon

We arrived back to our car about 1:30pm, which left just enough time to check our the 'Warrior's leap' before arriving back to the airport for the flight home. According to legend, a warrior once leapt over a 5m gap in the cliff to escape his enemies, escaping both the enemies and the 5m drop to the sea below. Luckily no climbing was involved. You can drive right up to the cliffs and there's a nice easy path down. You need a pretty good imagination to appreciate the legend but the sea is a pretty blue.

Pretty blue ocean at Warrior's Leap

Finally, all that was left was to catch our flight home and enjoy some well deserved beer! We had a great time in Mare and look forward to our next island adventure.

Mare retrospective 2

Mare day 2. First mission- to find the Padawa caves. We thought these would be actual caves, but instead they turned out to be shallow grottos by the side of the road. They are used by the local Marean tribes for ceremonies and gatherings and have some interesting carvings and woven screens, so they are worth seeing. Padawa mission- success!

Next mission was to find the vanilla plantation. Both the Lonely Planet and our friend's French guide book were a bit sketchy on the actual location of the plantation. We found a signpost by the side of the road proclaiming a vanilla plantation with tours and souvenirs but nobody was around and the place looked dodgy. Vanilla fail? No! We kept driving just on the off chance that there might be another one that was open, and had the biggest win of our trip. Not only did we find another vanilla plantation, we found a guide who (for a small fee) gave us an hour-long tour through the vanilla, the rest of his family's land and up into the hills where the ancestors tombs are.


Coconut-fed pig
Passionfruit nom nom nom
View from the walk
When we returned from the walk we shared some lunch with the family who own the vanilla plantation. Lunch was a chicken and yam bougna- a traditional meal consisting of meat (chicken/fish/bat/prawns/whatever's handy) and starch (yam and potato) wrapped in banana leaves and baked in an earth oven. It's fairly tasty especially with some Maggi sauce.
The family who live at the vanilla plantation are really friendly and helpful and also run a small gite (homestay) where you can stay and participate in daily traditional life. If we hadn't already booked and paid for the hotel we would have stayed with them. I thoroughly recommend them to anyone who's going to Mare- I can't remember the name of the place but it's in the north between Roh and Tenane.
After our adventures in the vanilla plantation, we had just enough light left to check our the 'Trou de Bone' (Bone Hole) , a deep hole in the island limestone with water and a small island at the bottom. It's big, it echos and the boys couldn't resist lobbing a few rocks in to see how long they took to splash. Le trou de Bone (Bone Hole)

This mad the bone hole spirits angry and they had their revenge (courtesy of a sharp rock that didn't like being lobbed into the hole).


Mare Retrospective 1

A few weeks ago, from the 29 to 31 August to be exact, we visited the island of Mare off New Caledonia. Mare is one of a group of four 'Loyalty Islands' including Mare, Lifou and Ouvea and the tiny islet of Tiga. You can visit the islands by air or by sea. We chose to fly. The flights are through Air Caledonie which departs from Magenta airport, about 15 minutes drive from central Noumea. You can safely leave your car at the airport for free. It is more expensive to fly, but we had a good price due to the season (August is winter and therefore the low season). The flight is an easy half hour to 40 minutes of smooth flying in a medium sized (about 45 seater) plane. The ferry journey takes about 3 hours and has a reputation for being rough.

Mare airport is in the town of La Roche, in the north of the island. Our accommodation was at Hotel Nengone Village, in the south- about 40km away from the airport. Transfers from the airport to hotel were quoted at 1500XPF per person per direction- 6000XPF all up. Instead, we decided to hire a car for the 3 day trip. We shared the cost with some friends that we were travelling with, and this was a great decision. For an extra 3000XPF we were able to drive ourselves to and from the airport and had a car at our disposal for 3 days. Mare has little or no public transport, tours are expensive and the distances are too great to be easily travelled on a bike, so a car is the best way of getting around.

Our hotel was fine. We had a good special for flights and accommodation, which was just as well- the website lists the cheapest nightly rate as 14,000XPF per night. It's not worth that. I think it would be fair to pay about 8,000XPF per night without feeling ripped off. Rooms are clean, tidy and everything works. You have a TV and a pool and a restaurant. By far the best feature of the hotel is the beach- clean white sand, and the big ocean waves break onto a reef leaving a calm lagoon full of coral and fish ideal for snorkeling.

We visited the natural aquarium on the way from the airport to the hotel. The natural aquarium is a large sheltered rock pool frequented by fish, rays and occasionally turtles. It's beautiful and the turquoise water is a startling contrast to the surrounding bush. It might be tempting to bring the snorkeling gear, but it's a sacred site for the locals and swimming is not allowed. Besides, the limestone walls are too steep to get in or out easily. We were lucky enough to see a large stingray cruising around the deep end of the pool.

After checking into the hotel, we explored the coast near the hotel. There is an easy bush walk from the hotel to Pede beach (about 4km). We stopped along the way for a couple of games of coconut cricket and teased some hermit crabs, and hitched a ride back to the hotel in the back of a friendly local's truck.

Finally, we decided to find and explore 'La Grotte de Pethoen'. This is a large grotto with a deep blue lake at the bottom. It's a bit tricky to find as the roadside track that leads to the grotto isn't signposted. The grotto is only a 5 minute walk from the road though and it's worth the effort of finding it. At midday the water is bright blue and you can see eels swimming around. However as we visited later in the day, most of the grotto is in shadow and you can't see the eels. It was still an amazing place to visit though.
To be continued....
B & K

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Welcome to our blog

Hi, and welcome to our travel blog. We're currently in a country called New Caledonia in the south Pacific region.

New Caledonia is a territory of France with it's own currency, the Pacific Franc (XPF), the value of which is tied to the Euro. French is the dominant language here along with several languages of the local indigenous population. The climate here is sub-tropical and very nice, it never really gets very hot or very cold and due to the reliable and generous rainfall everything is green. There is plenty to do here as long as you like to be outdoors and active. We'll post accounts of our various activities and adventures here, and try to include as much information as we can- from experience, we know that it can be difficult to organise activities due to lack of information and the language barrier. Feel free to contact us with any questions or comments!