Friday, September 11, 2009

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

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