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of the Pacific
Published in Dive Log Australasia October
Early in August, my wife and I
went on a trip that was tailor made for us by Jenny Harris of Absolute Scuba.
We spent two days in Noumea in New Caledonia on our way to the Isle of
Pines. We visited the territorial
and maritime museums and the cultural centre.
We stayed at Le Pacifique Hotel on the Anse Vata Beach and travelled at
all times by autobus, quite cheaply, with the local Melanesians and other
tourists. We bought croissants for
breakfast and poulet sandwiches (chicken rolls) for lunch.
The two restaurants that we visited were superb.
However, a reasonable understanding of French is a definite advantage!
Isle of Pines
We had a 30-minute scenic
flight from the domestic airport to the Isle of Pines, which was named by
Captain Cook. This is a beautiful
island, surrounded by coral reef, with rich soil and still has a good covering
of pine trees. The minibus from Relais de Kodjeue picked us up and took us to the resort, which is built on an
old coconut plantation on the western side of the island.
We moved into our own hut, with private balcony overlooking the beach.
It was well appointed with tasteful furniture and French plumbing.
The dive boat returned at
lunchtime, and I went over to the Plongee shop to confirm my place for the next
day. Uli Ruefenacht was running the show while the owner of the Kunie Scuba
Centre was away. Uli is from the
Red Sea, speaks English, and is a very experienced dive guide. Their tanks are
standard 88s with normal open faced valves. I spent the afternoon selecting the
appropriate bits of gear from my 25kg dive bag.
One of the heavier items was my DIN/Yoke adaptor, which turned out to be
essential. The water is 22 degrees
so I decided to wear my poly-prop suit and my two-piece 5ml wetsuit.
After a buffet breakfast, my
wife went off on an island tour, and I dressed for a boat trip. The dive boat is a catamaran with twin 225 hp outboards; lots
of room and perfect for this location. The
skipper was a local guy and headed out past the northern tip of the main island,
just off the little Ilot de Gie. We were a cosmopolitan group, with French,
Italian and Japanese divers, so the dive briefing was given by each dive guide
in a different language. Uli
briefed me in English and provided an assortment of loose weights for my Tech
The first dive was on
"Twin Heads" which are large hills of coral, quite spectacular, with
crevices, valleys and caves. I
dived with Uli and an Italian couple where we reached a maximum depth of 32
metres on a wall which dropped to 70 metres.
We saw a large turtle, but I was the only one to see a 2-metre grey reef
Back on the boat, I made the
shark fin sign on my head. "So
who saw the shark, eh?" I asked. Well
that attracted everyone’s attention. The
questions came thick and fast in Japanese, French, Italian, and variously
accented English! I responded as
best I could. “Hai, Oui, two
metres, gris, grey, etc.”
The second dive was to the
"Valley of the Sea Fans" which was just as spectacular. The boat dropped off three groups of divers and drifted
during the dive. Each dive guide
used a safety sausage on a cord to mark the position of the safety stop, making
it easy for the skipper to pick them up. Altogether,
a very professional operation.
During the afternoon a Cessna
seaplane arrived with some guests and anchored near the beach. What a way to travel! Our
meals were beautifully prepared by the French chef and local staff waited on the
The next day, we visited a big
cave where, 150 years ago, Queen Hortense hid from the French for ten years.
It’s awfully damp in there! Then
back to the airport for a quick flight back to Noumea for another day of sight
seeing. In the evening we took the coach to the international airport
way down in the Southern Province, and had a 2-hour QANTAS flight home.
One thing is for sure. On my
next trip, I am taking a gear bag with built-in wheels!
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