Our last day on the island, which we spent having a much better time than expected at the Amadée lighthouse snorkeling.
I had booked a tour to the Amadée lighthouse earlier in the week from the tour operator in the hotel... Chris and I had a little argument; he said I paid twice as much as I should have since we had vouchers for A$60 each and I had paid 10200XPF. Hm. Grrrr... maybe those were the 'Japanese prices' that Andre warned us about. Chris then thought some more, and it looks like I only paid US$10 more or so for the tickets. [The hotel exchange rate was 131XPF per US$1, or 68XPF per A$1.] All the exchange rates are giving me a headache; I'm looking forward to thinking in simple dollars and not in thousands of Pacific francs once we get to Sydney tomorrow.
It was gray and windy on the walk the jetty, and the 20km boat trip to the lighthouse was bouncy, with waves breaking over the bow of the ship and soaking several Japanese cameras--there's a reason why the crew lowered the vinyl windows on the open upper deck! Once at the lighthouse, we hoped to take a introductory dive. The dive shop didn't open until 11, so we rented snorkeling gear (another 2000XPF for both of us and a 2000XPF deposit)... then went out into the shallows in front of the beach.
Amadée is a small island just inside the barrier reef that surrounds all of New Caledonia, and its main 46m lighthouse marks the entrance of the deep water channel to Nouméa harbor. You can walk around the island in fifteen or twenty minutes, about half the island is covered with coconut, casaurina, and banyan trees and the rest of the island is scaveola scrub.
The water just offshore was shallow and sandy with no coral, but there was a bit here and there. We found a rock in about 2m of water that had some interesting corals on it and quite a lot of colorful fish, but there was nothing but sandy bottom and sea grass around it. After maybe half an hour we got out of the water, and walked to the other side of the island towards the barrier reef.
The wind had blown lots of jellyfish onto the beach, and while they didn't appear to have tentacles, we avoided them. Another group of tourists had found a sea snake in the beach grass and had picked it up by the tail--it looked like a king snake, with alternating yellow and black stripes. We put on our flippers and gear and got in, but the water was shallow and the bottom rocky. It just wasn't too interesting.
We got out, and went to lunch, which was very nice--lots of seafood salads to chose from, and a choice of meats. I had BBQ marlin which was yummy. I also chose the 'red punch' over the 'orange punch' at the drinks table. Surprisingly it was alcoholic, and the sweetest raspberry mai-tai I've had. All the tables had pitchers of dark tea on them, which upon drinking was found to be cheap red table wine.
Right after lunch, we went back in the water in front of the jetty, and didn't see much for a bit. I got bored, and headed back in, but Chris spotted a couple of sea turtles. On my way back in, I found a much better batch of live coral in about 2m of water just west of the jetty, and spent 30 minutes or so looking at all the fish go by--as well as the dozens of small blue fish that lived among the coral branches. Chris joined me after awhile, then we went in.
We looked at the lighthouse for a bit (another 100XPF, sigh), climbing all the way to the top to get good views of the island. Then we wrote some postcards and headed back to the boat and the mainland.
Surprisingly, as we were walking back, we saw Andre drive by--so he gave us a lift to an overlook, then back to our hotel. Later, he picked us up, and we went out to eat at Le Batiste, where we once again had great food. I had pastry and goat cheese to start, a gratin de lobster for a main... and Chris had cocquin with scallops for starters and a mixed grill with fish and shrimp and such. During the meal, the president of New Caledonia came in with his wife and another couple and sat a couple tables over, a small 'brush with greatness'!
After dinner, we came back to the hotel and collapsed in bed just after 10. We were tired after all the snorkeling... and we had to get up at 4am to catch our flight. I decided to save the last of my book (The Dig Tree) for the flight back.


May 7 2002, 12:00:57

The President of New Caledonia! How did you know? Or is his picture hung all over the place? Our celebrity sighting this week was walking past the English actor Tim Piggot-Smith in the bluebell woods at Kew Gardens. XO