There is simply no escape from Christmas. Not that that had been my intention when I set off to far-off destinations six weeks ago. Of course I was prepared to see Christmas celebrated in the south Pacific too. But the sheer scale of it certainly exceeds my expectations…
First some impressions from Nouméa’s main square, the Place des Cocotiers.
The giant christmas tree not only glitters from what seems to be a million little lamps. The highlight every evening are the ‘eruptions’ (for want of a better word) of artificial snowflakes. Much to the joy and excitement of hundreds of kids with their parents who are obviously having a great time.
Like in Europe, the commercial aspect is an integral element of Christmas celebration everywhere you look. It really is A LOT about consumption and entertainment.
Nouméa even boasts its own ‘marché de Noel’. The kids like it here, too. Even though they may never have seen real snow, let alone a full-grown snowman!
References to Christmas (mainly as decorative elements) can also be found outside of Nouméa, New Caledonia’s capital city. For instance, this Christmas tree was set up in the provincial town of Bourail already at the end of November:
It is strange for me to watch such a scene at more than 30 degrees in the shade, believe me… But quite amusing, frankly! The village of Farino had also installed its decorative street lighting already many weeks ago. Please note the wonderful representation of the Kagou, New Caledonia’s emblematic bird!
The best thing, however, I saw on a little market in Sarraméa at the end of November. And it’s probably also closest to the true meaning of Christmas.
Oh, and by the way, just in case you were wondering: in Sydney they also know it’s Christmas…
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In Germany, not many people will know the meaning of the words ‘endemism’ or ‘endemic species’. Well, not unless they’re biologists or at least interested in natural history. I guess the same applies to the rest of Europe as well. An endemic species is one which only occurs in a particular restricted area, e.g. an island. Usually it cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
In New Caledonia, however, many people seem to know these terms and refer to them quite regularly. I am not talking about scientific texts here, but more or less everyday conversations, for instance when I hitchhike and tell people what I am interested in. Then I know for sure that I am in a place that is different from home!
But why I am telling you this? Well, I saw a particular endemic animal species the other day. You know by now that I have a soft spot for parrots. And even though I did not make a bucket list of things to do before my trip to the south Pacific, I knew for sure that I wanted to the see the Ouvéa parakeet in the wild.
This neat bird is actually the main reason why I was so keen on visiting Ouvéa island. And I was not disappointed!
Was it hard to find? Errr, to tell you the truth: not at all! This was about the least adventurous that birdwatching can be.
Here’s how it’s done: you read the tourism brochure about Ouvéa, you are delighted to see the photo of the parrot, you read the names of the two local guides listed underneath that photo, you dial the first number in the morning, you reach Jean Baptiste, you make an appointment at his place in the tribe of Téouta at the northern tip of the island, you ‘do the thumb’ to get there (you forget your hat in one of the cars en route), you are there even before the rendez-vous at 3 pm. You walk into JB’s garden, you are greeted by his wife, she brings you coffee and water, he joins you and brings fresh mangos, you sit and talk. And you start to listen for those parrots.
You ask JB what the best approach to finding the parrots is. He tells you that they love to come into the garden to forage in those fruit trees, because they are really into mango, papaya, but also avocado. With larger groups of visitors he will also go in the woods nearby to show them the parrot’s natural habitat or perhaps even a tree in which they nest. But since he knows that you want to take photos (and also because he already had a group that morning and had just taken a nap when I arrived), he prefers to stay in the garden and wait for the birds to arrive. Which they do!
The birds are a bit shy, but also hungry. So it’s not really difficult to capture them with the camera. There are at least three different individuals, probably two adults with one juvenile bird which is less than one year old. You can tell the age difference by the colour of their beaks, because the young bird’s beak isn’t black yet.
And he’s still begging to be fed by his parents!
They sure do love mangos!
Occasionally JB and I get up from the place in the shade where we are sitting in order to actively search for the birds in his large garden.
I really like his garden. Lots of decorative stuff, and no rubbish lying around!
As the name Ouvéa parakeet(Eunymphicus uvaeensis) already suggests, this particular bird only lives on Ouvéa! So if somebody wants to see all the bird species in the world, he or she needs to come to that little island at some point. It is a close relative of the horned parakeet(Eunymphicus cornutus), a parrot that is endemic to Grande Terre.
The exact size of the breeding population is not known, but it seems to fare rather well. In the early 1990s, the numbers were down to just several hundred individuals, mainly due to the fact that the birds were caught and sold as pets. But since legal protection was introduced and the elders of the tribes on Ouvéa decided to undertake measures to safeguard the species, numbers have risen again. The north of Ouvéa is still the stronghold of the parrot population, but they are now slowly spreading out to the centre and also the south of the island. That’s good news and quite a success story in conservation!
It is absolutely vital for the survival of this beautiful bird that Ouvéa remains (relatively) pest-free. Fortunately, the only rat species to be found here at present is the Polynesian rat (or Pacific rat, Rattus exulans) which is apparently not so dangerous for the parakeets. Should the black rat (Rattus rattus) get onto the island, however, this could have disastrous effects on the bird population. The parrots build their nests in cavities in old trees, i.e. very easy to reach for hungry rats… Fingers crossed that the island will remain free of the black rat and other threats.
A local organisation was formed in the 1990s to ensure the survival of the Ouvéa parakeet and the island’s biodiversity in general. Its present name is Association pour le sauvegarde de la biodiversité d’Ouvéa (ASBO), a small but very efficient organisation indeed. I wish them, and the Ouvéa parakeet, the best of luck!
(Click here for more bird-related articles on this travel blog).
Like Lifou (and some other islands), the New Caledonian island of Ouvéa is part of the Iles Loyauté which lie in the south Pacific east of Grande Terre. It shares many of their characterics such as the origin of an atoll based on corals, a very flat relief and plenty of access to the sea.
For someone who likes landscape photography (like myself), these islands provide surprisingly few photo opportunities. It may partly be a question of mobility, though – without a vehicle of my own, I had to rely on ‘doing the thumb’ (= hitchhiking). And although that went usually very smoothly, it does restrict one’s flexibility and the accessibility of potential photo spots.
The above image shows a typical stretch of coastline on Ouvéa – at least in its central part, which is where I was based. The beautiful sea (here the shallow turquoise waters of the lagoon which lies to the west of the island), a narrow strip of sandy beach, and then some scrubby vegetation. Hm.
I found it really difficult to find a decent foreground for some nice images. So mostly I concentrated on capturing the ‘seascape’.
Sometimes there will be a ‘spontaneous’ foreground, when you least expect it…
Or you simply make do with what is there.
One thing that is available in abundance is rubbish. Perhaps a little bit less so on Ouvéa and on Lifou than on Grande Terre, but still… So annoying!
The following images show the famous Pont de Mouli, the bridge that connects the mainland with the small island of Mouli.
When you look down from the bridge into the water of the strait, you can often see small sharks, rays, sea turtles etc. I did that several times, and I was hardly ever alone.
The area around the bridge is more varied than elsewhere, so I went there on several occasions.
When I had my tele lens with me, I was able to photograph the cliffs at the far end of Baie de Lékiny. The bay itself is a so-called réserve coutumière, an area with restricted access according to the local tribal laws. For instance, swimming and diving are not allowed there.
The falaises de Lékiny can be visited by low tide with a local guide. But that didn’t really interest me. They are impressive, yes, but not a ‘must see’ in my opinion.
One day I joined a boat trip into the lagoon. The main aim was snorkeling (which was fantastic), but we also managed to get close views of other cliffs at the Pléiades du Sud, a chain of small and mostly uninhabited islets surrounding the lagoon.
By now you might be asking yourselves, but isn’t there anything else besides beaches and rocks and the sea (and rubbish)? Well, not much, really. That said, there are the tribal villages, of course.
There are gardens (more about that later), and there is plenty of woodland and scrubland, as the following aerial shot clearly shows (taken from the plane back to the main island):
But frankly, I was most impressed by the sea and the sky in all their different appearances.
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On my first evening on Ouvéa this week I took my photo equipment and went to the beach to take pictures of the sunset. Well, not the sunset as such, but rather the lagoon and the beach after the sun had gone. I thought it looked rather beautiful.
However, the more interesting stuff was yet to come. You see, right behind the narrow beach there is an equally narrow strip of bushes and trees, with a road (the main route of Ouvéa, actually) running parallel to it. And in this particular spot there is a gas station (formerly TOTAL) and a grocery store. Both establishments had closed at 7pm, but the lights were still on and some staff were still there doing some work.
The more the sunlight vanished, the brighter the artificial lighting from the station and the shop appeared to be. Add to that the lights of a passing car every now and then. I don’t know if it’s (too) far-fetched, but somehow this whole scenery reminded me of an Edward Hopper painting.
Had you asked me beforehand if I wanted to photograph artificially (and unintentionally) illuminated palm trees, my answer would have been no for sure. But I just had no idea!
I’m just glad I stayed. By the way, it is evident on the images that it was also rather windy that evening. So it was good I had my sturdy tripod (bloody heavy!).
Then finally, when it had turned really dark, I went back to the beach to get a better view of the night sky. I’m not sure, though, if the stars will come out the way they should…
So that was day 1 for me on the island of Ouvéa. Not the worst possible start!
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Last week, as you know, I spent a couple of days on Lifou island. I stayed with Ferdinand and his family (they merit an article of their own, yet to be written; so please be patient). They speak a wonderful mixture of Drehu (their local vernacular language) and French. Not that I understood a lot of it, mind you, but I always enjoyed listening to it.
I got confused after a while about the names of people, though. They were introduced to me by one name, usually French or somehow ‘Western’, anyway. But then I heard how they were also called by a different name. But since that wasn’t the only thing I didn’t understand, I didn’t bother to make further enquiries on that particular matter.
Then one morning I had breakfast with Emily, her brother-in-law Johan and the kids. A car passed by on the road, and the usual shouting, greeting, honking, whistling and waving of arms took place. Then Emily shouted „eeeh-eeeh“ really loudly, twice. That was interesting, I had never heard that before. So I asked what it meant. A particular kind of greeting perhaps?
It was explained to me that the name of the guy in the pick-up was Eaton. His Western name, anyway. He was a relative, one of many. And if you know somebody, you hardly ever say their full name, but you address them by the first syllable or perhaps first two syllables only. Hence „Eeeh-eeeh!“. Yes, in fact I had already noticed that Ferdinand mostly said ‘Se’ or ‘Seba’ to me. I liked that.
That was the first thing I learned that morning. The other thing was that usually people have two names. Not as first, second, third etc. name, but as two equivalent names which are used in different contexts. Some examples were provided. And then Emily informed me with a totally earnest expression, that my vernacular name was oisheau (sic). Because I like birds, and the French word for bird happens to be oiseau.
Then, on a sudden impulse, I added one and one together, and I replied that obviously I should be called ouah-ouah.
Now imagine the roaring laughter, excited clapping of hands and repeated banging on the breakfast table that followed.
Last Saturday (last week, i.e. before my trip to Lifou island) I was invited to a birthday party. My friend Larissa, whom I got to know back in June 2014 and with whom I’ve kept contact ever since, organised a party for her son Nolly’s fifth birthday. All the family and many friends from the tribe were there, and so was I! It felt like really I was the one who had received a huge present.
I went to the place outside Nouméa some time around noon. It was hot and windy and very dry. The first thing I noticed was a huge, yellow bouncing castle that had been placed in the middle of everything. It was uninhabited then, but that was to change later… The bigger attraction at that moment was the inflatable swimming pool which was there too, and heavily frequented by people from all walks of life, mostly between two and seven years old.
I understood immediately that this would be a memorable day not only for Nolly, my „frangin“, but also for me!
I was there for maybe seven hours altogether. People came and went, there was plenty of food and toys for the kids, and the atmosphere was just wonderful. Old and young together, everyone having fun, everybody seeming to enjoy the presence of the others.
I almost envied Nolly for having such a great party for his birthday. Larissa and her husband Arnold had been to New Zealand recently (their honeymoon!) and they had brought loads of themed decoration, including all kinds of marvel comic merch stuff to put on the birthday cake.
That was actually the best part, at least for me: I was amongst wonderful people, I was allowed to use my camera for those incredible photo moments, AND: I got to eat altogether three huge chunks of that delicious cake.
By the way, I know exactly I had three slices. So did everybody else, because Larissa did a great job in counting and then telling everyone. In case she wanted to embarrass me in front of everybody else, she failed!!!
Some more impressions:
Towards the later afternoon, I was invited on a little tour of the hills that belong to the Naniouni tribe. There were four of us, and the atmosphere then was very different all of a sudden. Still very positive and friendly, but a lot calmer and even solemn.
I have noticed (on that particular afternoon, but also on various other occasions), that Kanak people seem to enjoy places overlooking the landscape. Just to stand there, let the gaze drift across the scenery, talk, contemplate. We did that a lot during our little tour! And it was magical.
I feel I’m repeating myself over and over again. This surely must get boring at some point! But I really want to express my deep gratitude for this unforgettable day and all the encounters I had.
So thank you, Larissa, for inviting me; thank you, Nolly, frangin, for having me at your party; thank you, Arnold, for showing me around your house and for answering all those questions I asked; and thank you, everyone else, for making it so easy and enjoyable for me to spend those hours in your midst.
At some point I introduced the category ‘Meet the locals’ to my blog, to which already several posts here belong. In addition to that, perhaps I should also create ‘Meet other tourists’. That’s the topic of this little article anyway.
Because, you see, New Caledonia may not be a very touristy place. And I may not have come here primarily in order to meet other ‘non-locals’, be they from Europe or other parts of the world. But there are other tourists, and they (we) tend to concentrate in certain places, and then it just happens sometimes that you get in contact. And that can be a very positive experience. So it happened with the four people I would like to talk about now.
These are Saskia and Eric. I met them twice even – first in plage de Poé (near Bourail), and then a second time in Koulnoué near Hienghène. It was lovely and really inspiring to talk to them. We found we had quite a few things in common. For instance, Saskia is a very experienced psychologist, so naturally this was one topic which we talked about in great detail. It will be great to see them again some day, either in Normandy (where they live) or perhaps in ‘my’ Black Forest in Germany. Anyway, I am looking forward to staying in touch with them.
Then there was Kane. I also met him in Hienghène, and we spent quite some time together on the East coast of Grande Terre. And in case you were just thinking, wow, what a coincidence he should have the exact same spotting scope and tripod as Sebastian – well, these are mine. But he really enjoyed looking through the scope at all kinds of stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn one day that he got himself a scope as well! Then perhaps he will even get used to the magnifying effect. When a stray dog crossed the street, Kane studied him with great interest. He said that the dog looked like a majestic lion, while I was worried the poor creature might collapse in the middle of the road because he seemed so meagre and weak.
We spoke about many things, including New Caledonia (which we are both currently visiting), New Zealand (where he lives and which I will be visiting soon) and Singapore (where he used to live and which will be my last destination before I get home). If I had to put him and myself in boxes according to our style of travelling, his would be labelled ‘traveller’, whereas mine would read ‘tourist’. But that, like many other topics, was something we could discuss in great depth.
Kane is documenting his trip on Youtube. Here’s the episode featuring me, the German gentleman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTkLDo9mhxk. It’s nice to see myself in action, and to get some feedback on one’s behaviour and appearance. Plus, I know it will make some people at home happy to learn that I am driving the car at only half the speed limit (although I wouldn’t necessarily say that I did that for caution’s sake – I wanted to be able to admire the stunning scenery at least as much).
Then there was the peanut butter argument.
Don’t get me wrong here: it’s not an argument I had with Kane. I like peanut butter too. But he has developed this theory that the French disapprove of peanut butter in general. And who could better prove him right than the following handsome chap:
Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Thibault. I think if you look closely, you can detect a certain uneasiness and discomfort on his face. And that is because he was asked to hold not just one, but two jars of peanut butter into the camera. And yes, he thinks p.b. is totally useless, and if he wants peanuts, well, then he can simply eat the nuts. Also, according to him, p.b. contains too much sugar – an argument which Kane fervently rejected. But enough of that. Suffice it to say that Thibault prefers to spread soft cheese on his baguette.
Had Thibault and I met a little bit earlier, we could have arranged some time on Lifou together, or in Nouméa. But none of this worked out, unfortunately, because he was on Lifou while I was in Nouméa, and vice versa. It would have been nice to see him again. Oh wait, let me re-phrase this: it will be nice to see him again one day somewhere on the Rhine or the Rhône.
Meanwhile, I will drink some more coffee (now that I have figured out when to press the ‘minus sugar’ button on the vending machine…).
So I will now show you some images I have been able to shoot during my four days on the island of Lifou. All of them were taken on the coast.
Actually, there are several reasons why I haven’t shown more landscapes until now. The main one being that, generally speaking, I find them less impressive than I had expected. On Grande Terre the weather has been extremely dry in recent weeks (and maybe even longer), and so a lot of the vegetation is brown instead of green. Secondly, even if the landscape is photogenic, it is sometimes rather difficult to find a suitable spot to capture it. I have noticed that often a lot of vegetation is in the way and blocking the view – ironically, this is the case even in places specifically designed and maintained as ‘pointes de vue’.
Furthermore, and that is something which I find most frustrating, the ‘good spots’ are evidently often places where people like to meet, hang out and, let’s say, enjoy their spare time. While that in itself might not necessarily be a bad thing, more often than not does it coincide with the very widespread habit of just dumping your rubbish anywhere. So the beautiful spots are often littered with empty beer cans, plastic bottles, leftovers from campfires etc. I find that very careless, to say the least. My suggestion would be to collect all that rubbish and put it in the car wrecks that line the country roads…
But hey, let’s talk about some positive stuff! Because after some searching, I do normally find suitable places for decent landscape photography. And I am glad that I do, because this means I am not carrying around my heavy tripod, the filters and all the other heavy equipment for nothing…
The above photo was taken at Baie de Chateaubriand in the eastern part of Lifou. Oh yes, and there is yet another difficulty that I encountered when searching for nice photo opportunities, especially on Lifou: there are relatively few beaches, and the coastline consists mostly of grey limestone rocks with lots of cavities and extremely sharp edges, which supports little or no vegetation at all. So it is rather difficult to include an attractive foreground in any frame.
One morning I got up at 4.30 am in order to be at a good spot in time before sunrise. This place lies next to the tribal village of Xepenehe in the north-west of Lifou. It was worth the effort, I think.
Another nice spot is ‘plage de Kiki’, which also lies close to Xepenehe and which requires a 30 minutes walk through very beautiful woodland. If you want to swim at that beach, you need to be there at low tide. I was a little too late for that, so I had to content myself with shots from the upper level.
My favourite beach on Lifou was definitely ‘plage de Luengoni’ in the south-east of the island. It required an hour’s drive in the car from where I was staying, but that was definitely worth it. I am grateful to my hosts who urged me to go there! The place itself is very calm and breathtakingly beautiful. Other tourists that I spoke to told me that they had seen several sea turtles in the water right beside the beach. And that handful of stray dogs were like everywhere else on Lifou – totally harmless.
And I swear that it really did look like that!
My last image was taken from the ferry back to Nouméa on Grande Terre. I must admit it would have been nice to have access to that stretch of coastline, or to something similar anyway. Those trees do look rather photogenic even from a distance! But not all of Lifou is easily accessible for people like me – either because there are no trails leading there, or because it is ‘terre coutumière’ (tribal land) which should not be entered without permission or even a guide. Okay, then maybe next time!
I wanted to travel to Lifou to spend some time on that island. There are basically two ways to get there from Grande Terre (if we leave aside for a second the biblical option), one being the airplane, the other the large catamaran „Betico 2“. I chose to take the latter. The disadvantages are the longer duration of the journey (five hours instead of 40 minutes), as well as the fact that it serves this connection only two to three times a week. Furthermore, it has the reputation of not being very reliable. But I wanted to have the experience, and I was hoping to maybe see some seabirds during the crossing.
The Betico 2 has a dreadful nickname. However, thanks to the calm sea and wonderful weather conditions, that name did not become relevant, neither for me nor for any other passengers (save for some really small kids, but they don’t count). The nickname is “Vomito”.
So here are some impressions from my time aboard the ferry. The journey was quite long, that’s true, but otherwise very relaxed and interesting. I got to talk to a number of nice people (including Giovannah, the wedding photographer) and kept a safe distance from a bunch of guys who ignored the rule that alcohol must not be consumed on the Betico 2. They were in a good mood, and you get used to them anyway.
I am sure you are very keen now to learn whether I saw any seabirds in the end. Well, yes, I did, some shearwaters and gannets (boobies). But only very few, and most of them just as tiny specks out on the ocean somewhere.
I will make the trip to Nouméa on Friday afternoon, i.e. in two days. Fingers crossed the sea will be as calm then…
Several things are not quite accurate about the title of this article. “Joseph” is fine, and so is the word “coconut”. But it should read either „Joseph and the coconuts“, or „Sebastian and his coconut“, or perhaps even „Joseph, the vanilla garden, and the coconut tree“. I don’t know why, but for some reason I liked the one best that I chose, accurate or not.
I am on the island of Lifou at the moment, the largest of the Loyalty Islands which lie to the east of Grande Terre. They form a province of their own, one of altogether three of which New Caledonia is composed, and are said to be a stronghold of traditional Kanak culture. I’ve been here for a bit less than two days now, and I can only say that I really enjoy being here!
But what about Joseph, Sebastian and alle these coconuts then, I hear you ask?
Well, I am staying with this family – „chez l’habitant“, as it is commonly called. Yesterday, Emily suggested I go to the neighbouring tribe of Wucamene and visit the „vanilleraie“ of Joseph and Anna, both family of her husband. That is something I had been really keen on doing anyway, so it wasn’t really hard to convince me.
I went there in the afternoon. The place is called „Ô Naturel“ and well signposted. Joseph took me on a tour through the garden. It was interesting to be shown real vanilla plants for the first time, even though, frankly, there isn’t a lot to see at the moment. The plants are all green and won’t be harvested until June next year. They have got 350 plants in their garden, and they all need to be pollinated by hand, because no insect or bird here will do the job. The vanilla plants were imported to New Caledonia a long time ago, and they thrive well in this subtropical climate. Ça pousse bien ici!
So much for the vanilla. I think I will visit the nearby „Maison de la vanille“ one of these days in order to see some more and maybe buy a souvenir.
The most exciting bit was yet to come, however. I had already noticed the huge coconut palms in the garden, they look just splendid. Then Joseph asked me if I wanted a coconut. Of course I did. DUH!
To cut down the nut (two, in fact), Joseph used a special tool: a saw attached to a stick at least six metres long. Or maybe it was a knife. Something really sharp anyway, because Joseph cut two nuts off the tree in no time, and they fell to the ground each with a loud thump.
I am so ignorant. Watching him harvest the nuts, I thought to myself, aren’t coconuts brown and dry? Well, the answer is: not if they were hanging in their tree until 30 seconds ago. Ours were green and fresh and really heavy.
We went back to the place where Joseph had started the tour. He took a huge machete and chopped large slices off one tip of the first coconut (which was to be mine) until he reached the white flesh. He punched a little hole in the hard shell and handed me the whole thing. All I needed to do was take a little lid off that he had carved (edible!), put the entire thing to my mouth and drink the juice straight from the nut. So delicious! What an extraordinary experience! The juice as well as the soft flesh are not to be confused with coconut milk, which is extracted from the dried nut and requires grating and pressing.
Extraordinary! And I’m happy.
I wasn’t the only coconut consumer that afternoon. Joseph seemed to enjoy his nut at least as much as I did mine.
Aaaah, so good!
So there you go, that was my coconut story. And believe me, I really wouldn’t want to miss this wonderful experience.
I need a hammock. That’s basically all there is to say.
I need a hammock. It’s not about me wanting one, no. It’s essential. A MUST, as they say in French (and I hope you’re getting the pronunciation right here).
And don’t get me wrong: I don’t demand palm trees. Or 30 degrees Celsius in December. Nor a view of the turquoise sea in the distance, where the waves are crashing at the coral reef.
All I’m saying is: … Well, I think I’ve made myself sufficiently clear by now.
In case you’re wondering where I took these pictures and (more importantly) where I had this lifechanging insight: the hammock can be found at the Auberge de Jeunesse (youth hostel) in Bourail-Poé. I cannot recommend this place highly enough!
Having spent the last ten days or so in New Caledonia, I have managed to travel a bit and to see some corners of the main island, Grande Terre. I guess it’s time to share some classic, old-school landscape shots with you, okay maybe with one or two exceptions.
They aren’t in any particular order, and don’t expect tons of commentaries and explanations. Are you ready?
Thanks for viewing these pictures, and do stay tuned!
During the first ten days of my stay here on New Caledonia (Grande Terre), I’ve already had the pleasure of seeing a number of different bird species. Some of them are endemic to the archipelago, which means they cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. Others, on the other hand, shouldn’t be here at all. They were introduced by humans and sometimes make life rather difficult for the indigenous bird species.
Then let’s take a look at some of them, shall we?
The aptly named common myna (Acridotheres tristis, Hirtenmaina, Martin triste / Merle des Moluques) is such a bird that shouldn’t be here. I’ve heard that it was introduced by farmers in order to fight agricultural pests.
It is by far the bird that I see most frequently – not in woodland and forests, but everywhere else in developed areas and along roads and beaches. And it is quite noisy, too! And suprisingly shy, despite its abundance. I don’t like them.
The next little bugger is also one that wouldn’t be here had it not been for the intervention of humans: the house sparrow (Passer domesticus, Haussperling, moineau domestique). Well, at least it’s good to know that there are some left in the South Pacific while their numbers are declining in Europe…
Ah, a proper New Caledonian bird at last, and even an endemic one: the green-backed white-eye (also known as the New Caledonian white-eye, Zosterops xantochroa, zostérops à dos vert – no German name, as far as I know).
These guys are really cute! You see them a lot. They are small and constantly on the move in trees and bushes or on the ground, they almost never come alone. Fortunately, they are not really shy, so it’s usually easy to observe them.
Another species from the Zosterops genus is the silvereye (Zosterops lateralis, Graumantel-Brillenvogel, zosterops à dos gris). So far I have only seen it in one location, namely plage de Poé near Bourail.
Not a rare bird, according to the literature. But of course one has to look quite closely in order to distinguish the two species…
The rufous whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris, siffleur itchong) is one of these birds that you usually hear before you see them.
It is not uncommon, and I like it.
Always in the air and on the move are the two species of swiftlet here in New Caledonia. This one is the white-rumped swiftlet (Aerodramus spodiogygius, Weißbürzelsalangane, salangane à croupion blanc). I have seen it in the region of Bourail, where it was really common. A related species is the tiny glossy swiftlet (Collocalia esculenta, Glanzkopsalangane, salange soyeuse) which is really common in and around woodland. And virtually impossible to photograph, at least for me…
The following bird is the striated starling (Aplonis striata, stourne calédonien – German name?).
It is a bit similar to the European starling, but the male has a beautiful red eye. I used to think they were rare, but now I see them in many different places.
A real beauty is the cardinal myzomela (Myzomela cardinalis, myzomèle cardinal – German name?). It is much smaller than it seems on this photo.
Another really common bird is definitely the grey fantail (Rhipidura albiscapa, Graufächerschwanz, rhipidure à collier / petit lève-queue):
It is not shy at all, and sometimes comes even too close to be photographed!
Another representative from the category “birds that don’t belong here”: the chestnut-breasted mannikin or munia (Lonchura castaneothorax, Braunbrustnonne, capucin donacole). It think it is really beautiful and it always makes me happy to see it. This species inhabits meadows and other types of open farmland, and they seem to always occur in flocks.
Oops, I almost forgot the honeyeaters! This cannot be. So here is the commonest of altogether three species found on New Caledonia: the grey-eared honeyeater (Lichmera incana, méliphage à oreillons gris / suceur, Grauohr-Honigfresser?).
I really like this species, even though it may not be anything ‘special’. But it sings quite beautifully and has a great silhouette, I think.
Speaking of ‘nothing special’ – the white-breasted wood-swallow (Artamus leucorhynchus, Weißbauch-Schwalbenstar, langrayen à ventre blanc) is quite similar in this regard.
It is a striking bird and can be seen a lot in gardens, on roadside etc. Often perched on powerlines, and almost never alone. They are really neat, I wish we had them in Europe!
The South Melanesian cuckooshrike (Coracina caledonica, échenilleur calédonien – German name?) may look a bit like a crow, but does not belong in the corvid family (see below). It is not rare, but often hides well in trees and bushes. It is also depicted in the photo at the top of this blog post.
The New Caledonian friarbird (Philemon diemenensis, polochion moine – German name?) is, ummmm, a bit less beautiful than other bird species shown here…
It is common and conspicous, almost always calling and moving about in trees and bushes. And, to be honest, I think it is really ugly… (I never thought I’d ever say that about a bird!). The body is somehow disproportionate, especially the head with its spiky feathers that look a bit like hair. Like a small vulture somehow. Um, okay. Can we move on to the next species now, please?
Oh yes, the pigeons and doves. There are a number of spieces on New Caledonia, and some of them are really beautiful. However, they are more often heard than seen, let alone photographed…
By far the commonest species is the spotted dove (Spilopelia chinensis, Perlhalstaube, tourterelle tigrine), an introduced and very widespread species (above).
Way more difficult to observe is the stunning cloven-feathered dove (Drepanoptila holosericea, Spaltschwingentaube, pigeon vert). It is endemic to New Caledonia. When it beats its wings in flight, there is this wonderful sound, a bit like a little bell. I have heard that this dove is highly regarded by the local Kanaks. Apparently it brings luck to see one. Good!
Another really cool pigeon is the metallic pigeon (Columba vitiensis, Weißwangentaube, pigeon à gorge blanche). Again, surprisingly hard to see and photograph. Compared to the pigeons I am familiar with from Europe, this birds here are relatively shy. Maybe that’s because of hunting?
Oh and there’s parrots too, of course! So far I have been able to see the lovely horned parakeet (Eunymphicus cornutus, Hornsittich, perruche cornue) (no photos, unfortunately) and the loud coconut lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus, Allfarblori, loriquet à tête bleue).
Again, I have noticed that these parrots are rather shy. Even when they sit high up in a tree top, and I am far below them on the ground, they will still become really nervous and then fly away at some point.
And now, finally, the star of the New Caledonian avifauna, the world’s smartest bird!
The New Caledonian crow (Corvus moneduloides, Neukaledonische Krähe, corbeau calédonien) is the only member of the corvid family here in the archipelago. It is said to be able to make its own tools in order to reach food (e.g. grubs from rotting tree trunks). The only things I have observed so far where one bird with a little stick in its bill to probe for food in the ground, and another that dropped nuts on a tarmac road in order to crack them. They are very cool indeed, but also rather shy. I’d love to take better pictures of them…
This is the sad story of a fatal encounter between a hungry heron and a fish. Well, sad for fifty percent of the protagonists… All others were quite content, as one can assume.
The Pacific reef heron (also known as the Pacific reef egret, Egretta sacra, Riffreiher, Aigrette sacrée) is a very handsome bird. I have seen it in several places on the coast already, always in the dark morph. There is also a purely white form, but it is much rarer than the grey one. It is not shy, which made it easy for me to photograph. The story I want to relate to here happened yesterday morning (3 December 2019) at Koulnoué Beach in the northeastern part of Grande Terre (New Caledonia).
May the images speak for themselves.
(Click here for more bird-related articles on this travel blog).
You might know that AA stands for the Automobile Association of Great Britain, the UK’s largest motoring organisation. And then there’s AAA, of course, the American Automobile Association, a federation of motor clubs throughout North America.
I admit that, until very recently, I also hadn’t the faintest idea that this could possibly be more just than the most natural vowel times four. Oh but there is, believe me!
On my way from Farino to Poé plage two days ago I made a little detour to the town of Bourail. I just wanted to check wether there was anything interesting that I should take a closer look at. And besides, it’s always useful to know the shops, the snack bars, the gas station etc. in your vicinity, and their opening times. Then I saw the following “affiche”:
Ah, now the title of this blog post makes sense at last: so AAAA stands for the “Association des Arabes et Amis des Arabes de Nouvelle-Calédonie”. In other words, the Association of Arabs and their friends in New Caledonia. That sounded interesting. In my Lonely Planet guide book I had already read a little piece of information that there is to this day a small Arabian community in this part of New Caledonia. They are descendants of former prisoners who had been sent off to the South Pacific for various reasons in the nineteenth century. And now this! I decided to come back the next day.
Everybody seemed to be there, really everybody. Including me! And this cute four-legged fellah:
Nobody seemed to take any particular notice of me, so I had to take the initiative myself if I wanted something to happen. So I approached Véro, a wonderful lady who not only gave me free coffee but also answered all my questions.
And then the “groupe de danse”. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined to witness a formidable bellydance performance by an ensemble of eight young ladies, one more beautiful than the other, complete with colourful costumes, chandeliers, golden crowns, sabres and what not. This may have easily been already the highlight of my entire trip…
Do you share my enthusiasm?
But the final blow was yet to come. On the affiche it had said that the programme was to be closed by a “FANTAZIA” (in capital letters). I had no clue what this was, so I asked Véro, my personal guide. She explained that it is a performance by men on horseback, and they shoot in the air more than once. It is usually reserved for special occasions such as weddings. But what is the 50th anniversary of AAAA, if not a very special occasion!
When Véro saw the worried look on my face (right after she had mentioned the shooting in the air), she quickly appeased me by adding that, this time, there would be no bullets in the rifles. Ah! Thank you, good to know.
I must say, the show was brilliant. I couldn’t believe my luck (and I still can’t). Everybody seemed to enjoy the show immensely. Thousands of pictures were taken, not counting the 1,119 images on my SD card alone!
This is Kader. He is former president of the AAAA and the person at the very centre of all things Arabian in New Caledonia. Véro introduced me to him, and we exchanged phone numbers. I am hoping to meet him again next week for an in-depth interview and some more photos. He is one of the few New Caledonian Arabs who has actually been to the Maghreb, when many years ago an official delegation visited Algeria, the land of their ancestors.
Kader asked me to take a picture of him together with his cousin. No need to ask me twice for sure. I wonder why they are having such an earnest expression on their faces. Well, I don’t know if that is the reason, but if you look at their family histories and the fact that their Arabian identity was totally suppressed until the late 1960s, you get an idea why. But things have definitely changed for the better, as everybody assured me.
Another scene I found rather touching was when, at the end of the fête, Arabs and Melanesians did the “coutume” together. It is a very traditional practice and one of the pillars of Melanesian (Kanak) culture. Presents are exchanged (usually pieces of cloth, tobacco or cigarettes, and a small amount of money – you can see them lying on the ground in the middle), and words of gratitude and appreciation are expressed by senior members of the group. All this is done in a very quiet, focussed and solemn mood.
Not only did I get an intriguing insight into the Arabian community yesterday, but also into the “Far West” mentality in this part of Grande Terre and into the “broussard” way of life. One of the symbols of it obviously being a decent pickup truck. And some horses, of course. And not to forget, cowboy boots!
What an amazing afternoon this was. I look forward to its continuation next week!
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