Our first stop was in the French territory of New Caledonia. After getting my fingers burnt with South Sudan I’ve decided that it’s in my interests to ensure that I pop into any territory that might inconveniently (for me!) become independent in the next few years. With an referendum pencilled in for 2014, I figured I might as well tick New Caledonia off my list now and have my completed record stand for a few extra years should the population take a turn down the rocky road of independence. The Isle of Pines is located in the very south of the country, below the big island (Grand Terre) that makes up most of this sizeable speck of Melanesia.
Melanesia encompasses PNG, The Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and (ethnically) Fiji, so by the end of this week I’ll have Melanesia done and dusted. Only took me the best part of a year, eh? The Isle of Pines is lovely and reflective of New Caledonia as a whole: quiet, relaxed, it’s like PNG but without the uncomfortable edge. The dancing skeleton guys who greeted me off the ship were real gents.
I trekked up to the highest point and surveyed the entire island. Fair enough, there’s lots of pine trees: hmm… I see where the island got its name.
After clambering back down I stuck my sticky beak into the old jail, now falling to pieces as it is reclaimed by nature. Built in 1881, the French used it to house criminals that they had brought over from France, much in the manner of the British transporting ne’er-do-wells and tealeaves off to Australia. The prison reminded me a little of my accommodation in Congo and of Papillon, although Papillon was set off the coast of French Guiana.
I popped into a shop and got to speak a little French (getting rusty now, it’s been a long time since Africa) and then meandered back to the ship.
Since there’s no deep water port on the Isle of Pines, the Pacific Pearl sat out at anchor and we used small launches to get to and fro. I quite liked this set up, it meant they don’t have to vandalise these lovely islands with concrete wharves and quaysides. Plus I got to watch them lift the launches back into place on the mothership which wasn’t quite like Battlestar Galactica, but near enough for my approval.