We spent 3 months in 2004 sailing around southern New Caledonia and could easily spend as much time again having the northern lagoon and the Loyalty Islands still to explore. New Caledonia is a fascinating place, particularly so if you're interested in botany or French food.
Charts, Guides and Useful Publications
ChartsThe French SHOM charts are expensive (CFP 3300) and don't seem any more up to date than the equally expensive British Admiralty charts ($35) or the modestly priced DIMA charts ($18). Some of the SHOM charts, the 2000-series I believe, are ancient and are being replaced at the usual glacial bureaucratic pace by the much nicer 6000- and 7000-series.
Sadly, DIMA doesn't provide detailed coverage at the scale needed for navigating in the lagoon, so you'll need to shell out the cash for BA or SHOM charts if you're going anywhere other than Nouméa and Île des Pins. If you're just going to Nouméa and Île des Pins, you'll need at least the following:
Either of those alternatives is sufficient to get in to Nouméa from either direction and to get to Île des Pins.
Digital charts (the famous bootleg CMAP CDs that everyone has) seem to have roughly the same detail as paper.
If you can find a complete set of charts to borrow, you can have them photocopied (ask where at Port Moselle) for about CFP 800 per chart.
Many of the charts are not on the WGS 84 datum, and unlike the east coast of Australia, the corrections may be significant to navigation, about 2 cables.
Many areas in the lagoon are unsurveyed or poorly surveyed and require good visibility for successful navigation.
Weather ForecastsWeather forcasts are broadcast by Nouméa Radio, at 6:30, 9:30, 15:15, 18:30. The forcast is announced on VHF 16 and then given on one of the following repeater channels:
Nouméa Radio will read ze weazer in Eenglish upon request.
Both Australian and New Zealand weather faxes cover the area, with the Kiwi faxes generally showing more detail for the weather around New Caledonia.
New Zealand Weatherfax BroadcastsWe've been having the best reception with 13550.5khz which, as everyone knows, is actually broadcast at 13548.6khz.
Australian Weatherfax BroadcastsWe've been having the best reception with 13920khz which is actually broadcast at 13918.1khz.
TidesTides are semi-diurnal. Tidal ranges around New Caledonia are generally less than 2 metres. Tidal currents at the reef passes can be quite substantial, however. At Havanna Passage, which has a particularly bad reputation, we measured a 4-knot flood current. Particularly if the trades are strong, an ebb tide can create extremely dangerous conditions in the Havannah passage as there is a 6-metre bank right in the middle of it.
SPCZThe South Pacific Convergence Zone is characterized by a band of clouds, clearly visible in satelite pictures or when they're right overhead. Its position varies. When a cold front collides with the SPCZ, the result can be extremely bad weather: 30 - 50-knot winds.
Cruising SeasonThe cruising season is basically the southern hemisphere winter with early spring (September, October) being reputed to have the best weather.
CyclonesThe following links show cyclone occurrence probabilities for the months of November and December, the start of the Coral Sea cyclone season:
Unlike the Queensland coast which is rarely hit by cyclones, New Caledonia is hit as frequently as any place in the South Pacific.
Unlike Queensland, which abounds with deep mangove creeks, there seem to be relatively few good cyclone holes. Port Moselle, while well prepared is quite risky and many boats have been lost or damaged there. Even assuming you could find a secure mooring, you'd still have to contend with flying debris.
The river above Port Laguerre is frequently mentioned as cyclone hole.
Baie du Carenage in Prony, while it looks like a potential cyclone hole, is quite bullet-prone. There are places where one might be able to tie to mangroves.
VHFNouméa Radio maintains a 24-hour listening watch on VHF channel 16, as well as the usual HF frequencies: 2182 khz, 4125 khz, and 6215 khz.
HF/SSBIn addition to voice weather broadcasts and weatherfax, there is at least one HF net, Namba Net, which takes place at 8:00am (21:00 GMT) on 8161 khz.
TelephoneThe pay phones all work on cards only. Cards may be purchased at vending machines (bring lots of perfect 1000 CFP notes) or at news stands.
There are no cheap long distance cards, and international rates are quite expensive.
InternetThere is no wireless service in the marina.
There are four internet cafes in Nouméa, the closest to Port Moselle being the most expensive at CFP 1000 per hour with some of the more discrete in-town locations charging as little as CFP 500 per hour. The one on Avenue du Maréchal Foch a few blocks north of the main square was the cheapest and consistently had the best performance. The most expensive one, Le Cyber Point, also on Avenue du Maréchal Foch behind the Museaum, had consistently horrible bandwidth.
Quite expensive relative to Australia.
Ports & Places
Circumnavigating Grand TerreIt was our original intention to do sail completely around Grand Terre and visit the Loyalty Islands. As usual, our plans were scaled back due to weather and enjoying the places we did get to too much.
Our thought was to circumnavigate counter-clockwise, coming SE down the west coast which one could expect to be less windy and more variable than the east coast which meets the full blast of the trade winds. In fact, this agrees with "conventional wisdom," however, there are those who point out that winds on the west coast tend to be more consistently SE (ie. on the nose) and stronger than those on the east which can be mysteriously light. In fact, we experienced exactly that (light winds) in our brief foray around to Yaté and, according to the wind measurements broadcast with the weather forecasts, places on the east coast frequently did report inexplicably light winds.
At any rate, we cancelled our run to the Loyalties because the SPCZ had been camped out over them for weeks and show no signs of easing up.
Anse KuenduReasonably sheltered, particularly if there's a lot of east in the wind. Good snorkling (in the reserve) and swimming.
NouméaAll the yachties complain that Nouméa is expensive but I think that this is only the case relative to mythical semi-impovrished backwater islands where people will happily sell you half a dozen undersized gravid lobsters for a t-shirt. Relative to San Francisco and Sydney, Nouméa is quite reasonable. Careful shopping, perhaps a trip out to the giant Carrefour, makes it about as economical as any other modern coastal city of 100,000 inhabitants. While everyone is quick to lay the blame for high prices on the import of food, certain localy made items such as coffee are inexplicably expensive. The basics, meat and veggies, can be found economically.
Nouméa is the only place in New Caledonia to have boat work done and is relatively expensive compared to Brisbane, about the same as Sydney. You'll probably need to have spare parts delivered from Australia or New Zealand. David, the proprietor of Ship Shop Service is an ex cruiser and was extremely friendly and helpful. He speaks English. I'd certainly check with him first for any boat-related repairs. If he can't handle it, he probably knows someone who can.
Rental cars are fairly economical and there are a bunch of places worth exploring by car.
PropaneThere are a zillion places that sell propane but only by swapping on French-standard bottle for another. There's only one place that refills and that is Quinciallerie Caladonienne in Ducos, a northern suburb of Nouméa. You drop off the bottle one day and come back for the filled bottle the next. Given the cost of two cabs, it is probably better to rent a car for a couple of days and combine the propane refill with some sight seeing.
Happily, refilling a 9kg bottle was only about CFP 2300.
Îlot UèrèA nice spot just out of town. Interesting tide pools to explore. Not much shelter from the prevailing wind, but the water will be flat.
Baie UièEasy to enter and well sheltered in the prevailing SE wind. We anchored in mud and coral in 4 metres of water.
Ilot MatoWe found depths of 6 metres over sand due west of the island, not 8 as the guide indicates. Possibly there are deeper holes where one could find 8 metres closer to the SE edge of the lagoon. You'd have better shelter from the chop but a longer dingy ride to the island. Spent the night with winds to 20 knots veering from W to S with exactly the sort of chop (not very bad) one would expect in those conditions. That the guide gives the anchorage protection only in S and SE winds seems nonsensical. As far as I could tell all directions are sheltered from swell, with SE being the worst protection (longest fetch) and W the best.
Baie de PronyBaie de Prony is a large bay about 20 miles SE of Nouméa. It is the usual staging area for boats heading down to Île des Pins and an interesting place in its own right, having penal colony ruins, freshwater swimming holes, and a variety of hiking trails.
Best reception for weather forecasts seemed to be VHF 25.
Île des PinsDiesel and unleaded are available from gas stations in Kuto and Vao.
We had no trouble receiving weather forecasts on VHF 25.
YatéThe red stakes marking the southern side of the channel are gone, but the two green buoys remain. From just shy of the second green buoy, we aimed for a point about 50 metres seaward of the ruined jetty and never saw less than 3 metres.
I wouldn't characterize the anchorage as very good. Swell finds its way in, and chop if the wind is in the east.
We couldn't get any VHF weather broadcasts. Channel 28 did work as soon as we were out to sea.
Formalities and Officials
Nouméa is the only place where one may clear in. It is possible to arrange to clear out of We in Lifou.
Clearing in can be done 7 days a week and costs nothing. The best thing to do is to try to contact Port Moselle as soon as you're in the lagoon and then again when you're in the harbour just outside the marina. They may not respond (if they're busy, or if no one speaks English). Don't panic. Just motor over to the visitors pontoon and look for someone with a clipboard and an "Equipage" t-shirt who looks like they're directing you to a berth. On sundays and saturday afternoons the marina office is closed and and there's just one of the "equipage" around with a handheld VHF.
The visitors pontoon is at the eastern end of the marina, closest to the city and market and farthest from the fuel dock.
The marina staff will coordinate your passage through formalities.
QuarantineA quarentine officer will visit your boat and take the usual arbitrary stuff that quarentine always takes.
CustomsCustoms is notified of your arrival by fax from Port Moselle and will either come and see you in person or fax you back a cruising permit (1 year is standard) within two hours.
ImmigrationImmigration (stamping of passports) is handled by some branch of Gendarmerie, a representative of which will meet you at the pontoon. To extend your visa, it is necessary to go to the immigration office in town.
VisasVisas are not required for most nationalities. Europeans and some others get an automatic 3-month stay, and Americans get a 1-month stay. In the past, it has been impossible to extend one's visa under any pretext, however, I was able to get my stay extended to 3 months, and, I heard of a number of other people being granted extensions.
By applying for a visa in advance, it may be possible to stay longer but this is not possible everywhere. In particular, when I tried to get a 3-month visa at the French Consul in Sydney, I was told that they could not do it because my Australian visa did not have an additional 6-months of validity. Of course, the lady at the visa office in Nouméa looked at me like I was an idiot when I explained that. Many people have reported no problems obtaining visas from the French Consul in their place of residence.