Both of us awoke trying to shake off the touch of melancholy at knowing this was to be our last island excursion before our cruise ended. But there was little point dwelling on it; today we had been promised another indulgent day on another New Caledonian island. How could we complain?
On our docking we were greeted with a landscape of skyscrapers and yachts, not a view we were all that familiar with since travelling. We had reached the rather westernized capital city of the french territory of New Caledonia: Noumea. However, today our final destination was to be a small touristy island called Amedee Lighthouse Island, noted by the locals for being a little island paradise with white sand beaches, abundant marine life, and of course its namesake, the Amedee Lighthouse.
During a quick bus ride to another pier, our accompanying local guide enthusiastically built our anticipation with descriptions of the islands’ wonderous beauty. “Paradise”, she called it, and our excitement grew as we envisioned a twin to the beautiful Ile des Pins we had just visited the day before. On arriving at the pier we joined the crowd of locals and other cruisers who, like ourselves, were fighting their way aboard an awaiting ferry. Not quite as luxurious as the pamphlets had described, we none-the-less wrestled our way to a fibreglass bench where we perched ourselves as one of many sardines squished together. But we kept smiling.
Even with the suffocating humidity, and steaming body heat, we kept smiling.
Even when the unholy stench of bad B.O from unshaven armpits wrinkled our nose, we kept smiling.
And when our guide decided it was time to warn us that when swimming at Amedee we would be sharing the water with the large number of poisonous sea snakes that inhabited the area, we kept smiling. (Somewhat).
And when the ferry hit the waves as if ploughing through concrete, and our butts smacked unceremoniously against the hard benches and each other, we gritted our teeth and kept smiling. A small price to pay to visit paradise, we thought.
“Paradise” I came to realise, meant different things to different people.
At first glimpse the little island with its lighthouse standing sentinel, looked rather forlorn. Granted, the lighthouse itself had stood there for 150 odd years and was excused for looking a little wanting, but even the trees seemed to somehow be drained of both colour and life-force. The sand was indeed white, but heavily littered with sharp pieces of coral, dead leaves, and the odd piece of broken glass. And “Paradise” surprisingly enough, had the unfortunate quirk of smelling a lot like sewage. (I later learnt this was likely due to the horrifying state of the public washrooms on the island).
One saving grace was the free beach chairs and umbrellas littering the beach. We eagerly set claim on two and went about getting ourselves set up for the day. After my discovery of broken glass on the beach, and the threat of poisonous snakes in the water, I was thinking this was one of the safest places to be.
There was however, a couple of activities I had wanted to do during the day. The first was climbing the steps of the Amedee Lighthouse. 241 steps (of which, I only counted 233), we made our way up the tight spiral staircase. 150 years old, Martin reminded me, as I questioned the sturdiness of the handrails and stairs. Dizziness threatened, and so it was with relief when we finally reached the top. Fighting against the wind we opened the solid iron door to lungfuls of fresh sea air and an amazing view of the lagoon, reef, and the petite little island we precariously perched on. However, other than the fresh sea air that he believed to be more like vengeful winds, it was all largely lost on Martin, as he pressed his back hard against the wall and swore, and swore, and swore, and swore. And then he was gone, leaving me to wonder how I’d never known he was petrified of heights before. To me, however, the view was striking, and worked to absolve the island of some of my earlier perceptions.
Next was another ferry ride, this time to explore part of the barrier reef where we were told we might see turtles, rays, or dolphins. This time we planned on boarding early and grabbing seats on the upper level of the ferry, hoping for the better views. After another bumpy and uncomfortable ride we arrived back at the island with a couple of blurry shots of a large fish, (groper maybe?), who was enticed into showing up by having chunks of bread thrown into the water for him. A little disappointed, but we recognized that no one had control over what wildlife we’d see.
And then it was lunch. Laid out for us was a huge array of salads, fruits, seafood, hot dishes and ice-cream, buffet style, while performers entertained us with Hawaiian, Fijian, Samoan dancing etc., and I wondered…where were the Karnak dancers? While Martin delighted in the huge array of food and made friends with a travelling Aussie, I hesitantly picked at the food on my plate and wondered how in keeping it was with my limited diet.
Retiring to the nice little camp we’d established for ourselves on the beach we took some time to laze and sunbathe. As Martin seemed to have found his true calling, I left him to take a quick trip on a glass bottom boat. More than a little sceptical at this point, I was thrilled on discovering that not ony did the glass bottom boat have a huge glass bottom, but with a little enticement from chunks of bread, the fish were more than eager to entertain. Three feet- long sucker fish stuck themselves to the bottom of the boat enjoying the free trip as we searched for black and white zebra fish, butterfly fish, and amazing multicoloured fish I could only guess at names for. It was all too soon before the bread had run out and we were taken back, again, to the island.
Joining Martin at our little camp I watched anxiously for snakes as he took a dip, and refused to take one myself out of …well…the sheer creepiness factor of coming face to face with one. Fair enough, I think, as it wasn’t long after when a fellow swimmer pulled a snake from the water and unwittingly decided to play with it. And it wasn’t long after that another one was spotted swimming a little further out. Or very long after that that I came across one on land slithering amongst the roots of a tree. No thank you!
Before long our time on Amedee Lighthouse Island was over and it was time to return once more to our ferry for another bouncy, uncomfortable, and this time rather wet, journey back to Noumea.
Looking back on our time spent on Amedee Lighthouse Island I feel a need to somewhat defend it against my rather negative overview. To be clear, it wasn’t that the island was devoid of beauty…in fact in places it was rather spectacular…but there were instances where you just had to search for it a little harder amongst all the nasty. I also came to realize that just maybe the word “Paradise” is flung around a little too willy-nilly…just a thought…