Tony Clarke - a birder who resides on Tenerife, Canary Islands.
Tony is available to arrange and guide private or group tours to New Caledonia.
Cameron Mitchell - a natural history artist specialising in birds, from Sydney in Australia.
We departed from Sydney on Qantas/Air Calin flight QF 365 at 12.20 (only 15 minutes late) bound for Noumea in New Caledonia. We landed on time and were soon through the formalities of passport control and customs. It was not necessary for either British or Australian citizens to get a visa for entry. Customs were a little strict about what could be brought into New Caledonia in the way of food produce but the bread and tinned food I had brought from Australia was no problem. We also had to declare that we had tents with us but as they were clean and did not have large amounts of soil attached to the ground sheet they were allowed through as well. We then sorted out our car reservation with the girl at the Hertz desk, and we were on our way. As there was only an hour or so of daylight remaining we decided to head into Noumea and locate the hotel we would be using later in the trip. This was easy enough as Noumea is not the urban sprawl that I was expecting it to be. Next door to the hotel was a bar so we decided to have a couple of beers, and we soon discovered how expensive New Caledonia is. Aus$5 for a small glass of draught beer, obviously we wouldn't be drinking much at those prices. We then had a pizza in a nearby café before leaving Noumea and heading towards the Parc Territorial de la Rivière Bleue, the main site on New Caledonia for the national bird - the Kagu. As expected the gate to the reserve was closed, and so we drove back towards the main road and camped just before the junction.
We awoke early thanks to a very loud dawn chorus and we soon discovered the culprit, our first endemic of the trip - Dark-brown (Silver-eared) Honeyeater. As Rivière Bleue didn't open until 07.00 we just birded for a while around where we had camped but apart from the very common Dark-brown Honeyeaters, an individual Rufous Whistler and a few Rainbow Lorikeets we saw very little. As we were taking down our tents a car pulled up, and the guy driving informed us that there was an official campsite back just off the main road, we never did find it. This friendly guy just happened to work in the Parc Territorial and spoke a reasonable amount of English and so we took our chance to ask a few questions. When we got to the Parc gate it was still not open but soon someone arrived to collect our entry fee, 500 Francs for the vehicle and 100 Francs per person. The guy we had just met was also at the gate, and we asked him about the whereabouts of Yves Létocart; apparently he is not available on weekends so we would just have to wait until early next week. I was hoping that Yves might have a tape of the grassbird, as I knew that this species might cause a problem. We spent the whole of the day within the park, and we saw quite a few of the more common species as well as getting our first views of Kagu. Little did we know but we were to see this species many times during our time in the park. We pitched camp at the Pont Germain picnic area where there was a tap for drinking water, a toilet and a river to swim in as well as sheltered tables and fire places. This really is a nice place to camp whilst exploring the park. Our evening meal consisted of what was to become our staple diet whilst on New Caledonia, sandwiches, as these were relatively inexpensive to produce and certainly needed no great effort to prepare.
We birded around Rivière Bleue for the morning, and then in the afternoon we drove to the East coast and birded the area around Yaté in the hope of a White-bellied Goshawk. The main reason for leaving Rivière Bleue was that it is closed on Mondays so we could not spend the night in the reserve. Unfortunately, we didn't find the Goshawk, but we did get a few seabirds and some excellent views of Red-faced Parrot Finch. We then drove back to Noumea to get something to eat before driving up to Monts Koghis where we pitched our tents in the car park by the Auberge du Mts. Koghis, the rather expensive hotel on the edge of the forest. I will add here that there are no facilities for camping in this area, and also we asked permission at the hotel before pitching the tents. This was another night when we didn't have to pay for any accommodation.
We spent most of the day up at Monts Koghis, the only break being in the middle of the day when things got a bit quiet and we drove back to Noumea and spent a couple of hours being slack on the beach. Also we made some enquiries about the ferry across to Lifou at the tourist information office. The girl here was very helpful and spoke good English, but unfortunately she informed us that there were currently no ferries operating between Grande Terre and Lifou although one was due to start operating again soon. Ok, so it looks as though we are going to fly to Lifou.
I had been told that it should be easy enough to find the New Caledonian Crow in the region of Mts. Koghis, but after spending so much time looking I am beginning to think that I must be doing something wrong. I tried both in the forest and looking over the forest from the car park but neither of these methods were successful. This evening we again pitched our tents in the car park of the Auberge du Mts. Koghis.
This morning I left Cameron to have some extra sleep, and I headed up to the fern covered slopes beyond the Notou Chalet which is a favoured area of the New Caledonian Grassbird. When I got there I was rather surprised to find another birder already on site. It was Richard Hopf, a North American birder who had spent the night in the Notou Chalet. We had a long chat about things in general, and I was pleased that I was not the only one who couldn't find the New Caledonian Crow in this area. Also neither of us had even a peep out of a grassbird but then that was to be expected.
I went back down to join Cameron for a late breakfast and to get the tents down as we were heading back to Rivière Bleue to look for the species which had eluded us during our first visit. Prior to this though we decided to return to Noumea to see if we could organise our flights across to Lifou and Ouvéa to look for the specialities on those islands. Just as we were about to pull out of the car park Richard appeared, and we made arrangements to meet up with him the following day at Rivière Bleue. It was a good job that we did decide to sort out the flights as we were unable to get the dates that we would have liked because of school holidays and all the flights were fully booked. Still, after a little messing with dates we finally worked things out and settled on the arrangement that we would do Lifou together, and then I would go on to Ouvéa and Cameron would return to Noumea as there was nothing of interest for him on Ouvéa. I should add here that it was not easy finding someone who spoke English in the Air Calédonie office so be warned. My flight from Noumea to Lifou to Ouvea to Noumea cost a total of 22,620 Francs.
We returned to Parc Provincial de la Rivière Bleue where our friend Joelle was on the gate. He informed us that we would be able to meet Yves in the morning, and he assured us that he would give him a message if we had not made contact before 08.00 near the bridge at Pont Perignon. So we spent the rest of the afternoon birding in Rivière Bleue and made camp again in the area at Pont Germain.
The early morning was spent around the camp area at Pont Germain, and then we headed towards the bridge at Pont Perignon to meet up with Yves. On the way we passed Richard Hopf who was on his way into the reserve, and we mentioned that we were due to meet with Yves. He continued on his way and so did we. Contact was made with Yves, and we were invited to join them in a search for Crow Honeyeater in an area of the Parc which was off limits to the general public. Despite a thorough search we did not locate a single Crow Honeyeater in an area where Yves had previously seen many birds. Yves is very worried about the current decline in the population of Crow Honeyeater, and it is now a very difficult bird to find. We were on our way back to Pont Germain when I saw a Crow Honeyeater fly across the road in front of us. Having avoided a near accident with the guys behind us we leapt from the vehicles and tried to capture one of the birds present. After about half an hour it was clear that the birds were not going to go into the net and so we gave up the attempt. During this time I had tried to locate Rich but I was unable to locate him or his car. When we did finally meet with him again the birds were long gone from the area where we had seen them. During the afternoon we tried the area around the Grand Kaori and we located another Crow Honeyeater, lucky for Rich. We had bought some supplies of beer from one of the local supermarkets, and so this evening was a minor celebration, even though the beer had to be 'chilled' in the river at Pont Germain. All in all an excellent day.
We set out just before dawn this morning in order to meet up with Yves again to try a catch a Crow Honeyeater. On the way there were Kagus everywhere, I almost lost count of the amount we saw. As it started to get light we set up the net and during this process Yves heard a New Caledonian Crow. He played the call and there they were two small crows with chisel shaped bills. At this point the Crow Honeyeaters appeared and proceeded to chase off the crows. We played the tape, but this morning they were not interested and they disappeared back into the forest as quickly as they had appeared. We then did some good off track birding with Yves but we didn't really see very much considering the amount of effort expended. So it was back to the Pont Germain camp to try for Mountain Greybird as Yves told us that a pair had nested there the previous season. Sure enough as we got out of the car one bird called, I quickly played the tape and then there it was in full view. Not the best looking of birds but the last one we could see around this area unless we jammed a grassbird. As it was now getting fairly late in the day we decided to stay another night at Pont Germain and then leave early tomorrow to head for Sarraméa. During the afternoon I tried to contact Pierre Primot about the trip to Ouvéa but he was out of the office. Thanks to Joelle it was arranged that I would ring him at 08.00 in the morning.
I set off early this morning to try and record Kagu but for some reason the birds that were calling yesterday morning in the vicinity of the canoes did not call this morning. So I continued onto the entrance gate and made my phone call to Pierre. He said that he could sort out everything and to ring again about 16.30 this afternoon. I drove back to Pont Germain, and we packed the tents away and set off for Sarraméa. The journey took about three hours from Rivière Bleue and as soon as we got to the hotel Évasion 130 we saw a crow. Are they always this easy here? We then birded along the road in the region of Col d'Amieu before returning to the hotel Évasion 130. This time we saw two crows in the garden and then a group of six in a nearby field. Perhaps they really are easy here, it certainly looks like a good site for this species. I made my phone call to Pierre and everything had been arranged so that was good news. As it was getting late we left this area and headed for the beach at Ouano, this was an area in where we could camp free for the night. As this was a holiday weekend the camping at Ouano was fairly busy but we eventually found somewhere to put our tents up although we had to share the area with a few mosquitoes.
I awoke at dawn to the familiar sound of a Dark-brown Honeyeater, and as there was very little background noise I decided to get up and record the bird. Then I explored the local area of grassland and coast. We then drove back into Noumea and went for a look around the zoo at Parc Forestier before heading back up to Monts Koghis where we planned to spend the night. On our arrival it was clear that something was going on at the hotel as we could hear loud disco music being played. We went up to the grassbird area and waited around for about an hour but without luck and so back to the car to sort out where to spend the night. By now it was clear that some sort of major party was planned for this evening in the hotel, so rather than getting disturbed by the revellers we decided to move out, and the nearest place mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide was the beach campsite at Enghoué. Again the area was fairly busy because of the holiday weekend but we paid our 200 Francs and found somewhere to pitch the tents, no mosquitoes here.
I did a bit of birding around the campsite in the early morning and the best bird was a New Caledonian Crow. We went back into Noumea and found our best route to get to the domestic airport at Magenta. Then Cameron checked into his hotel, the Hotel Ibis. He asked what the charge would be for me to use the room as well and we were pleasantly surprised to be told that there would be no extra charge. So I moved in as well. The reason for Cameron having a hotel for three nights was that it came with the package he bought in Australia. So after having a well-earned shower and a brief siesta I went off to try my luck seawatching - it was better than I had hoped. The evening meal was a pizza in the café near the hotel, and we had a few beers in our room to avoid having to pay the expensive bar prices.
Up early as we had to be at Magenta airport by 05.30 to check-in for our flight ATR 201 to Lifou. This went smoothly enough, and the flight left on time at 06.30. It was only a short hop to Lifou, and we landed on time at 07.05. We headed directly out to the area where all the birds could be seen and by 09.30 we had cleaned up. So what to do for the rest of the day until our flight off? Basically we just killed time in the general area of the airport. Cameron decided to slack it off in the shade while I tried to get some recordings of the birds. I taped one call which I thought might be the endemic race of the Golden Whistler but whatever it was it didn't respond as quickly as a whistler normally does. I persevered, and eventually I noticed that the bird responding to the tape was in fact a Large Lifou White-eye. Rather pleased at getting this bird on tape I returned to the airport and hung around until it was time to check in. Both Cameron and I were on the same flight due to depart at 16.30 to Noumea via Ouvéa. I got off at Ouvéa and Cameron continued back to Noumea. Pierre had arranged for me to be met at the airport by the owner of a gîte where I was going to camp for the night. I went out of the airport and waited and waited and waited, there was no sign of anyone, and soon I was the only person waiting, and they were closing the airport for the night. Pierre had not given me a contact number for the owner of this place, so all I could do was wait. Also he hadn't given me the name which would have been useful as I could perhaps of got a lift with somebody. So what to do now? Fortunately there was a local guy who spoke fairly good English and I explained my situation. He turned out to be one of the airport workers and so opened up the terminal building and went to make a few phone calls on my behalf. After a few minutes he came back and said that everything was sorted, and that the guy was on his way. Sure enough about 10 minutes later a car came along and took me to where I was staying. I pitched my tent in his garden and settled down for an early night as I had not had much sleep the night before.
I was up fairly early even though I was not due to be picked up until 09.00. The beach nearby was really what you expect from the South Pacific, white sand and crystal clear blue sea but no seabirds apart from the odd Wedge-tailed Shearwater. 09.00 came and went but no sign of Maurice who was to be my guide to see the recently split Ouvéa Parakeet. My host at the gîte made a few phone calls and discovered that Maurice was on his way so I felt a little more relieved even though it was warming up rapidly, and we had lost any chance of any early morning activity. At about 09.45 a guy wandered into the garden and beckoned me to go with him, he didn't speak English and I don't speak French but I went with him. When we got to the vehicle in which this guy was travelling I met Maurice, and we were off to find the Parakeet. After a rather rough drive down a few tracks somewhere the middle of Ouvéa we reached a point where we could drive no further. Maurice informed me that this was an area for the parakeet, and sure enough we soon heard one. A short walk into the forest, and I was shown a nest hole, and then a parakeet flew into view. Despite the few problems with the organisation it now seemed all worthwhile as I got some excellent views of a pair of these rare birds, and I also managed to make a recording of them as well. Also whilst in this area I got a recording of the Golden Whistler which sounds nothing like the Australian one and doesn't look much like it either. By eleven o'clock I was back at the gîte, paid my 1,000 Francs for the guide who incidentally was compulsory but did nothing and gave Maurice a donation towards the conservation fund for the parakeet. I spent the rest of the day on the beach before being dropped at the airport to catch my flight back to Noumea. This left a few minutes later than its scheduled departure time of 18.05, and I got back to Noumea at about 18.50. We had left the car at the airport and so I was soon back at the hotel for Cameron's last night on New Caledonia.
I dropped Cameron at the airport and then continued towards the east coast and the area around Ponérihouen which is where Yves suggested that I looked for the grassbird, as they are supposed to be more common on the east coast than anywhere else on New Caledonia. On the way I called in at Sarraméa just to see if I could find a crow as easily as before - I could. So I continued to the coast, but where to start looking for the grassbird? I found lots of suitable looking habitat in various areas and decided to just try to cover them as thoroughly as possible. By the end of the afternoon I had about the same amount of luck as on Monts Koghis, so now where to stay? The Lonely Planet guide mentioned a campsite on the beach near the village of Tiakan; this was an ideal place to base myself for the next couple of days.
Today I spent the whole day checking suitable looking areas for the grassbird with exactly the same result as before, no sign what so ever. Spent the night at the campsite again. It would be possible to get away with a night free here as the owners don't seem to be strict about checking on people camping. Still they only charged me 500 Francs which was less than it said in the guide so I didn't complain.
Spent the early morning around Tiakan and then drove back to Noumea via Sarraméa. Spent the last couple of hours of daylight catching up on some shopping in Noumea before returning to Monts Koghis.
The first 5 hours this morning were my last real chance for the grassbird, and yet again I failed! So I went back to Noumea for a couple of hours before driving back to the airport to catch the flight back to Sydney. This all went to schedule, and I landed back on Australian soil at about 22.00.
From Noumea take the road towards Yaté, after about 40km turn left to the park entrance (this is signposted). Most of the best birding was between where the forest starts and the campsite/picnic area at Pont Germain. Kagu was seen at many places, but the most reliable areas were at the campsite/picnic areas at Gué de la Pourina and Pont Germain although if the area at Pont Germain was relatively quiet you could see them there as well. Crow Honeyeater was seen near the canoe rental area and by the Grand Kaori tree.
From Noumea take the road towards Yaté off the motorway, Monts Koghis is signposted at this junction (as is Rivière Bleue). Then immediately after the first bridge over the Yaté road you must turn right. I missed this turning once, and getting back onto the correct road wasn't easy. Once you've negotiated this junction then just follow the signs until you get to the car park. There is a good system of trails in the forest, but most of my time was spent in the bracken area above the Notou chalet looking for the grassbird.
Take the motorway north-west out of Noumea and continue along this road until you reach the town of La Foa. A few kilometres after the town take the turn to the right signposted Sarraméa. Once in the village follow the signs for the hotel Évasion 130. Anywhere around the hotel should be good for the crow.
Coming from La Foa towards Noumea then the turning to Ouano Beach is signposted about 15km from La Foa. From the turning off the main road it is about 10km to the beach. At the T-junction turn right to a campsite or left for free camping and better birding. Obviously, as this is a coastal area, it is better for birding when the tide is not full in.
The small zoological garden in Noumea, worth a visit if by any chance you don't get Kagu or Crow Honeyeater. This area is on Route Stratégique just below the summit of Mont Montravel and is marked on the town maps of Noumea.
This "town" is on the east coast about 276km from Noumea and was an area I tried, as Yves Létocart said that the grassbird was easier on the east coast. I searched for a couple of days but I didn't get any luck. Most of my birding in this area was done on the side roads to Goa, St-Yves and Tchamba. The road to Goa is south of the bridge at Ponérihouen, and that to St-Yves is to the north. The Vallée de Tchamba is signposted from the road north of Ponérihouen after about 10km.
Very easy and can be done in a few hours on foot. Walk away from the airport and you soon come to a turning on the left towards Jokin, ignore this and carry on walking for about another 400 metres to the next turning left which is signposted towards Nathalo (spelled Hnathalo on my map). Birding from this junction in either direction for about 400 metres should produce all the species you need to see on Lifou. We cleaned up in just over an hour!
No directions available as I was taken to the area where I saw the parakeet.
We birded on both the roads to Mamié and the one through Wao to Touaourou. The latter was definitely the most productive, and we birded in all the habitats we could find, including the beach area at Touaourou.
New Caledonia is a very expensive place to visit and is probably best done as a package deal from Australia or as an extension to an Australian trip.
When I was there the exchange rate was about 69F to the A$ and around 100F to the US$. Credit cards were widely accepted around the hotels etc. but we just used cash and holes in the wall.
My car hire was 90,000F for the two weeks and was organised from Australia. It was unlimited kilometres, but if you are on a trip of shorter duration it might work out cheaper to pay the ordinary rate plus the additional kilometres, if you can plan your route well. Petrol cost 98.6F a litre for unleaded.
This was expensive but campsites are commonplace and normally provide good facilities. Obviously the cheapest option is to wild camp which can be done quite easily in most areas we visited. Richard Hopf told us that the prices of the chalets at Monts Koghis were an absolute rip-off, but the rats seemed to be included in the price.
If you like a beer in the evening after a hard day in the field then stay out of the bars as these are also hellishly expensive. Buying what you need from a local supermarket is a much cheaper option but you can't keep it that cool. We used to use the river at the Pont Germain campsite, which at least stopped them from getting too warm.
Yves Létocart - he works in the Parc Provincial de la Rivière Bleue but can also be contacted via
BP 5023 Plum
Mont Dore 98810
Phone/Fax (687) 434062
Pierre Primot - he is involved with the conservation work on the Ouvéa Parakeet and can make the arrangements for you to get to see this species. He can be contacted via
Service Vétérinaire, Province des Iles Loyauté
BP 50 Wé
Phone (687) 455168
Species underlined are endemic to New Caledonia, and those marked with * were new species for me.
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