A dream trip between New Caledonia, atolls and forests

A dream trip between New Caledonia, atolls and forests

People voted: New Caledoniathe enchanting archipelago of the Coral Sea, east of the australian coast, will be French. This happened on 12 December 2021: a third referendum on the issue (others took place in 2018 and 2020) and a third defeat for independent Caledonians, beaten once again by pro-French.

President in Paris Emmanuel Macron He expressed happiness: “With the permanence of Nouvelle Caledoni, France will be even more beautiful”. But, he Separatists, mostly Kanaka tribalsDon’t give up: “Less than half the population voted, it doesn’t end here”, he insisted.

Meanwhile, Caledonians remain French in all respects, but with contradictions of colonial heritage: they elect two deputies and a senator to the Paris Parliament, but do not have the euro as currency. But the Pacific Franc (like French Polynesia).

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A dream trip between New Caledonia, atolls and forests

This is not the only oddity in the history of this distant world. Let’s start with the name. British explorers James CookWho made three voyages across the Pacific under the command of Endeavor, anchored here in 1774 and admiring the magnificent flora, baptized the archipelago with the name that the Romans had given to Hare Scotland: Caledonia.

“We were here for three thousand years when colonists took us from the shores where we lived and pushed us into forests and mountains,” he explains. Yiddish worship, Kanak cultural guide In the northern province of Grande Terre, the largest island.

“With penance we have saved our oral traditions, sculptural art, the cult of the ancestors. There The Kanak language is structurally different from French. And since language is thought, we think differently than French. Sooner or later they will have to understand it.”

Puiza, who lives in a forested village but has also studied European culture, is proudly half-hidden by ancient Kanak’s petroglyphs, time-worn rock carvings, tall leaves and turquoise flowers.

“We have no writing, Our story is in these carvings Illustrations of people, symbols, events. Why were they not restored and explained? ”he asks angrily. To be honest, it’s hard to blame him.

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New Caledonia, a complex integration

From 1774 to the present day the two spirits of New Caledonia – the Aboriginal and the European one – were misunderstood, collided and eventually partially merged: Today most Kanakas are Christians, but they maintain customs and customs Original animism.

The symbolic place of this syncretism is St. Maurice’s Bay, soIsle des Pins. FeatherWhere there is a circle of wooden totems facing the Pacific Ocean, there are sculptures depicting earth, water and ancient spirits of ancestors.

But in the center of the circle it stands a statue of Christ: They coexist in the cult. The carved faces are the same as those found in the splendid roadside dotted Kanak shops, the forest on one side and the sea on the other, making their way along the northeast coast of Grande Terre, mostly Kanak.

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At the stalls – a curtain and a table with accessories – handicrafts are sold, but the seller is not. There is only one box: you take the goods and leave the money. In short, you trust the passersby.

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French atmosphere and exotic pleasures

he is probably right Yiddish worship: Kanaksi They think differently from us. The integration between the two communities is not perfect; The result is a status quo based on a silent, informal division of territory into spheres of influence.

Thus New Caledonia today is divided into three provinces, Each of which has a different population, and predominantly white areas are promoted as tourism more than areas where Aboriginal populations are prevalent.

When leaving the international airport of Noumea – in the capital, Grande Terre – Being on the Cote d’Azur has a surprising effect. Situated on soft hills overlooking four creeks, this idyllic city has a French atmosphere. So much so that a doubt suddenly arose in the mind of the traveler: “Did I really fly 16,000 kilometers to Nice?”.

Many Parisian families would happily answer yes to this question. not only The inhabitants of Noumea are descendants of ancient settlers, Called Caldoches, but almost all tourists here are French too, as it is well known that cousins ​​from beyond the Alps prefer to visit their former colonies, being able to continue speaking the home language while indulging in . in exotic pleasures, such as swimming In Isle aux Canards, Coral Atoll located in the middle of Noumea Bay.

The capital is the flag of the most “white” and Francophile part of New Caledonia: The Southern Province, which includes the southern part of Grande Terre and Ile des Pins, the true jewel of the region.

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Amidst the flying mountains of Avatar

For one of the many contrasts of this archipelago, Ile des Pins not only has a pine tree, but it’s not even an island, It is actually covered with tall araucaria, trees previously unknown to Europeans, who mistook them for local conifers. In addition, it is a group of interconnected atolls, divided by a sea that crawls among the sand, warm and low enough that you can walk there.

This is a place of dazzling beauty: Turquoise inland lagoon, natural pool surrounded by araucaria forestsConsisting of orchids, tropical forests.

And then a series of spectacular mushroom-like coral formations, over the painted blue waters of Upi Bay, are reminiscent of the soaring mountains from the movie Avatar. It should come as no surprise that the island has long attracted many happy people: industrialists, sportsmen, celebrities and politicians fleeing the world. “L’Isle des Pins was the secret refuge of the President of Fiat, Lawyer Gianni Agnelli: When he wanted to isolate himself from everything he unplugged the phone and came here, and I would take him to the most hidden bays of the island”, Riccardo, Honorary Consul of Italy in New Caledonia Baroni says.

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For the vast majority of (many) French and (few) Europeans who come here, the journey still begins and ends in the southern province. They do not go further, as if the rest of the archipelago did not exist. A capital mistake. This is a missed opportunity.

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the glory of the coral reef

Because if you go further, the whole of New Caledonia exceeds all expectations, offering little-known natural treasures. The archipelago has the second longest coral reef in the world – 1,600 kmOnly the Australian is overtaken by one – and is easily encountered in the northern province of Grande Terre, along with the majority of the Kanak.

Girls of Aqualagoon, Adèle and Jeanne in the village of Poindimié, They are the first two Kanaka women to be certified as a diving teacher. They are the ones who take the tourists by motorboat to the reef and guide them in the dive; but a simple twist snorkelingWith fins and mask, a colorful underwater world to discover, as the reef in the Coral Sea is healthier than in other parts of the world.

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This very tall rock resides in a similar vast inner lagoon23 thousand square kilometers of beauty, which in many parts of it is a UNESCO natural heritage.

It is here that the Pacific Ocean bathes the spectacular atoll of the Loyalty Islands, the third and least known province of New Caledonia, inhabited by a diverse ethnic mix made up of Kanak and Polynesians.

Among These Isles, Ouvéa Is Truly Unmissableon which‘Hotel Paradis’The first romantic eco-resort of international standard in the region, overlooking a secluded sandy whitewash for 25 kms.

And because when you swim in transparent water the whiteness remains in the bottom of the ocean One has the impression of floating on an expanse of ice. a magical feeling.

Walking on the beach, you meet a human being every two or three kilometers: a very tolerable crowd. Ouvéa also offers fantastic buty cliffA gorgeous wall of fossilized coral, on which you walk forming a crystalline creek, with water reaching your knees.

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From Rock Hen to Piano Museum

Instead, kayaking takes half an hour to cross the Bay of Henghen and reach the hen and her eggs.

In the morning, when the sea is almost flat, paddling is easy and the rocks beneath the cove are a nice attraction: Paule Couvues is a large black rock actually the size of a brooding hen with a nearby reef. It’s an egg, actually.

You can cruise it, but you cannot land there, it is forbidden for whites. In fact, La Paule is only for Kanak, as it was the place that loved his mythos. Jean-Marie Tjibou, a former Catholic priest who turned to politics to lead the tribal independence movement.

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Tjibau was a peace-loving man in search of a settlement between the parties, and like many others of peace, he was assassinated in 1989 by a fanatic for freedom. Hienghen Bay was Tjibau’s meditation placeHere in the north, the heart of the Kanak world, where few whites visit.

in these Christophe, a French sailor who fell in love with the bay: today he lives here and teaches sailing courses for indigenous children. In this region, in the remote mountains, you can stay for a day in a Kanaka home, participating in the life and rituals of a tribal family.

Also in Hienghene you can meet Marie-Claude Tjibau, the widow of Jean-Marie. The official tribal policy is committed to agreements with France, it was awarded the Legion of Honor by President François Mitterrand. Today at the age of 72, he has directed Ka Waboana Lodge, one of the rare “totally Kanak” hotels.

“From France we have gained respect and built important cultural institutions, such as Academy for the study of Kanaka languages. But the most important result is certainly the Museum of Maritime Cultures designed by Renzo Piano”, says Madame Tjibau. “Mitrand had started an international competition to build it, but gradually all the projects that were handed to us were foreign to us.

then here he comes Project, With a different thought: to understand who we Aboriginals really were. They entered our homes, looked at our art, talked to us: they wanted to build a museum for us, not about us. I immediately understood that The architect was different from the others, because he possessed a talent that is rare in a man: he knew how to listen.“Ends Marie-Claude Tjibau with a slight smile.

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A culture yet to be discovered, supported and promoted

Today Renzo Piano’s Center for Cultural Jean-Marie Tjibou is the main cultural institution in New Caledonia and a must-visit.

are located On a hill overlooking the sea outside Noumea, works by Aborigines of Caledonia, Polynesia, Fiji, Chefs, Vanuatu and others. It is a masterpiece of lightness: seven pavilions made of Iroko wooden slats, each in the shape of a flame, which vibrate in the air at the top, playing almost like a harp.

They are alive and perishable as they are surrounded by forest, and this is a place that Kanakas like to roam. The lesson of a great architect is also this: knowing how to observe, knowing how to listen. Not only to return the work perfectly suited for reference, but also True recognition of the culture of people who still struggle to make themselves heard.

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In the photo: Lagoon and Burrell’s Coral Reef, On the west coast of Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia.

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