I grew up not far away from a very iconic lighthouse, it’s located in Peggy’s Cove. In fact if you’ve ever seen a photo of Nova Scotia it probably featured in it. It has stood guard for over a hundred years and continues not only to be a source of pride for the people in the area but a functioning navigation beacon. So I have a bit of soft spot for such things, that and when we are navigating at night our lives depend on them.
I am very happy to report that in New Caledonia they take their navigational aides seriously. Not only is EVERYTHING marked (cardinal marks on reef edges, special marks denoting marine parks) but the buoys and lights are well maintained. After spending the last few years in Tonga and Fiji, two countries notorious for both their unmarked reefs and frequently using the “stick a piece of rebar on it and paint it black they’ll figure it out” system of navigational aides, this makes sailing around not only easy but pleasurable. There is no panicked worry on semi overcast day when the light suddenly changes and the water turns a muted, impenetrable shade of green making it impossible to see shoal patches and reef edges. There is no feeling like you need a good swig of rum to steady your hands when coming into a harbour four hours later than planned because the wind died.
So when we read about a trail up to the Cape Ndoua light house that guided us through the Havannah Pass on our way from Fiji we thought it would be fun to take a look.
The light house sits on a sheer cliff over 200M tall. It and the leads are very conspicuous from the water, despite their altitude. So much so that as we passed the cliff we joked about who would draw the short straw when the light bulb needed to replaced. But the trail runs the opposite side of the hill, which is forested and rambles down into a picturesque anchorage. We figured it to be a well trodden foot path that snaked up the hillside, the guidebook would surely mention if it was technical or steep. Right?
The “trail” was as wide enough to drive a small truck on, although you’d have to have some awesome tires and a good four wheel drive. And it’s path rose straight up the hill in front of us, a mix of slick moss and loose stones. This would be no pleasure walk in the woods.But we pressed on anyway.
We climbed at a steady pace up what I figure was a 35 degree incline. My lungs burned and my calves tighten, but we marched on. And just when I thought I was going to pass out we walked out of the forest and onto a brief plateau where I stood admiring a forest fire warning sign for a little longer than necessary. And then we pushed for the top, the bright red soil and clear blue skies enough to take my mind off the effort of walking.
We were, of course, rewarded at the precipice.
We stood in the fresh wind admiring the view. The panorama of the lagoon stretched on for miles, the water varying shades of aqua. We could easily make out the Havannah pass and all the reefs and islands that we will need to avoid when we sail south to the Isle of Pines. We looked up the Woodin Channel towards Noumea, so obvious now and dotted with a parade of small white sails as the locals headed back to town after a long weekend get away. We found the bay where we left Kate but she was hidden, tucked in deep to our private little anchorage.
The site, now on National Park lands was meticulous maintained; walking trails lined with rocks and shells, wooden benches and a covered observation station protected from the wind. The lighthouse itself has been operational since the 1850’s and also served as the first telegraph station in New Caledonia. Now solar powered and unmanned the original buildings that housed the lighthouse keeper were still semi standing, their hand-laid, foot thick walls refusing to crumble under the weight of modernity.
The walk back down was much less breath taking but just as treacherous, the loose stones and slippery moss making for some fancy foot work, but we made it down in one piece. We had lunch sitting in the sun on the shores of that picturesque anchorage and wondered what other gems we might find hidden in the hills of New Caledonia.