Christmas in the lagoon

We have already established two important facts with regard to Christmas 2019 in New Caledonia: Firstly, yes, they do know it’s Christmas. And secondly, I had the huge privilege to spend a wonderful Christmas Eve among complete strangers (now friends). But that’s not even the whole story! More miracles were to happen.

Ever since my first week-end in New Caledonia at the end of November, I had been in contact with David and Liliane from the Société Calédonienne d’Ornithologie (SCO). David had told me that he intended to go on a boat trip at the end of December, the destination being the mangroves and coastal lagoon near his hometown of Moindou in the central part of Grande Terre’s western coast. The first date had to be cancelled due to high winds. But the trip was re-scheduled for December 25th, which was luckily just before my departure from New Caledonia. I was invited to join in, and you are correct in assuming that I gladly accepted!

Now in case you are wondering what could be so special about this lagoon that merits getting up on Christmas morning at 5 am (after barely four hours of sleep) and driving an hour and a half in the early morning in the car… – be informed that the entire complex of coastal lagoons of New Caledonia was inscribed in the list of UNESCO World Heritage in 2008 as a site of ‘outstanding universal value’.

The following description can be found on the website of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre: The tropical lagoons and coral reefs of New Caledonia are an outstanding example of high diversity coral reef ecosystems (…). They are the location for the world’s most diverse concentration of reef structures, with an exceptional diversity of coral and fish species and a continuum of habitats from mangroves to seagrasses (…). They still display intact ecosystems, with healthy populations of top predators, and a large number and diversity of large fish. They are of exceptional natural beauty (…).

That alone is quite a strong argument for getting out of bed (read: sleeping bag) early, don’t you find?

And in addition to that, let’s recall for a second my main reasons for travelling to New Caledonia in the first place: to get to know local people, to hear and speak French, to make new friends, to be inspired by close encounters with people and wildlife, to have good photo opportunities, to have authentic experiences to share with everyone back home… And you know what? All of these were to be fulfilled on this very Christmas Day!

So let me briefly introduce to you the main protagonists of this remarkable day (besides myself and Kane, my reliable companion who kept me awake in the car and provided me with some great photos of the day):

David, clearly a man who knows what he’s doing.

Liliane, his mother and congenial companion.

(Photo courtesy of Kane Williams).

The lagoon (and coral reef).

The birds.

The mangroves.

And, last but not least, the boat!

David and Liliane explained to me the purpose of the trip: there are several tiny islands in the lagoon, some barely more than naked rocks in the shallow water, that they wanted to check for breeding colonies of terns. Earlier that season they had seen various species of terns and also gulls at these sites, and now they wanted to find out whether these had begun to nest in the meantime.

I was also assigned a task. Namely to take bird photos.

Now that wasn’t so hard to guess, was it?

Black-naped tern (Sterna sumatrana, Sterne diamant, Schwarznacken-Seeschwalbe).
Bridled Tern (Onychoprion anaethetus, Sterne bridée, Zügelseeschwalbe).
Greater Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii, Sterne huppée, Eilseeschwalbe).

The little boat was a bit shaky and the light not ideal either. So one could say that the conditions for photography were rather suboptimal. But, hey, please name me ONE thing that could be more exciting than taking pictures of sea birds in the wild from such short distances in the company of two local experts who will answer any question you might have? I was in heaven!

(Picture courtesy of Kane Williams).

After two hours or so of hard work, we became hungry and thirsty. So David steered the boat into the mangroves and parked it (I’m not a boat expert) in the shade of my new favourite tree, the flamboyant, which was in full bloom (I’m not a tree expert). There we had a break, had bread with deer sausage (I’m not a meat expert) and drank lemonade from the chillie bin.

Liliane and David answered all my many questions about New Caledonia, the independence issue, the cultural identity of Kanaks and other Caledonians – and they even permitted me to record our conversation! So I have tons of interesting material to present back home, for which I am most grateful.

Then we returned to shore, and the boat was hauled onto the trailer.

It took David and Liliane about 73 seconds to have the vessel out of the water. It wasn’t their first time, obviously. They sure are boat experts!

We drove back to their place in Moindou where Kane and I were served not only coffee, but also the most delicious mango fruits ever. From Liliane’s garden! I had three ripe mangos, juice flowing all over my chin and hands!

Liliane evidently also likes mango. Unlike me, however, she knows how to eat them in a cultivated and juice-saving manner…

Can I also have a house with a large front veranda and huge garden, please? And summer all year round, so I can practically live outside? With a large table in the shade where I can sit and chat with nice people for hours on end?

Oh, and not to forget: my obsession with parrots was also catered for. Here’s a particulary tame specimen:

So this is how I spent Christmas in the lagoon. I was so blessed to experience yet another magnificent, unforgettable day in the South Pacific. And if that isn’t the right thing to do on Christmas, then I don’t know what is…

A huge MERCI to David and Liliane for the invitation and everything it entailed, and DANKE to Kane for joining me and for the pics!

(Click here for more bird-related articles on this travel blog).

Published by Sebastian

Geographer, naturalist and photographer (www.schroeder-esch.de). Based in Germany, but always keen to travel and explore

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