When stopping in Maré, New Caledonia, most cruise ship passengers opt to buy tickets for the shuttle to Yejele Beach. Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas promoted that shuttle quite heavily, encouraging everyone to buy tickets ahead of time so they could avoid a line at the port. The beach is on National Geographic’s list of top 5 beaches and the people we talked to who went there said it was a lovely beach and big enough not to feel as crowded as you would think when a ship unleashes over 3000 passengers after telling them there are no excursions and nowhere else to go.
We opted to skip the beach and walk to the natural aquarium which according to my pre-cruise research was somewhere between 2 and 3 kilometers down the same road that the busses take to the more distant beach. We came to shore on an early tender and though we saw busses loading we did not actually see any leave to know which way to go. We turned to the right. After passing by a market full of stalls where locals have things for sale and a bar we came to a roundabout and a seaside monument where someone had set up scooters for rent. We asked them which way to the natural aquarium and luckily one understood enough English to point to the road following the coast going in the same direction we had already headed, which was to the right when getting to the road from the dock area. New Caledonia is a French overseas territory so the people there speak French.
We saw nobody else walking on our way out of town, though every now and then one of the shuttle busses passed by. We went through a bit of a town which had some homes and a police station. We took note of the crumbling stairway into the sea across from an old abandoned stone house just past the police station as a possible place to snorkel on our way back.
While there is coral all along the shoreline and pretty much anywhere looks like a great place to snorkel, Maré is a raised coral atoll and most of the shoreline along that road dropped sharply off to the sea with no way to get down to all those fantastic little coral-filled bays.
An injured dog, probably a stray, came running up to us on 3 legs barking. He seemed quite friendly and had a happy expression despite holding up a leg and wounded or infected ears. We had nothing to feed him, but he followed us for awhile anyway until a local out for a walk came by going the other direction and the dog opted to follow him instead.
Farther down the road two more dogs ran from a house to the roadside barking. These looked well cared for and stayed in the yard to that house so they probably lived there. They just barked, but never acted aggressively at all. We saw a different dog by the shore on the way back.
Along the way there were a lot of little burn spots on the sea side of the road where all the people living across the street from each spot appeared to burn their garbage. The other side of the road had one place with quite a large burned area, full of partially burned trees. Hard to say if it was intentional or a burn pile that got out of control. The sea side had lots of coconut trees, some papayas, and many tropical flowers in a mixture of other plants. The land side of the road had mostly homes. Some quite nice, some with a more slapped together look, and one traditional style hut.
Where a road came to a T with the one we were on a sign proclaimed the direction we were going as the way to the Aquarium Naturel. It had a lot of other info on it too as to what was in each direction on that road, but nothing for the one connecting there. Continuing on we came to a corner with a guardrail covered in graffiti and followed that around the bend, continuing our journey toward the natural aquarium. We saw lots of beautiful coves with no way down the steep rock edges of the island to get into them for snorkeling. Many places had picturesque views of our ship. Eventually we found a place that looked like we could probably climb down to the water, but it was far enough from anyone or anything that if we tried that and couldn’t get back out we’d be on our own. It would be quite a long swim from there back to the crumbling stairway if that happened and nowhere in between had looked even remotely accessible so we decided it would be best to go to the spot with the stairway. That one spot was the first and only place we saw beyond the town area where getting in and out of the water even looked possible.
Somewhere along the way we came to a place that looked like a cemetery. It had a log fence, open in the middle. A bit beyond the fence a tall totem pole guarded the grave area behind a cement wall. Rather than an entire cemetery, the walled in area held just one crypt. A smaller wood carving near the totem pole depicted a very unhappy looking man holding a woman who was probably dead so we figured it must be the grave of a woman. The plaque by the totem pole gave the name Jean Marie with a 2009 date. There was other stuff written there, but it was all in French. Nearby a new cement platform could have been another crypt under construction or possibly just the foundation for a house.
We passed 2K and then 3K on my Garmin watch without seeing any sign of the natural aquarium. At about 3.2 K we came upon a white sign shaped like an arrow pointing to the sea. It said Aquarium Naturel on it, but the area there just had a couple picnic tables. The sign did say RM 2 which must have been the distance from there to the actual entry as another 0.2K down the road from there we came to a paved loop off to the right. This loop led to a trail into the woods. Down that trail we found the Natural Aquarium. It’s a big pool in the trees, surrounded by tall coral rock just the same as the seaside.
We walked up to the edge and looked down into the water. Obviously used to people coming to feed them, fish gathered expectantly below. As cruise ship passengers not allowed to bring food ashore we had nothing more to give them than we had for the poor dog, which was nothing. Throwing a bit of crumbled leaves in the water got the fish all excited, mobbing it until they discovered it wasn’t actually food and swam off in disappointment.
The aquarium is just for looking at and not for swimming in. Besides having no way into it short of jumping, which would leave no way out, swimming there is not allowed. It is worth seeing though for anyone who doesn’t mind the 7K round trip walk (or who comes via the local’s van tour offered at the port or by rented bike or scooter.) Walking there and back is quite a nice hike. The area is very scenic.
Since we came to shore early in the morning on the first tender it wasn’t too hot during our walk, which was nice because most of the way had no shade. On the way back we saw a few other passengers on their way there, probably spaced far enough apart that that each pair would get to see the natural aquarium by themselves unless someone came by a faster method while they were there. They all asked us how far it was, which ranged from nearly there for the first people we came across to a long way yet for the last ones.
We walked faster on the way back, not stopping to take photos or investigating any possible points of entry to the sea. When we got back to the town area and the stairway it was no longer deserted as it had been on the way out. There were a few people sitting on the stairs and a local doctor came down, donned his snorkel gear, and took off out into the water while we were getting situated.
The stairs seemed embedded with quite a lot of glass so we wore the aquasox we had with us, though at that location it would have been better if we had brought fins because the best snorkeling from that spot was farther offshore and it did have a bit of a current.
Not far from the stairway we saw military people refueling a helicopter from big metal barrels. Just a bit down the road from there near a white house with a red roof a little trail through the grass led to a place where some people had discovered rocks they could climb down all the way to the sea. On one side water crashed over the rocks in a torrent and stirred up what otherwise would have been a peaceful bay, but on the side where they could get to the sea they had a pretty sheltered little cove in which to snorkel and swim. It wouldn’t be big enough for very many people, but there were just a few of them so they had a good time.
Looks like a nice place to visit. If it’s a French Island do they get any of the good cheese from France?
No idea. The only place to shop that we saw was the booths near the pier and we didn’t look to see what anybody had for sale. There must be stores somewhere on the island where the locals buy groceries, but we didn’t see them.