After a lazy morning, we met Andre for lunch and spent the afternoon snorkeling with the fishes and relaxing.
We woke up at 8. Breakfast downstairs in the hotel was pleasant, it was a buffet and more European than Australian: there were cheeses and meats, along with the standard cereal and fruit fare. The sun was bright, the sky was cloudless, the temperature was in the mid-20's. It looked like a very good day.
Afterwards, we looked at renting a car. Budget wanted 30000XPF (at a 131XPF to US$1 rate, this was US$230.) For a two day rental. And if we took it to the south part of the island, there would be a 5000 - 8000XPF charge to clean all the 'red dust' off the car. They would drop the keys off at the hotel, as nothing is open on Sunday or Saturday after noon. OK, no thanks, we'll look around at that price.
Stopped by the aquarium for awhile. I was a bit hesitant; the building is a bit worn on the outside. But inside was wonderful. It was small--most of the tank windows were not more than the size of a single bed, and some were the size of a pillow--but the small size made for up-close viewing of spectacular fish and corals and sponges. One tank had a huge ray and a huge humphead wrasse fish, others had growing coral, still another held turtles and remora sharks. Out in back was a fun touch pool--I liked the orange scallops, with their rows of fluorescent blue dots in the gap between their two shells. I think they were eyes, but I can't be sure.
The aquarium also had a collection of several dozen florescent corals, displayed under black light. Those were also very curious and, well, pretty, glowing all sorts of colors.
The aquarium is right next to the hotel, so I went back and booked a day trip to the Amédée Lighthouse for next Wednesday. That's good, since Wednesday is May 1st, a public holiday in France, and not much would be open in town. We plan to do a introductory scuba dive there.
The lighthouse is on a small islet at the entrance to Nouméa harbor, about 30km off the mainland. The entire island, about 350km long, is fringed by coral reef, and between the offshore reef and the mainland is the world's largest lagoon. From our hotel this morning, we can see the lighthouse, but not the reef. It seems as if it's not an ocean, but an inland sea--very little wave action at the beach. There are tides, though.
I also booked a car for Saturday and Sunday to get out and do some hiking. That was a bit cheaper, it should be $150 for two days or so, with unlimited kilometers and full insurance. We'll be driving on the right again, just like in the US! Already it's been a bit odd; on the street, we've been trying to pass locals on the left and not the right and have been bumping into folks. We also don't quite know which way to look across the road now.
Afterwards, Andre met up with us, and we all took the water taxi (700XPF) to the small Îlot aux Canards, just offshore from the Anse Vata beach where our hotel's located. When we stepped onto the island, we were surprised to see it was a coral island; the 'beach' was mostly broken coral fragments, with some coarse coral gravel. Andre's a nice guy. We had chicken and fish skewers, some salad, and Orangina of course.
Andre left us to go back to work, and we rented snorkels, fins, and masks for 600XPF per hour, then did the short underwater nature trail off the island. It was rather nice; while a good amount of the coral was dead, there were many many fish, including various angelfish I've only seen in aquariums. One of the stops on the trail told us to look for a 'cleaning fish'--I spotted it, cleaning off the gills of a larger fish! There were easily 3 dozen different species of fish, and almost all of them were bright and colorful.
Lastly, we headed back to the hotel, a yummy seafood dinner accompanied by Kanak singers and dancers. It was pleasant and understated, not too 'Hawaiian Tourist Village Luau' over-the-top at all. We recognized the band--it was the same one that greeted us at the airport.
Today's weird wildlife note: the geckos at our hotel. The hotel we're staying at has exterior hallways leading to the rooms, lit by globe-shaped fixtures along the walls. Geckos have found it a nice warm place to spend the night--with the big added bonus of all the nighttime insects attracted to the lights! The only rule is one gecko per light. It was fun to see them, they were neat!