Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ile des Pins

On Wednesday, we left Noumea's Port Moselle Marina and headed back to the southern part of the lagoon. It was good to leave the city behind and get back to anchorages. Cheaper too! We motor-sailed the 30 or so miles bay to Baie de Prony and what is described in one of the guide books as "one of the smallest but prettiest bays in Bonne Anse." It is called Anse Majik – or at least that's what the mooring ball said. The moorings are provided free on a first come first serve basis. When we arrived there was only one other boat there but by the time nightfall came – all five were taken. This is a narrow bay well protected from all swells and winds and surrounded by hills covered in vegetation. There are also the areas where mining has occurred that are bare and erosion is taking its toll on the very red, iron rich soil. The bird calls were constant and lovely to hear – especially at dawn and dusk. It was a change from the traffic noises in Noumea. We enjoyed the picturesque scenery and being in a quiet anchorage. On Friday, a beautiful sunny day, we hiked up a track to Pic Ndoua, the highest point in the area and home to a beautiful old lighthouse. It also has a nicely built observation area to watch whales. The humpback whales use the area for mating and raising their young and can often be spotted with the high powered viewers that are on the observation platform. They must have taken Friday off as we couldn't spot any, even though the conditions were perfect – flat seas and bright sun.

After our trip to the lighthouse and observation deck, we decided to keep walking towards another bay, Port Boise. The flora along the way was very interesting and varied – everything from pitcher plants to strange flowers and Norfolk pines. The path was well maintained though slippery in some spots with small pebbles over the hard ground. It was quite a hilly climb as well. We trekked for several hours and enjoyed our picnic lunch at a pretty viewpoint. Around two, we decided to turn back to make it back down the trail before dark. Quite an enjoyable climb and walk overall though we were tuckered out and earned our cold beverage upon return.

On Sunday, the winds were supposed to be more westerly, so we thought that would be a good time to make the 42 mile run to Ile des Pins on the other side of the lagoon. We left at 0600 in overcast weather. It had rained through the night. We had hoped to sail, but the winds were too light and we needed to cover a lot of ground. It is also a reef strewn lagoon, so we couldn't tack too far without hitting something hard! So we motor-sailed and made good time. The charts are quite good for the area and the reefs are all well marked. We arrived in Kuto Bay and found a spot amongst the dozen or so boats already on the hook. It is a nice shallow, sandy bottom, but there are coral heads to avoid. The visibility wasn't perfect for spotting things, so we took our chances and dropped the anchor in a spot that just opened up thanks to a large catamaran leaving. We are the only US boat in the anchorage that is filled with several French and German boats, an Austrian and a Kiwi boat. Conditions were predicted to be calm.

That night, the winds picked up and the swell came in together with some rain squalls. It wasn't too uncomfortable, but we hadn't experienced this for awhile having been in Port Vila, then Noumea and the protected anchorages of Prony Bay. This morning, it is a sunny but windy day. The wind is still a little too southerly for being really comfortable in this anchorage, but it is predicted to be lightening and coming more from the typical southeast which would be perfect here. We walked along the beautiful white sandy beach this morning and saw some remnants of the old prisons from the 1800's when this was an island used for French prisoners – many were political prisoners. The old stone structures were built by the prisoners themselves and the walls of many still stand.

We also managed to find a few French baguettes at the small store. Tomorrow, we may attempt to climb the highest point of the island if it is clear. The view is supposed to be worth the effort. It is pretty here and we plan on spending a few weeks exploring the Ile des Pins.

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