Ilot Kouare is a small uninhabited islet in the World Heritage Site of New Caledonia's Lagoon, about 40 nautical miles southeast of Noumea. A maze of vibrant coral reefs surround the islet and here, in the summer, thousands of species of fish and invertebrates assemble to breed in the clear protected waters.
A few pleasure boats from Noumea venture this far into the southern lagoon during weekends and holidays. Kouare has a reasonably good lagoon anchorage with plenty of open sand areas in 6 to 7 metres of water to anchor in.
The fringing reef is lush with brilliantly colored corals from awash at low tide to 6 meters of water. Snorkelling along the reef is an absolute delight with sea turtles, shoals of sardines, tropical fish of every description, brilliant sea fans and even a small white tip reef shark Triaenodon obesus that glided by as I was taking this underwater panorama of the coral reef. It swam around the coral mound three times. The third time it vanished behind the coral I quickly finned over, dove down, and waited for it to come around for another pass. I wanted a nice close-up of it just coming over the reef, next to a plate coral. It had come exactly the same way each time.
I waited and waited, Freddy staying well back so as not to frighten it, until I could not hold my breath any longer. I surfaced and there was no shark in sight. "Where's the shark?" I called out to Freddy.
"It came up just on the other side of the coral head from you then somehow knew you were there."
"Which way did it go?" I asked swimming over to her.
"It stopped just before it came over the coral and then turned and swam off as fast as it could go - that way, along the reef. You really scared it."
I have no idea how it knew I was lying in wait. Perhaps the shark's lateral line motion sensors picked up some slight movement. Maybe it is just one of those things - like when you look at someone who is turned away from you and somehow they know - even at some distance - and turn around and look right into your eyes.
Since this part of the World Heritage Site management plan allows for fishing - even spear fishing - the critters are hyper sensitive and if you look directly at them or try to approach them they keep their distance. Which is just as well.
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.