OK. A day around town. And with a rental car too!
I just couldn't wake up today. Took three big cups of good French coffee.
Picked up the rental car at the hotel here--they dropped it off. Then after breakfast headed out to the Tjibaou Cultural Center. Caught the 10:30 English language tour. We were the only two on the tour, and our tour guide was excellent. She led us first along the cultural center's extensive native plant section, which is divided into five areas along a single path.
We then wandered around inside looking at the art and other exhibits. Sadly, the gift shop wasn't open.
About 12:30 we drove to the botanic garden, trying to look for info on where to find weird Araucaria species. The ticket-taker said they had no books, but I could ask a conservator on Tuesday.
So we drove east to the Parc Provincal de la Rivière Bleue, about an hour, or 45km, east of Nouméa. I had no idea what it'd be like, other then there were a few trails and Lonely Planet said you could bushwalk 'from an hour to all day.'
The drive out was interesting. After we left the outskirts of Nouméa, the hillsides took on this deep reddish-brown-purple color, and the plants became very scrubby. The road wound up a mountain side, where you could look out over a vast area of gullies and canyons surrounded by mountains. It looked to me as if the whole countryside had been clearcut--there were many small landslides, opening up raw red earth at the top of the landslide where the soil slipped away, and there were huge gashes where erosion had cut steep bare channels into the ground. Before we came up, I thought the river channels and the bays looked very muddy and silted. I guess the soil was now down below.
Paying the 700XPF to get in at the Park entrance., we drove another 18km on dirt roads, stopping at the 'Grand Kouri', a huge Agathis lanceolata tree that was somehow spared from logging. There's a good rainforest walk there too, with a lot of plants identified with both Latin name, family, and French name. We did see one new Araucaria there growing, it had soft needles.
Then we drove back, and had a curious Provencal style dinner that took forever to be served. I wonder if we just didn't give the appropriate cultural hints that we were done with each course--Andre later told us that unlike in the US, in France won't clear your dishes unless everyone at the table is done with their food, as that would be considered to be rudely rushing you. After our 2 1/2 hour meal, we then turned in for the night.