Intrepid writer Tatyana Leonov travelled to New Caledonia to mix a little adventure with a lot of luxury. South Pacific-style
Waking up to see my Havaianas gnawed to the point where they were unwearable was the moment I almost cried. A rat – a big fat bush rat – must have been nibbling (although I think that’s too delicate a word) away under my head as I slept. This wasn’t the epiphany I’d imagined when I booked my New Caledonia trek... The idyllic island oasis, located 1,500 kilometres from the east coast of Australia, was somewhere I’d always wanted to visit. I finally got there this year. I ambled along the powdery-white sandy beaches, snorkelled in the azure-blue waters, ate too much French cheese – two nights in a row (you’d think I’d learn). I even stayed in one of those villas on stilts, only having to glance down into the stupidly turquoise sea to see a plethora of colourful darting fish. However, I travelled to New Caledonia for a tranquil island holiday, but also to hike. And my goal? The Grande Randonnée 1 (GR1).
THE RIGHT WALK
The GR1, located at the southern end of the main island Grande Terre, is a long walk – 123 kilometres long – and usually takes anywhere from five to seven days to complete. It’s a truly epic walk that’s modelled on the French distance trails. I figured I’d mesh my love of adventure and luxury, so I booked a personal guide through New Caledonia Tourism. My guide would walk with me for one day, sort out lunch (and carry it), then there’d be a car waiting to take us to a lovely beachside eco resort. After a restful night’s sleep, that car would reappear and chauffeur us to the Blue River Provincial Park for another day of trekking. This way I’d get to walk two different sections of GR1 and have the luxury of seeing vastly diverse landscapes (a perfect solution for time-poor travellers) – while avoiding sleeping in a tent worrying about things like, you know, bush rats.
YOU SAY SMALL CREEK, I SAY LARGE RIVER
My guide turned out to be a friendly bloke named Manfred. My driver turned out to be his partner, Delphine. The three of us made a great team – I even decided to friend Manfred on Facebook (I’m still waiting for him to approve my request).
Day one began as Delphine dropped Manfred and I off at Prony, the official starting point of GR1. Having travelled extensively around the world, I was used to being helped a little. In Thailand, they took my hand to help me off a ferry; In Morocco, they carried my luggage. Manfred wasn’t into that. He was kind and accommodating – but he didn’t help me step over rocks. I appreciated that I was treated like a fellow tough hiker. That was until we had to cross a river.
Manfred mentioned that there might be a little creek along the route and I imagined us strolling through that creek – laughing and splashing each other. I was wrong. The ‘creek’ (I’d be more inclined to refer to it as a gushing river) was big. The water moved quite quickly. Manfred changed into his Velcro-fastened waterproof shoes and went ahead, suggesting I put on my flimsy thongs and do the same. Slippery wet rocks and Havaianas are not an ideal combo, but I did eventually cross the river, even keeping my pants mostly dry by pulling them up very high, ’70s style.
Six strenuous hours later I was pleased to see Delphine at the end point with the car, warm tea and crunchy biscuits. We headed to the resort – gorgeous Melanesian-style bungalows fit out with luxe furnishings – where I’d get my restful night’s sleep. I slept like a log. Luckily I didn’t wake, as I still can’t fathom what I would’ve done had I seen the culprit that chewed my Havaianas. After feeling really sorry for myself, and going to brekkie wearing only one thong (to publicise my overnight misfortune), I eventually cracked a smile and changed into my hiking shoes.
KAORIS, CAGOUS AND CONCLUSIONS
We set off to the Blue River Provincial Park (in the Yaté District in the far south of the southern province) for day two of our trek. This beautiful park is an adventure-seekers paradise for canoeing, hiking and cycling. It’s only open during daylight hours and you need to book your visit a minimum of 24 hours in advance at the Southern Province Tourist Office in Nouméa.
Manfred and Delphine decided that the best route for day two would be a mix of the GR1 days five and six. This way I’d see the park’s giant Kaori tree which stands at 40 metres high and is almost 1,000 years old. We’d also see New Caledonia’s rare national bird, the cagou. This protected flightless bird just strolls – whenever we did see a cagou it was clear it wasn’t in a rush.
Unlike the cagou, we didn’t enjoy a lovely stroll. To make good time (we had to be back to meet our driver who would return us to our car at the end of the trek), we walked briskly. My highlight was lunch at a picturesque waterfall – but food is often a highlight for me as is sitting down.
Manfred and Delphine dropped me off in New Caledonia’s lively capital Nouméa after our adventurous two days. I celebrated my feat by overindulging in cheese ... for the third time that week. New Caledonia is a French Territory – and as they say, ‘when in Rome’.
Other epic treks
Inca Trail in Peru The ultimate trek everyone raves one about. Enough said.
The Narrows, Zion National Park in the USA If you’re into crossing rivers, you’ll be water bound for at least half this hike. The dramatic canyons make wet pants worthwhile.
Blue Trail in Italy Also known as Sentiero Azzuro, this beautiful walk connects the five villages of Cinque Terre. Epic for views – and all the delicious Italian food choices along the way.
3 more ways to experience an active outdoor adventure in New Caledonia
Kite surfing Since 2001 the Kiteboard Pro World titles have been held in New Caledonia – because it’s one of the best spots in the world for it. Sainte-Marie Bay is a favourite spot all year round.
Horse riding Saddle up, the Niaouli savannah on the West Coast is cowboy country.
Snorkelling New Caledonia is home to the world’s largest lagoon and there’s no such thing as a snorkelling hot spot – it’s all amazing!