New Caledonia.

Reference: New Caledonia -2

Title: Poised over Noumea

Length: 600 words.

Publishing rights: All rights.

Travel companies: Orient Lines and Air New Zealand.

Copyright: Derrick Grover.

Poised over Noumea


The driver of our minibus made a detour out of the car park with the arrows firmly against us.

"Of course since this is French territory we drive on the right." He said as he steered to the left of the road.

I felt it did not augur well our ride in a helicopter. I hoped the rotors would go round the right way. There was a short cut to the pad over a dirt track that bypassed the roadway. It was just as well. It was safer but bumpy.

We were to fly over Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. This South Pacific Island was discovered by Captain Cook in 1774 but became French in 1853 under Napoleon III. It is now a French overseas territory administered by a High Commissioner. In fact the territory comprises a group of islands known as Le Grande Terre. It is encircled by an 800 Kilometre long coral reef, which encloses the largest lagoon in the world. Of the population of 160,000, 74,000 are Melanesians and 55,000 are European.

With temperatures ranging up to 95 degrees F in the summer we were glad it was only 77 degrees for our visit to this semi-tropical island, sometimes known as the Paris of the Pacific. The sea breeze was welcome. On the East Coast the vegetation is tropical and lush. It is separated from the drier West Coast by a central mountain range.

The helicopter seated five people. Taking off from the harbour wall the helicopter dipped downwards as it accelerated so that we faced the ground - giving a splendid view of the town and bay. We left the Baie de la Moselle behind and approached the marina with its multitude of yachts glistening in the sun.

Marco Polo

The water was in shades of blue for different depths and all so clear that the bottom was easily seen. Beyond the reef were sharks but there inside the reef, we were told, the water was too shallow and the fish too small to attract them.

La Baie de Citrons was in front of us; a favourite bathing beach since it is more sheltered from the prevailing wind than other beaches. Beyond it was the aquarium, which harbours many varieties of fish, sea snakes and slugs. Nearby were the handsome colonial houses situated along coconut palm bedecked boulevards.

Soon it was time to change direction but we were less prepared for the reverse manoeuvre. We became stationary, and our flying machine swung under its rotor until we were looking up at the sky. Then we banked away and did a side slip like fighter planes going in to the attack. The pilot grinned at the gasps from his passengers. Sea and sky merged at 45 degrees to the new horizon as we swept around in a circle and then in the upper right hand corner of the window was the town with the traffic poised at a crazy angle.

We picked up speed rapidly and soon we were hovering over the Quartier Latin. To one side was the bus station where numerous native buses would take you to all parts of the town. Further afield were the mission stations, and the Nickel mines which produce one third of the world's supply of Nickel, but there was no time for that. We were expertly flown back to the launching pad, hovered momentarily, and then we were down.

I always worry that a helicopter engine might stall. Perhaps I should have worried more about the return trip on the wrong side of those French roads.

View some photographs supporting this article here.


The Marina - Baie de L'Orphelinat.

Baie de Citrons.

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