I fell in love with travel at the age of ten in Florence, Italy, and have travelled widely since.
Cruising to New Caledonia
Sailing out of Sydney Harbour is an amazing experience. I’ve sailed on those waters all my life, both in ferries and small sailing boats, but never on a liner. From the top deck, I had a bird’s eye view over the city and her foreshores, where vast stretches of greenery stretch down to the water.
Suddenly the Harbour Bridge loomed over us. I could easily see the climbers trekking up the side, stopping to wave as the ship’s horn echoed around the harbor. The iron arches swept over us at incredible speed, as if we stayed still while the bridge sailed over us. For a tense moment, I felt the ship’s funnels weren't going to make it. Music was playing, and everyone was dancing; the happiness was infectious.
Soon Sydney—and the Australian coast—had been left far behind. I’d never imagined the vastness of the ocean. For the first few days, I saw nothing—no tankers, no other boats, no lights at sea. The only signs of life were some dolphins who came one evening to play by the window as we ate dinner. How did those first explorers cover these vast distances in their canoes?
On approaching New Caledonia, the sea turned all those shades seen in every photo of the Pacific Islands, from the palest aqua to the deepest of blues. The reef cast dark shadows on the water. New Caledonia is actually a cluster of islands in the Coral Sea, surrounded by a massive coral reef. Nouméa, the capital, is on the island Grand Terre and lies hidden in a valley by the bay.
A Perfect Day Trip
Once docked, it was a 2-minute bus ride along the waterfront to another wharf, where the Mary D waited. Once out of the shelter of the bay she really traveled, jumping with ease across a huge swell. The resultant spray covered the boat. My daughter and I were invited out onto the prow—we were the only two out there—where we had to hold on for dear life as the boat bucked and bounced. The spray crashed over us—it was exhilarating. Simply standing upright was an adventure.
The emerald color of the sea stretched around us in all directions, with various islands dotted on the horizon. Our boat pulled up to a deserted island of pristine white sand and palm trees, where a long wooden jetty ran out into the sea. A white lighthouse towered above the tiny island. We had arrived at Amédée Lighthouse.
After claiming a deck chair, we set off to explore.
Amédée Island Marine Reserve
First came the snorkeling. A soft rain fell while we were in the water—such a strange feeling to have the rainfall on my back as I floated face down in the sea. The clouds soon blew away, to be replaced by a perfect day.
While snorkeling, everything possible to be seen was below us, from seagrasses to stretches of sand to an entire world of coral. It came in all types, from those growing in shallow water where it was nigh impossible to float over it without scratching myself, to the deeper waters where I dived down past plunging cliffs sporting huge collections. These were the equivalent of coral high-rise living, with fish swimming through every type of entrance and corridor.
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Spying on the Fish
And the fish? I swam amongst every fish imaginable, from tiny transparent things smaller than my little finger with an electric blue stripe down their back (they were baby swordfish) to a large groper. Just when I thought there are no more to be seen, I would spy on another type. Clownfish played amongst the sea anemones, and the sandy floor was littered with slugs, sea cucumbers, and spiky sea urchins. Giant clams lurked in the deeper waters, of the type in every childhood adventure which traps unwary sea divers by clasping fast around their legs. The coral proved as varied as the fish. I swam past coral more than twice my height; there was coral in the shape of brains, while others lilted in the current like seaweed. Some sprouted luminescent tips of blue, or red.
Swimming With Sea Turtles at Amédée
Then there were the sea turtles. I literally stumbled upon them as I swam, for even with goggles it is impossible to see for any distance underwater. I found a pair of them swimming together across the seagrasses. They seemed perfectly content for me to follow in their slipstream, first one then the other turning around to check if I was still there, almost as if they were inviting me to tag along with them, and showing me the choicest sights. Their shells were decorated with beautiful patterns and were incredibly smooth to the touch (impossible not to touch when the turtle swims into you!). Above water they are almost impossible to spot, just cute little noses peeking above the waves for air.
Don't Forget to Bring . . .
sunblock - especially on the backs of your legs while snorkelling
a book to read while lazing in a deck chair
reef shoes, so as not to get cuts from the coral
a rash vest
snorkelling gear, especially flippers and goggles
dry clothes for the trip home
Exploring Amédée Island
Snorkeling was followed by a delicious buffet lunch, complete with French wine. Some islanders put on a show as we ate. We were treated to hula dancing (I have no idea how the women can move their hips like that), and traditional songs (accompanied by guitars and ukeleles—on every island we visited, someone always had a ukelele).
Aside from the snorkeling, a glass-bottomed boat did tours over the reef. With the island being only some 400 meters long and 240 meters wide, it doesn't take long to explore. The lighthouse was built in 1861 in the Eiffel Tower Workshop in Paris, then shipped out in pieces to the island to be reconstructed. (Unfortunately, it was under repair, and so closed to visitors.)
I took to the waters snorkeling again as others lay in hammocks, digesting lunch. Some sea snakes slithered across the sand as I headed down to the water – they are harmless. As I drifted along in the current a bell sounded: it was time to leave. As we headed home, the crew sang to us (with the island being uninhabited, it was the crew who had performed for us earlier in the day, and the performance continued as we sailed home).
All in all, a trip to Amadee Lighthouse proved a perfect day. Wherever we go from here, our cruise has been perfect.
© 2015 Anne Harrison