New Caledonia: French connection

By Michelle Coursey

Michelle Coursey finds French style on the tiny New Caledonian island of Amedee, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Amedee Island is the picture-perfect tropical island - all white sand and palm trees and finished with a towering white lighthouse in the middle, complete with a bright yellow door. Trust the French to build even a lighthouse with style.

Amedee Island is a small blob of land about 20km from Noumea, the capital city of New Caledonia.

It takes 45 minutes to get there from the mainland by boat, but the journey presents you with another opportunity to catch some sun and grab a coffee and croissant for breakfast.

Once we arrive at the island, we switch to a smaller boat, this one with a glass bottom, where there is a ready supply of baguettes for us to tear and throw in to entice hungry fish. Soon they are schooling around us in their thousands.

Some of the braver souls don snorkelling gear and jump in to swim with them - one girl shrieks excitedly when a particularly large rainbow-coloured fish enthusiastically snatches a piece of bread, threatening to take her fingers too.

Once the noticeably fatter fish are done feeding, we move back on to the Mary D - the larger boat that brought us to the reef that surrounds New Caledonia. At more than 1600km long, the reef ranges from 200m-1km in width.

We motor out to one of three natural passages, through the reef out to sea. The water here, which is about 25m deep, is absolutely pristine - all the better to see the sharks that begin to circle when the staff throw out a huge piece of meat on a rope.

When I catch sight of those sharp-looking teeth, I feel suddenly grateful for the size and sturdiness of the boat.

After a huge buffet lunch with barbecued prawns and red wine, a show of Polynesian dancing and fire-dancing, and a rest on the beach, I decide to attempt the climb up the lighthouse.

Built in 1862 in Paris, the lighthouse was transported to Amedee Island and put up in 1865. It's a massive 56m high, and I want to turn back after climbing just 10 of the ancient wooden steps - unfortunately, there are another 237 to go. After I make it to the top (and take 10 full minutes to catch my breath, and clear the dots from in front of my eyes), I look around, and am blown away. The panoramic view is spectacular - looking back to New Caledonia's main island in the distance, and looking across the lagoon, dotted with tiny islets, glimmering in the sunlight.

I could have taken some truly stunning photographs - if only I hadn't left my camera on the steps at the bottom.

And with that realisation, I head back down to hop on the boat and enjoy a coffee on the journey back to Noumea.

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IF YOU GO

Mary D tours to Phare Amedee cost approximately 11500 francs (about NZ$180) and can be booked via www.amedee.ws

Leaving at 9am from Noumea, and returning at 5pm, the day includes all activities - glass-bottom boat, shark-feeding, coconut grating and palm-tree climbing workshops, and visiting the lighthouse - as well as a buffet lunch.

Air New Zealand, in conjunction with Air Calin, operates four flights a week between Auckland and Noumea.


- Detours, HoS

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