For a really great day out in New Caledonia getting amongst the flora and fauna, take a big memory card for your camera and head south.
Blue River National Park sprawls over 9000 hectares of bright orange, mineral-rich soil. But it’s so incredibly much more than that.
I met up with local and legendary tour guide Francois Tran who is so in love with rocks and plants that he almost turned me into botanist. Or an archeologist. Or something.
He added me to his collection of tourists from Australia in his big white van and off we bounced up the road into the park, stopping at a fabulous lookout where he pulled some example rocks from his nap sack and showed us the wealth that lay beneath our feet.
New Caledonia actually sits on a massive undersea ridge that stretches all the way from New Zealand. However this country is rich (literally) with minerals, while we seem to have just gotten Pineapple Lumps.
The whole of Noumea is built on reclaimed land, which I didn’t know. And it’s made of the nickel slag from the mining that has been happening since nickel was discovered here in 1863. But that’s not all. Copper and iron are also plentiful. But what makes the soil red is the bauxite and sulphur.
Sugarcane used to be the biggest industry but with nickel worth upwards of €20,000 per ton on any given day, sugar cane is now a garden plant that kids chew on for fun.
Francois has captivated me with his rocks and soil and next he makes plants seem like a Bear Grylls discovery mission. Did you know that new baby leaves out here are red? This is a natural sunscreen. The flowers also have no scent because it’s very alkaline out here they’re not competing with each other for pollination.
He stops the bus to leap out and show us a leaf with a hook on its end and a flower that eats insects. His passion is infectious and I can only hope this post is letting you in on how remarkable this part of New Caledonia’s south really is.
But the real highlight was meeting the rare kagu.
This curious and flightless bird is about as big as a kiwi, but it comes out during the day and is very interested in what we’re up to. It hisses like a cat and barks like a dog and has delicate little toes that feel for bugs moving under the soil. They live in family groups of up to about 5, before teens are kicked out and sent flatting. They also require about 20 hectares per family and the kids stay home until they’re 7 or 8 years old.
Amazingly they have come back from the brink of extinction (from 60 to the current number of 1500) thanks to some rigorous protection here in the national park.
If you want to meet Francois and join one of his tours, he doesn’t have a website, so send him an email on caledoniatours @ lagoon.nc. And tell him I sent you!