Ilot Mbe Kouen is a miniscule dot of white sand with a touch of green and a solitary palm tree; just like a comic book version of a desert island. But it isn't really in the middle of the ocean, it's only 12 nautical miles from Noumea and just inside New Caledonia's magnificent barrier reef. It is one of the best anchorages close to the barrier reef for protection from most winds and enjoys clear water with lots of living corals. On Friday morning we woke up to a glass smooth calm, perfect conditions for exploring new areas of the reef. So we zoomed off in the dinghy, with the reef and sand bottom perfectly visible right down to 8 or 10 metres, hunting for beauty-spots to try out my new over/under water Hero3 sphere image rig.
We circled round the eastern fringing reef of Mbe Kouen and found what looked like possible nice coral in the aerial photos was actually just a bed of very dark algae. The southeastern side of the lagoon islands is normally subjected to southeasterly waves and the coral is often broken or uninteresting. But there is a broad, 3 to 6 metre deep sandy area on the southeastern side of Mbe Kouen and I spotted some isolated coral heads and decided to have a look. The very first one we came to had a brilliant, flare of red on one side. It turned out to be a red octocoral -a sea fan of the genus Melithaea - and was huge in comparison to the very small specimens we sometimes see on the lagoon reefs.
I got my camera gear together and took a sphere image right next to the coral head, right at the surface to get a view of the island, the sea and sky and the underwater scene all at once. Well, not exactly all at once. I floundered around splashing and generally chasing away the little schools of fish while I tried to get in the right position (there was a slight current) and keep the rig perfectly vertical. I re-took the shot several times, totally focused on the camera rig. Meanwhile, while I was absorbed in technical details, Freddy swam around taking photos and checking out the reef life. She discovered that there was a rather large octopus directly under me. She said it was really curious as to what I was up to, turning round and around on the surface, and came right out on top of the coral to watch. I looked down and sure enough here was this great big octopus looking up at me. I just managed to get the camera pointed at it before it began to swim-crawl away. Obvously it was OK for it to watch me but not OK for me to be looking at it.
I really like octopus, they are fascinating to watch and there are hundreds of interesting stories about how smart they are. This one stuck around the whole time we were there and I am hoping to go back again and take some more images of it. I played with it by dangling the gopro in front of it on the end of a pole and it actually came out of it's burrow and grabbed the gopro - I have a very blury shot of a mass of tentacles and a bunch of images of the octopus reaching out to try to touch the gopro:
New Caledonia is the closest South Pacific Island to Australia and New Zealand. It is a French Territory and although the official language is French the culture is a blend of Melanesian, European, Polynesian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian, and more. There is one large mountainous island called Grande Terre and 6 smaller islands - the three Loyalty Islands, Belep and the Isle of Pines.The islands are remarkably unpopulated and there are vast areas of wilderness. There are hundreds of kilometers of walking treks, camp grounds, more than 42 parks and reserves, and crystal clear rivers with sparkling waterfalls. Almost one third of the population is located in the capital city of Noumea. Nickel mining is the primary industry and is the major contributor to the high standard of living in the country. Grande Terre is surrounded by the second largest barrier reef in the world and the protected lagoon created by this barrier reef is the largest in the world. Listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008, the lagoon is 24,000 square kilometers and supports a diverse and luxuriant fauna of fish and invertebrates.The vibrant, clear and rich colors are one of the first things that visitors notice when they arrive. Noumea has a complete range of hotels, resorts, restaurants, and activities to welcome visitors.