Pilotage Information for Vanuatu and New Caledonia
Based on a cruise in 2009 (Some information from 2001)
Many cruisers spend a southern winter cruising season (May – November) in Vanuatu and/or New Caledonia, having spent the summer in either New Zealand or Australia.
In general, the cyclone season in the area is considered to have ended by the end of April. The winter highs which build over the center of Australia move further north, periodically drifting across the northern Tasman Sea and helping to build the southeast trade winds over the area. The fronts which sweep across the southern Tasman Sea during the winter do affect New Caledonian waters when they are strong and occasionally reach the southern islands of Vanuatu. These fronts bring northwesterlies followed by southwesterlies. The trade winds in the area tend to be stronger in El Nino years and weaker in a La Nina. Northern Vanuatu waters are often affected by the tropical convergence zone when it slides southward, bringing rain and variable winds, often northerlies.
From New Zealand: In the early part of the season the weather in the Tasman can still be very volatile, with depressions moving across the Tasman Sea both from the Queensland coast and from Bass Strait. Occasionally these even develop from ‘bubbles’ in the generalised low pressure in the tropics, dropping down to the northeast of New Zealand. Often the ideal time to depart from Opua or Auckland is on the back of a front which has just crossed the country, with a moderately stable high approaching from Australia. These conditions give good southerlies and an opportunity to get up into the trade winds before any further fronts, while the high should block the development of depressions for a time. Later in the season, though there are still fronts crossing New Zealand, conditions further north often become more stable and the southerlies ahead of approaching highs give good opportunities to get north.
From Queensland: The passage from Australia, though shorter, is generally more difficult, as the Queensland ports are mostly already in the trade wind belt. If it is intended to cruise both New Caledonia and Vanuatu, it may be best to head for the latter first, as this gives a better sailing angle on the prevailing southeasterly winds, especially if one clears in at Luganville rather than Port Vila. Caution: If headed for Vanuatu from Queensland, great care is required to avoid all the sizeable reefs which extend northwestward from New Caledonia. Some yachts stop in Chesterfield and/or D’Entrecasteaux Reefs. Though there are quite good charts of both these reef areas, the charted positions are not to be relied on for GPS navigation. As a further ‘political’ warning, even Chesterfield Reef is considered to be French territory and the D’Entrecasteaux Reefs are certainly part of New Caledonia. If you stop in either without a permit prior to clearing into the country and are observed by French patrols, you may have problems when you later clear in to New Caledonia.
If headed for New Caledonia from Queensland, there is sometimes a hiatus in the southeasterlies as the western side of a high passes the Queensland coast, bringing northeasterlies or even northerlies and lighter winds. The risk is that a trough may develop in this area of slacker pressure. These can be quite volatile, especially if a stronger high is following to the west. Unfortunately, the most likely conditions for this passage are southeasterlies, making it a beat all the way to Noumea.
From Fiji: A few cruisers who are on a fast track circumnavigation and have left Panama early in the cruising season, may head on to Vanuatu or New Caledonia or both from Fiji, with the intention of stopping in Queensland for cyclone season. So long as these passages are made in fairly settled trade wind conditions they should present no problems.
Vanuatu, formerly the New Hebrides, is composed of a string of volcanic islands extending from 19:30 S to 13:00 S. These are generally high islands without enclosing reefs. There are relatively few typically tropical, white sand beaches, most are black sand. There are some attractive reef anchorages, but most are in roadsteads protected from the prevailing winds either by reefs or small islands. Anchorages are often quite deep and reef pilotage can be difficult because of black sand bottoms. Fishing between the islands can be excellent, though the introduction of commercial long-liners to Vanuatu waters has had an impact. In general, it is best not to fish in reef areas, as this impacts on local villagers and may be taboo. There are many excellent dive spots.
Though many of the islands are scenically attractive with lush volcanic landscapes and several active volcanoes, the primary reasons for cruising Vanuatu are social and cultural. The country is very poor, even by South Pacific standards. Outside the capital, Port Vila, and the one other main town, Luganville, the villagers of Vanuatu do not generally have ‘jobs’. They lead subsistence lives and particularly in the north, barter is the primary form of exchange rather than money. This is gradually changing as communication improves and the tourist industry becomes stronger. The people of Vanuatu have been judged the ‘happiest in the world’. Considering their poverty this may seem strange. However, in our experience they are some of the most welcoming, friendly and open people we have met in 12 years of world cruising. They have fascinating and varied cultural traditions of which they are proud. At the same time they are interested in outsiders and welcoming to them. The primary reason for visiting Vanuatu is to visit the remote villages and relate to the villagers. If you don’t enjoy this kind of cruising, Vanuatu is not for you.
In most village anchorages, pirogues will come out to you. Generally they are very good about their approaches and will wait until they are sure you want to talk to them. Often a village will have an ‘ambassador’, who will approach you. They usually speak quite good English and will act as your guide to the village. In most villages, you will be expected to have someone accompanying you everywhere you go; these may be adults or children. They will make sure that you don’t infringe any taboos or private places. They will also happily answer and ask questions about anything and everything.
In most, but not all villages, it is expected that you will give a small gift to the chief as a mark of respect. This will not be kava, as in Fiji, but might be a t-shirt, baseball cap, packet of biscuits or can of corned beef. Once you have been introduced to the chief, you are under his protection while in, or anchored off, the village. If you have a problem over something relating to the village go back to him about it. At most village anchorages security is not a problem. In the towns, it is best to take normal precautions.
We generally give a small gift of some kind to any person who helps us or gives up their time to guide us. If you go on longer side trips you will probably have to pay in cash for guiding; agree this beforehand. In the southern and central islands increasingly transactions are for money, even for fruit and vegetables, as well as for crafts and services. In the northern islands, trading and gift exchange is more common. Common trade/gift items are t-shirts, shorts, baseball caps, fishing gear, school supplies, sewing materials, batteries (D) and rice. We also carry smarties/m&ms and small toys for children.
Fuel and LPG are only definitely available in Port Vila and Luganville.
Charting for Vanuatu is very varied in detail and quality. There are a range of Admiralty charts for the whole area, mostly based on old surveys. In addition, there are a number of more detailed DMA charts based on surveys by the US Navy during WW II when there was a large American military presence in the islands. Charting for the northern islands is mostly small scale. None of the charts are WGS 84 and they cannot be used reliably for GPS navigation. The charts have a variety of different datums.
We have used two cruising guides for Vanuatu. The printed Miz Mae Guide and the Tusker Guide on CD. Both these guides are now rather dated in their descriptive information. The quality of the navigational information varies. Some of the waypoints given are not at all accurate, others are. We would discourage any absolute reliance on the information or sketches in either guide. However, they are of some use in planning and can be used with sensible caution for approaching anchorages. The information about chiefs of villages, security, etc. is often out of date.
In Vanuatu, as elsewhere, Warwick Clay’s, South Pacific Anchorages can also be useful. We generally find that his anchorage positions are more realistic in terms of depth and positioning relative to the shore and reefs, than many other guides; however, his lat/long positions are no more than approximations. The Lonely Planet Guide is also useful for its descriptions of sights and activities available in the towns and villages.
We understand that a third guide for Vanuatu on CD has recently been produced. We have been told that this is both more accurate and more comprehensive, but the guide is also expensive. We have not seen the guide ourselves and are not sure whether it is available anywhere other than Port Vila.
(Please check with Noonsite or other reliable source for up-to-date information on official requirements and procedures)
Ports of Entry, from south to north:
Port Vila, Efate
Luganville, Espiritu Santo
Sola, Vanua Lava, Banks Group
In addition, it is possible to clear in at Anelgauhat (various spellings) at the island of Aneityum (Anatom on the charts), if a cruise ship is present. However, this procedure is not encouraged by officials.
Many cruisers prefer to clear in at Tanna, as the most up-wind port of entry. Unfortunately, Lenakel itself, on the west side of Tanna, has a very poor and exposed anchorage. However, there is an accepted alternative. Port Resolution on the east side is well protected and yachts may anchor here. Sometimes the officials may then come across by road to complete clearance procedures, for which they will require reimbursement for transportation. More commonly, the master makes the road trip to Lenakel and back. This takes most of a day, on a very rough road. Take a cushion to sit on! During the season there are often several boats waiting to clear in and their masters will be taken by a pickup as a group, keeping costs down. At present, this is all arranged by Stanley in Port Resolution village. Having cleared at Lenakel, it is still necessary to complete some procedures at Port Vila on arrival there, but there is no need to wait in the quarantine anchorage.
There is a clearly designated quarantine anchorage in Port Vila and yachts must anchor there if clearing into the country. Contact Customs during office hours on VHF 16 for instructions. The actual offices of Customs are at the main shipping dock to the south of the town, while Immigration offices are in the town centre.
We have no personal experience of clearance procedures at Luganville or Sola. Luganville is convenient for yachts clearing both in from and out to Australia. Sola is the obvious place for those going to and from the Solomons.
There are some complex regulations regarding inter-island clearance. These mostly seem to relate to the relationship between Port Vila and Luganville. We cannot give ‘official’ guidance on these as the officials themselves seemed a little vague. However, if you plan to visit islands throughout the chain including the Banks Group we found that when we said we were going to the Banks Group from Port Vila and not stopping in Luganville, we were told that we would not have to get an inter-island clearance at Luganville. This did not appear to prevent our stopping at other islands on the way. If you plan to clear out at Luganville you must get permission when you clear in at Port Vila. (Clear as mud!)
Immigration will give you an initial 30 day visa. Apply immediately for a further 30 days if you intend to stay longer. We were actually given a further 60 days from a friendly Immigration Officer. There may or may not be a charge for this. The boat has six months in the first instance. There is a country-wide fee for harbour/anchorage use, payable on departure, of 7,000 vatu for the first 30 days and 100 vatu/day thereafter (About 100vatu = $1US in 2009).
Note that all positions given are WGS 84. In the case of anchorage positions they are for the boat, not the anchor and so should not be considered precise. We tend to anchor further out than many cruisers, so there may be acceptable anchorage positions in shallower water. Protection angles are given clockwise. Anchorages are given more or less south to north through the island chain.
The anchorage has excellent all-round protection from NW to S. If a front of any strength approaches with southwest or west winds, it may be best to head for Port Resolution on Tanna. Dinghy access to the village is to the northeast of the anchorage and passage through the reef is indicated by stakes. The village is relatively wealthy because of the periodic visits of cruise ships which anchor in the bay and land passengers at ‘Mystery Island’ in the south of the bay. There is also logging operation, originally started with assistance from New Zealand, but now entirely run by the villagers. There is a pleasant day hike to a waterfall, for which you need a guide.
Protection E to NW. Though there is good all-round protection, because the anchorage is relatively shallow it is not safe in northeasterlies once any wave action or swell builds up. Dinghy access is in the northeast corner of the bay; care is need when crossing the intervening reef especially at low water. Port Resolution village is used to cruisers and very welcoming to them. The village is fairly affluent and has a couple of pickup trucks, both to run cruisers and tourists to Lenakel and to take them for tours to the active Mount Yasur volcano. Stanley will assist with the arrangements. The volcano trip is well worth the cost and the pain of a ride over very rough roads in the back of the pick-up. There is a white sand beach at the end of the path through the village to the east.
The quarantine anchorage is at the eastern end of the main entrance channel to the harbour and close to the shore. It is not a place to stay for any longer than necessary. There is a further anchorage with limited room off the northeast corner of Reriki Island, however it is necessary to pass through the southern channel entrance buoys before approaching this anchorage.
Most yachts pick up one of the moorings in the southern harbour run by Yachting World. Call on VHF 16. There are overhead power cables with 27m clearance over the channel. The southern harbour is generally too deep for anchoring.
Fuel can be obtained from Yachting World or the petrol station in the main street. LPG can be filled by the supplier at south end of the harbour; it is easiest to go by dinghy. With the appropriate document from customs it is possible to get duty-free fuel after outward clearance.
Most supplies and services are available in Port Vila. There are two good supermarkets, both Bon Marche, one in the town centre and another, larger one 20 minutes walk to the south. There is a daily (except Sunday) morning market down town, for fresh local produce. There are several banks and ATMs. Yachting World does a laundry wash and dry service. There is a morning cruiser net on VHF, listen on 16 around 0800 for the appropriate channel. Staff at Yachting World are helpful in finding services or ask on the morning net.
The Harbour is a convenient day-sail from Port Vila on the northwest of Efate Island. There are several anchorages with trade wind protection. However, it is not a place to be in stronger winds. The anchorages are all on fairly narrow, sloping shelves and are often crowded. The Harbour itself is deep. There is some pleasant dinghy exploration in the boat pass at the northern end of the harbour: this is too shallow for virtually all yachts.
Lamen Bay, Epi – Various depths – sand and coral
This anchorage has good protection NE to SE, however, it does require some careful ‘eyeball’ reef pilotage as there is a good deal of coral encumbered foul ground around the anchorage. There is a large village ashore which is used to and welcoming to cruisers.
Though slightly open to the NE, there is pretty much all-round protection. Though there is a mid-channel reef in the approaches, this is easily seen even in fairly poor light conditions. There are strong tides in the various channels among the islands, but this anchorage is relatively unaffected.
The village of Avokh is on a small island about two miles to the north. Access to the village by dinghy should be made around high water, as reefs make the approaches difficult otherwise. This is a poor, quite crowded village and some villagers have moved to the mainland of Malekula, where the village gardens are in any case. The people are welcoming and the primary school is worth a visit. The island of Awei, next to the anchorage is privately owned and its future as a potential resort is uncertain. In the meantime this is a very pleasant, well protected anchorage. The people of the Maskelynes are some of the few in Vanuatu who use sails extensively on their pirogues.
This anchorage is well protected from all directions, though some ‘joggle’ may work its way in from the outer reef at high tide when there is heavier swell outside. However, depths in the narrow entrance channel are limited, with 2.5m at low water. Dinghy access is along the mangroves to the east, landing on the beach to the northeast, preferably around high water.
There are three villages on the island of Uliveo, with a total population of about 1,000. All three are welcoming and there are pleasant, well-used tracks all over the island. Community life is well developed and centres on the various churches. There is an unusual giant clam reserve in the reef area to the north of the island, this is worth the cost of a visit at high tide, with a guide, both to see the clams and for the quite good snorkelling. It did seem to us that the reserve was not as successful now as it apparently was in the past, at conserving the reef area. The whole project has been set up and sustained by the local villagers.
This is a very well protected harbour and has been described as a potential ‘cyclone hole’. There are several potential anchorage spots within the harbour. The anchorage off the wharf at Planters Point is well sheltered, but deep. Shallower anchorages are available further up the harbour.
Bangon Point and its adjoining reef give good shelter in trade wind conditions E to W. There are two quite large villages, one of which is happy to stage ‘kastom dancing’ for visiting cruisers if there are three or four boats. Contact Chief Saitol.
Though it is an open roadstead, this anchorage provides adequate shelter in moderate trade wind conditions. One can anchor almost anywhere along the beach to the east as well. There are two villages ashore and there appears to be some friction between them. Ranon to the east is the larger and more affluent of the two. However, the track to the volcano is controlled by Ranvetlam. A certain amount of diplomacy is required to ensure that you can have access to both villages. We found the villagers here to be more dour and less friendly than anywhere else in Vanuatu. The hike to the volcano takes 8 hours return and is not for the faint-hearted or unfit. You will need to arrange for a guide. Talk to Torren, Chief Guide, in Ranvetlam, or Douglas in Ranon, who has information on most activities in this area.
This is another roadstead anchorage giving adequate protection in normal trade wind conditions, though some swell from the passage between the islands to the south can make the anchorage a little rolly at times. The best anchorage is not far from the concrete jetty on the beach. Apparently there have been some problems in the past for cruisers who have anchored in the southern part of the bay. When going ashore insist on being taken to the chief of the more northern village, Pangi, Chief Harry in 2009. The villagers here were friendly and helpful. They are used to cruisers and other tourists.
The primary reason for visiting this anchorage is to see the ‘land-diving’ for which south Pentecost is famous world-wide. Originally, this took place only during the months of April and May, but the season has gradually been extended to cater for tourists, into June. After this the vines become too dry and brittle to be trusted for the diving. The diving takes place both at the village of Homo Bay and more often at the village of Lonorore, a little further north near the airstrip. This is an expensive outing, 8,000 vatu per person (about $US80 in 2009) plus the cost of transport. It is a spectacular event.
The anchorage is well protected NE-S, however, there is relatively limited room as it is necessary to anchor clear of the channel for the inter-island ferry. Loltong is the administrative centre for the island. There is a large village.
The anchorage gives excellent all-round protection, however access to it is limited, by the 2m depth in the entrance channel. The harbour is formed from a crater, the seaward side of which has collapsed. There is a leading line for the entrance channel. Lolowai village is the administrative centre for Ambae. It has a small hospital and a shop. There is also a good anchorage for those with deeper draft at Vanihe Bay immediately to the west of Lolowai.
The anchorage gives good protection NE- S. There is a very large coral head in the approaches; it is easily visible in reasonable light conditions. This is a favourite cruiser anchorage and may be crowded at the height of the cruising season. The village is in an idyllic setting behind a white sand beach with fringing coral and a waterfall at the head of the anchorage. Because the village is used to cruisers it is possible to wander around almost anywhere, being careful not to infringe private space. There is a second village the other side of the point, which is also welcoming. There is a ‘Yacht Club’ in which Chief Nelson or his son, Nixon, can arrange dancing, meals and kava. There is some fairly good snorkelling. Cruisers are welcome to bathe in the waterfall.
There are several anchorages in the Luganville area. The quarantine anchorage, for those clearing in is immediately off the main wharf. The other anchorage on the north side of the Segond Channel is just west of the river mouth. Neither of these anchorages is at all comfortable. There are strong tides in the Channel and there is sufficient fetch in trade wind conditions to kick up a chop. At one time there were quite a few moorings for rent at the Aore Resort opposite the town on the south side of the Channel. We understand that the new owners of the resort are less cruiser friendly, that the numbers of moorings have been reduced and that the reception for cruisers is distinctly ‘cooler’. A small passenger ferry runs from the Aore Resort to Luganville town.
An alternative is to anchor in Palikulo Bay, northeast of the town. The anchorage here is well protected NE-NW. It is possible to hike or hitch into town from here. Though the town is the second largest in the country, supplies are fairly limited. Fuel is available.
Luganville has two famous dive sites, Million Dollar Point and the President Coolidge wreck.
The entrance to the cove is west of Mavea Island, about eight miles north of Luganville. The anchorage is tucked behind a complex reef and gives complete shelter. It has been described as a ‘cyclone hole’. Access requires careful pilotage through a buoyed channel just north of Peterson Point. The channel has a least depth of about 2 m, but there is plenty of depth inside. The buoyage is privately laid by the owners of the Oyster Island Resort in the cove. The current owners are themselves cruisers and welcome others. An alternative to the above anchorage is further north off the resort itself and there is also a less protected anchorage just outside the inner reef, but with some protection from the outer reef. There is a northern entrance to the cove, which has a least depth of 1.8m. There are two rivers flowing into the cove. Both are negotiable by dinghy and have attractive ‘blue holes’ at their heads. If you need a break from village anchorages, this is a good spot for it.
There are two possible anchorages in Hog Harbour. The first is south of Malvoror Reef, north of ‘Champagne Beach’ in 12-15m. There is good shelter E-W. The beach has extremely fine white sand, which squeaks at each footstep. Tourists are bussed to see this beautiful beach. There is good snorkelling on the nearby reefs.
The second anchorage is southeast of Suengeun Moror Reef. There is slightly better shelter here from the NE. The depths are very varied, but it should be possible to find anchorage in 12-15m.
Lakona Bay, Gaua (Santa Maria on charts) – 14:18.772S/167:25.832E – 10m sand
This is a roadstead anchorage giving adequate protection in moderate trade wind conditions NE-SE. There is a chief’s family compound above the black sand beach at the head of the bay; this is the best dinghy landing. Chief John and his family are welcoming. There is also a small village above the point to the northeast.
This anchorage is best entered in reasonable light to find a spot tucked behind the eastern reef. There is good protection E - SW. There is a large village ashore. It is possible to arrange for a guide for the hike up to the beautiful Lake Letas, part of a volcanic crater, and its waterfall, in the centre of the island. This is a full day excursion and requires reasonable fitness.
This is a roadstead anchorage with protection N – SE. It can be a little rolly at times. The family compound of the current Paramount Chief of the Island, Godfrey, is immediately above the black sand beach opposite the anchorage. This family is extremely welcoming and helpful. The village of Vetemboso, with 1,000 inhabitants, is about a 15 minute walk away.
This is roadstead anchorage with good protection NE – S. There is a chief’s family compound above the beach to the south. The waterfall for which the bay is named is to the south just out of sight on the point.
We have not visited Port Patteson, but the anchorages in either the northern or southern arms are said to give protection from virtually any wind direction, though they may not always be particularly comfortable. Sola, the village in the south of the bay, is a port of entry and the administrative capital of Torba Province, which includes the Banks and Torres Groups of islands. There is said to be good hiking in the hills around the bay.
This is a reef anchorage and should only be used in settled conditions, with protection NE – S. However, around high water some swell penetrates the reef and there may be some chop. There is beautifully clear water and good snorkelling and diving. The small islands are no longer inhabited.
Lorup or Dives Bay, Ureparapara – 13:32.485S/167:20.473E – 16m sand and coral
The anchorage is very well protected except from the NE. However, the bay is formed from the crater of a volcano with one side collapsed. As a result, winds of any strength may create gusty, variable conditions in the bay. In addition, swell outside tends to work into the bay, which may make it rolly at times. The position indicated is the least prone to swell, though the most convenient anchorage is further west. Dinghy access is indicated by a couple of small buoys in the southeast of the bay.
The village here is very isolated, having no boat with a motor capable of reaching Vanua Lava, no radio and only one or two supply ships a year. Though they have plenty of island food from their own gardens and fish from the bay, they depend to a large degree on yachts and other visiting boats for other supplies. Even small quantities of school supplies, rice, sugar and fishing gear are much appreciated. The villagers are very community-minded and self-reliant, but also very welcoming. Though the anchorage has its draw-backs the people make up for it. The also have some of the most elegant canoes in the islands.
Though it has a semi-autonomous government, New Caledonia is still French territory, like French Polynesia. There are periodic political flare-ups with the independence movement, which is largely composed of indigenous Melanesians, the Kanaks, who compose about 35% of the population. About two-thirds of the population of the island live in the greater Noumea area and unlike Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomons there are no longer many coastal villages. Those that still exist mostly have modern amenities, electricity, mains water and made roads. The Kanaks are generally more welcoming to English-speakers than to the French and those in the north and the Loyalty Group are commonly more open and welcoming than further south.
New Caledonia is relatively wealthy because of its mineral resources and this is reflected in the lives of the population. Noumea is very like a French provincial city dropped down into the South Pacific. The price for this is that much of the island has been ‘raped’ by nickel mining and the landscape is visibly scarred. Outside Noumea the towns on the main island are virtually all industrial and orientated to mining. New Caledonia is also expensive, both because of its relative wealth and because its currency is directly linked to the Euro.
Nevertheless, there are some very attractive cruising areas, particularly in the southern and northern lagoons and in the Loyalty Group of Islands. The main sections of the east and west coasts are generally of less interest, unless you are a mining engineer or geologist.
There are excellent French charts, as well as Admiralty versions of the same charts for the whole area. There are large scale charts easily available for the southern half of the island and some specific areas elsewhere. We understand that there are large scale French charts in existence for the whole country, however, these may be difficult to obtain and we could not find them in Noumea. Though it is not our normal practice, we ended up using electronic charts most of the time, with some small scale paper charts. This was satisfactory, but requires caution as the French chart datums have been used in many areas, particularly in the northern half of the island, and these are not directly compatible with WGS 84.
We have used two guides, one in book and the other in CD form. Both are quite useful from the point of view of general information and planning, however, the GPS waypoints are not to be relied upon at all. In our opinion the expensive book guide is not worth buying. We found the CD, ‘Cruising New Caledonia’ guide useful and convenient. Much of the information in the CD guide appeared to be taken more or less directly from the book. We are aware of a newer and possibly more accurate CD guide, which has been produced recently. From a brief inspection this guide looked a good deal better than the others, but we have not actually used it while cruising.
(Please consult Noonsite or the Cruising New Caledonia website for up-to-date information.)
Though there are technically several other ports of entry (Koumac, Hienghene, and We on Lifou), in fact there are significant practical restrictions on their use, as it is necessary to report to the principal port of entry, Noumea, within a few days to complete clearance. This can be done by the master, by road, air or ferry, but this is expensive. At the time of writing, no port other than Noumea may be used because of the H1N1 virus. In general, it is worth assuming that you will have to go to Noumea to clear in, even if this is not convenient for your cruise plan. The French have severe penalties for stopping anywhere prior to clearance. Access from the west through the Dumbea or Boulari passes is straight-forward. If coming from the east or northeast one must negotiate the complexities of the southern lagoon channel for 35 miles to get to Noumea from Havannah Pass. However, both the Pass and the channel are very well marked and lit and the prevailing winds are mostly favourable in direction. It is permitted to anchor during the night in the designated anchorage areas in Noumea in the Petite Rade and Baie de Orphelinat, prior to entering Port Moselle Marina for clearance. Call the marina on VHF 67. Staff speak English, will give clear instructions and arrange clearance. This usually can be completed in a couple of hours during working hours.
Most non-EU passport holders are allowed three month visas on entry. EU passport holders other than French are allowed six months (though the immigration officer did not even bother to stamp an entry date in a British passport). The boat is allowed temporary duty-free importation for six months with a possible six month extension.
Note that all positions given are WGS 84. In the case of anchorage positions they are for the boat, not the anchor and so should not be considered precise. We tend to anchor further out than many cruisers, so there may be acceptable anchorage positions in shallower water. Protection angles are given clockwise. Anchorages are given more or less in order, clockwise from Noumea.
The Bay has good all-round protection, but with a little exposure to strong westerlies. This is a very crowded anchorage and mooring area, but it is adequate for a pre-clearance overnight stop. Anchoring here or in the Petite Rade for longer periods is possible, but it is a longish dinghy ride to a convenient and secure landing. Of the two designated anchorage areas in the Petite Rade, the eastern one, closer to the marina, is packed with permanently moored and anchored boats. There is some room in the western anchorage, but it is somewhat exposed to fetch from the SE – SW in stronger winds.
This is a modern, well maintained and well serviced marina with power and water on the docks and a clean, modern ablutions facility. The visitors’ dock is the eastern-most, with a large yellow X posted at its end. Visitors are assigned a berth by radio (VHF 67) and assisted to moor. At the height of the cruising season berths may be limited. Yachts arriving from abroad are given priority. If space is limited cruisers may be given only a few days’ stay. Charges are about $US 25/night (2009 for a 40’ boat), no extra charge for electricity.
The marina is a short walk from the town centre and the market. All facilities are available in Noumea. Internet access is at cyber cafes in town or wireless at McDonalds close by. There is a fuel dock in the marina. We were told that filling gas bottles was a problem, but do not know the details. There is a large, well stocked chandlery, Marine Corail, in town. Marina staff are very helpful in accessing other services.
There is good protection NW – S. The anchorage was convenient, but not particularly attractive. There are several other possible anchorages in Baie St. Vincent which might be of more interest.
1.We made no stops going north from Baie St. Vincent to Passe de Koumac, the southern entrance to the northern lagoon area. There are several possible stops on this coast, for those who would prefer to break the passage; these include: Baie de Borail, Rade de Kone and Chasseloup. Koumac is also a possible stop. The latter is the primary town of the northern lagoon area and has a small marina as well as other facilities. We did not stop there, so cannot give details. The guides give further information.
2. In normal trade wind conditions in the northern lagoon, a significant day breeze effect veers the breeze toward the south and it may build to 25+ before easing and backing after sunset.
There is good all-round protection, though there would be some fetch in strong westerlies, when it would be worth moving across the bay or to the eastern side of the Ile Boh. The anchorage is attractive. There is a private compound ashore.
There is excellent protection N – S. Dinghy access is to the beach at the head of the bay. Caution is needed approaching the bay from the south as there is a dangerous awash rock and associated ledge southwest of the anchorage. This is one of the most attractive anchorages in northern lagoon, with a long beach and drying reef areas for exploration.
This is really only a day anchorage which is reasonably protected in moderate trade wind conditions ESE – SSW. It is convenient for a visit to the village to obtain supplies (limited) or fuel (in cans) from the shop/petrol station, which is ten minutes walk to the east from the anchorage. Land the dinghy on the beach opposite the anchorage.
There is good protection N – SSE. The anchorage is attractive. There are extensive reefs inshore and a shallow miniature lagoon. Beyond the reefs a beach extends most of the length of the island. At low tide all this area gives lots of opportunity for exploration. The lagoon and reef are full of marine life. There are the remains of an abandoned settlement ashore. The best dinghy access is indicated with stakes, but even this dries at low water, when it is best to anchor the dinghy just off the reef.
The anchorage is between Ile Yava and a small sand islet to the north, which has an extensive fringing reef. There is adequate protection in light to moderate trade wind conditions with protection ESE – S. We would not consider it more than a day anchorage. There is some tidal flow between the islands. There is good snorkelling on the surrounding reefs.
There is good protection NW – S. The bay is shallow with extensive reef areas. There is a village on the southern side of the peninsula to the south; its fishing boats line the beach in this bay. As a result there is a certain amount of ‘traffic’. This anchorage or those at either Ile Neba or Ile Yenghebane are convenient jumping-off points to head north to the Iles Belep.
There is good protection NNW – SSW. This is an attractive even scenic anchorage, probably a good deal better than the ‘Boat Pass’ anchorage to the south of the island.
There is good protection NE – S. This is a fairly large, but attractive bay, protected somewhat from the west by large offshore reefs. It would be fairly easy to enter at night following the shore to the north. Unless one wished to visit a Kanak village this anchorage is probably preferable to the main anchorage on Ile Art at Wala.
Despite the very extensive reefs there is a small pool for anchorage here. However, there is not as much swinging room as might appear, as there are several isolated coral heads. Even in good light, visibility is only moderate, though the entrance channel is fairly clear. There is good protection NNW – SSW. This is not a place to be caught out by a front. There are derelict WWII buildings and relics ashore.
Apart from the reef areas marked on the chart, there appear to be no obstructions to passage north-northwestward out of the northern lagoon and into Grand Passage. So far as we could tell the charting for the D’Entrecasteaux Reefs appears to be fairly accurate, but not to WGS 84. However, the differences in datums appear to be no more then .25 of a mile.
We were given some waypoints by a local French cruiser. We found his waypoint for the Passe Sud at Atoll Huon to be accurate. We have not tested the other waypoint.
18:08.158S/162:48.896 for the Passe Sud into Atoll Huon. Once through the Passe Sud there is a clear line of soundings on the chart leading to the anchorage at Ile Huon. There appear to be no obstructions along this line.
18:28.682S/163:05.318E for the anchorage at Ile Surprise, which is more substantial than Ile Huon, but is difficult to visit except in very settled weather because its anchorage has a long fetch to the SE, the direction of the prevailing winds.
There is adequate protection here in trade wind conditions NE – SE. At high water some swell penetrates the reef setting up some chop. The anchorage is best visited in moderate conditions. Ile Huon is a treeless sand island with some tussocky grass and thousands of nesting birds, mostly noddies and gannets, with a few brown boobies. Turtles also come to lay eggs here in their season, October/November. There is plenty of beach to explore and good snorkelling in beautifully clear water.
There is excellent protection NNW – SSE, with adequate protection from all other directions except perhaps south. The most convenient, well sheltered spot on this stretch of coast, but perhaps not the most scenic.
Ile Poudioue (Mahamate Balade in the Guide) – 20:17.332S/164:29.275E – 9m sand
This is basically a reef anchorage, though the sand islet gives some additional protection, which is adequate in moderate conditions, NE – S. There is good ‘fossicking’ on the reef at low water. Awash at high water, the monument to Huon de Kermadec, captain of d’Entrecasteaux’s second ship, can be visited on the reef to the south of the islet. He died and was buried here, in 1793, on the flooding sand island to keep his body from the cannibals ashore.
There is good protection NNE – SW and adequate protection from the large reef in moderate winds SE – SW. A convenient anchorage rather than an attractive one.
There is good protection E – WNW. This is an extremely attractive anchorage, with spectacular rock formations along the coast and mountains rising inland. The river entrance is passable by vessels drawing no more than 2.2m. The guide says that it is possible to anchor in the river opposite the village; it is, in 5m, mud. However, when we did so, we were told that this is now ‘Interdit’. There is a small marina, however, at springs there is no more than 1.4m in its berths. The village has been ‘developed’ for tourists and there are number of hikes and attractions in the surrounding countryside. There is an occasional market, a small supermarket and Internet access at the Kanak cultural centre. The petrol station is some distance away.
There is good protection E – W, with some protection from the large reef to the northeast. There is also a small marina with a few berths available to visitors. There are two small shops in the village and fuel at the larger of the two. Land the dinghy at half-tide or better on the beach near the school opposite the anchorage. The Grand Passe de Tuoho is easy and wide, and so convenient for heading offshore to the Loyalty Group of Islands.
This is a beautiful, uninhabited island. It is necessary to ‘eyeball’ into the anchorage off the northwest corner of the island. This is not a place to be in unsettled weather. One can easily enter the lagoon through the very wide northern pass and then negotiate the reef to the north of the anchorage. Alternatively, there is a narrower, more tortuous southern pass close to the anchorage; this is described in the guides. The island is the property of the Kanak tribe living in the area of St. Joseph in northern Ouvea. In theory, the chief’s permission should be sought to visit the island, but this may present problems in practice.
One can anchor almost anywhere along the beach on the west side of Ouvea. Depending on the wind direction and chosen anchorage there is protection N – S. There is also a well protected anchorage among the Ilots Deguala off the northwest corner of the main island. Ouvea is an ideal spot to get out bikes to see the sights. It is also a stronghold of Kanak culture and influence.
The anchorage gives good protection NW – E. Protection is adequate in light to moderate southeasterlies, but there is a bit of fetch. Eacho is an attractive village in the northern bight of the Baie du Santal. July – September, humpback whales may be seen in the bay. Large cruise ships occasionally anchor here.
There is good protection E – WSW. It would be possible to anchor safely somewhat further inshore on one of the sizeable patches of sand. There is an easy dinghy landing at the launching ramp on the white beach. There is a small shop in the village and busses to We, the capital of the Loyalties, where there is a weekly market and some larger shops.
We, Lifou, east coast
There is a small marina at We, the administrative centre for the Loyalty Islands. There are shops and fuel, as well as ferry and plane connections to the main island.
There is good protection NE – WSW, with some protection from the reef to the northwest. This is a very attractive anchorage, with luxuriant vegetation above a white sand beach. There are two other possible anchorages in Port Bouquet. The first is in Anse Lemia, immediately to the south of Anse Toupeti. There is a small village here. The other is on the west side of Ile Nemou. We have no personal experience of either of the latter anchorages.
There are lateral marks and a not very clear leading line in the approaches. It is possible to find safe swinging room in the approaches to the river inshore of the western-most channel markers, however, the deepest water is a little further in, close to the south bank between the wharf and the bridge. Swinging room is limited by sand/mud banks to the north.
There is good protection N – WSW. However, the bottom is irregular with a good deal of coral rock, which gives only moderate holding and a good deal of noise from the anchor chain. This is an attractive anchorage with a nice hike from the landing by the sign on the small red beach, up to the lighthouse, which shows the leading line for the Havannah Pass. This provides expansive views over the southern lagoon.
This anchorage gives all-round protection in virtually any conditions. The position given is for the western arm; there is also an eastern arm which is good, but slightly more open. The anchorage is attractive and there are a number of hikes which start from the northern shore in both directions. There are hot spring baths along the eastern trail. Be sure to wash off the red mud from anchor tackle and any that gets on the boat; it stains terribly.
Note: There are a number of other anchorages in the Baie de Prony. However, most are rather deep unless one is happy to perch on a shelf close inshore. The western shore of the bay can also be quite windy. There is a good reason for the wind-farms set on the heights above. There are moorings at Ilot Casy, where there is reputed to be excellent snorkelling.
This anchorage gives good all-round protection, with the possible exception of strong east or southeasterly. For the latter move to the corner of the bay to the southeast, where there is good anchorage in 10-11m. After strong easterlies there are often nautilus shells washed up on the beaches.
This anchorage gives very good protection N – S. For westerly protection move round to Baie de Kanoumera. There is a ‘no anchoring’ area off the wharf in Kuto. Cruise ships visit the anchorage intermittently and ferries bring tourists from Noumea. This is a very popular spot and is likely to be crowded during the winter season. However, the Ile de Pins is attractive and has a number of opportunities for hiking and biking. While Baie de Kuto is easy of access, there are other anchorages around the island which require very careful reef pilotage for access. These are Port de Vao, Baie de Ugo, Baie de Gadjii and Baie de Uameo. Good light, with light to moderate wind conditions are advisable for the use of these anchorages.
Note: There are large numbers of small sand islands throughout the southern lagoon. Many of these offer adequate protection for day anchorage in settled trade wind conditions or even night anchorage in light to moderate winds. Many of these anchorages have perfect white sand beaches and opportunities for good snorkelling.
Tom & Vicky Jackson, Sunstone, September 2009