After two days at sea with lots of food, a bit of rest and pretty good weather, we made our first landfall in Noumea, the main city of biggest island of New Caledonia. This was the first landfall of the cruise and also the only one without tendering (i.e. anchoring the ship out at sea and shuttling the guests in on some of the lifeboats).
But if we expected a big cruise terminal, we were mistaken. Instead, we got a piece of the quay wall in the container terminal.
That didn’t deter the locals to put on a show, though. Even before we were docked, a group of local dancers and singers used the big open spaces to perform one of their tribal dances for the benefit of the cruise guests lining the railings and balconies of the land-ward side. Their voices carrying across the water, their colourful costumes flashing in the morning sunshine, this was a great welcome.
Willemijn had done the research (of course) and found that this island houses the Tjabou Cultural Centre, which was designed by Renzo Piano, a very well known architect. So instead of booking one of the tours on the boat, we left the welcome centre they had shuttled us to on foot and went in search of local transport.
Which we found in form of the local bus. This took us in about 30 minutes through the suburbs and past the airport of Noumea and gave us a good look at this former French colony. And there is no doubt that this was French in the past. Yes, the language is a bit of a give-away (they speak French…), but if you have been to France before, you can easily spot the similarities. From the street signs in French design, to the license plates on the (mostly French) cars to the Orangina and baguette they sell in the local stores, everything reminded us of Europe. Just the local clothing is a bit different.
The cultural centre, initiated by Francois Mitterrand in the late 1990s, gives a history on the local tribal believes and celebrates their unity with the local flora and fauna. Following an outdoor path, we learned about the significance of different plants and how they tie in with the life, death and re-birth of the local deity. Their names were given not only in French and English, but also in eight of the thirty-odd local languages still spoken today.
The centre itself, taking its shape from a mixture of the traditional, local huts as well as plant shapes, houses an exhibition, mediathek, meeting rooms, café and gift shop. And while it does look very nice and fits in very well with the surroundings and the culture, I have to say I enjoyed the garden path more.
Since the kids were pretty tired after all this (and really, really wanted to get back to the pool and their friends), we decided to head back to the boat for lunch. I stayed on board with them while Willemijn explored the city a bit more on foot.
All in all a very nice first landfall. And a tip from second-time cruisers: if you want to get away from the cruise bubble, as well as save some money, strike out on your own when you get somewhere. Public transport is a great way to get a flavour of the local culture and is not very popular with most other cruisers (scary things, local buses…). And you can always meet the rest of the 2000(-ish) guests once you’re back on the boat.