Snorkeling With The Ducks
I thought the time was right to get back in a zodiac with a Frenchman. After all, Adrien was friendly, confident, even charming, the sun was shining, and we were on holiday. However, as we twisted and turned, doing 360-degree spins and flying past the French naval boats in port at Noumea, I began to have second thoughts.
I need not have been alarmed. As a local of ten years standing, Adrien knew his way around the harbour, and the thrills and twirls were all part of our ride out of port and across to Ile aux Canards or Duck Island (names always sound better in French). This was one of the shore tours we had booked on our 9-night Explore the Loyalty Islands Cruise with P&O aboard the Pacific Explorer.
Adrien took us in a wide arc around the ship, allowing us to really appreciate the scale of her, before zooming off in the direction of a grassy promontory. Here, we were introduced to the last of the remaining goats on land that once belonged to the French military. Adrien duly informs us that her name is Billy which draws many laughs and the teaching of the term ‘Nanny’ for a female goat.
Twenty minutes later, we arrive at tiny Duck Island, a coral islet in Anse Vata Bay, where sun loungers have been reserved for us and an enticing snorkeling path awaits. We had our snorkeling gear with us, but for those without hire was available on the island.
Surrounded by a marine reserve it is the underwater world that is the main attraction here with an informative snorkeling trail setting out information on what to see at each of the 5 buoys that comprise the underwater trail. We were really impressed with both the health and diversity of coral and the great variety of fish we saw and spent at least an hour pottering about pointing out interesting coral, fish, clams, and practicing snorkel-speak. Although we didn’t see any, both turtles and small white tip reef sharks are said to be found here fairly often.
Noumea boasts the world’s largest enclosed lagoon and the world’s second-largest reef, so getting underwater is pretty much de rigueur for any visit here.
Once dry, the kids quickly acquainted themselves with the restaurant (which takes Australian dollars and makes tasty fries), and I explored the sculpture exhibit in the outdoor museum – Arts in the Trade Winds. Featuring works from 40 artists – both local and from throughout Oceania (including New Zealand) – and representing a range of media, the sculptures were a delightful addition to our visit. According to the information leaflet: “Artists were able to perform their work according to their desires and the spirit of the place” and this open brief is certainly evident in the eclectic collection on display.
A sincere effort has been made to blend the built environment into the natural world, including a large traditional fale, and composting toilets. Although we didn’t see any ducks, an area was fenced off to protect shorebirds that breed on the island.
Apparently, according to the friendly snorkel rental guy, the island was named after the ducks that were put there after the military took over their patch on the mainland. Another story states that ducks moved to the island to escape being hunted on the mainland. There is even disagreement about the name. Noumeans debate whether it should be called Ile aux canards (Island of ducks) or Îlot Canard (Duck Isle). Whatever the truth, Ile aux canards made for a very pleasant afternoon trip.
All too soon, Adrien returned and off we went for more high-speed twists and turns, popping briefly into two popular beaches we had visited earlier in the day on the Hop on Hop off bus.
Crystal clear Baie de Citrons and chic-shopping spot Anse Vata Beach are two other destinations that can be easily visited on a day stop in Noumea. The latter is where you can catch a direct water taxi across to Duck Island.
As we zoom around this boating paradise, glimpsing windsurfers and yachts enjoying the afternoon breeze, and thrilled to experience more of Adrien’s high-speed maneuvers, I wouldn’t have traded my time with the Frenchman and his zodiac for anything.
Tips for a first-time cruiser
- Do spend time researching the shore excursions available before you go, and pre-book any that you absolutely don’t want to miss, as they do fill up fast. Any onboard credit will be used first against the cost of these and registering a credit card makes it easy to pay for trips and any on-board expenses.
- Familiarise yourself with the theme nights occurring on your cruise – this will allow you to pack the right clothes and accessories so you can really get into all the activities.
- Be sure to download the onboard communication app prior to departure to make sure you can easily catch up with others in your party while onboard.