Day 168, Year 2: Exploring Kuto
Date: Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Weather: Another New Caledonia Beauty
Location: Kuto Bay, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

Early this morning we went to shore to check out the possibility of renting cars tomorrow for a group of us to tour the island. The Hotel Kou-Bugny is right on the beach and it rents cars. We made the arrangements for tomorrow and then kept walking. Just past the hotel there is a path leading to Baie de Kanumera. Baie de Kuto is on one side of a peninsula and Baie de Kanumera is on the other side. Kuto is the best anchorage, but most definitely Kanamera is the most beautiful. At the head of
the bay there is a huge rock, Le Rocher, totally covered with vegetation and it is linked to the mainland by a white sand walkway. There are only two things that are forbidden on Isle of Pines. One is topless bathing and the other is climbing the wooden stairs that lead to the top of Le Rocher. It is most tempting, but absolutely tabu. We took lots of pictures of the bay and then walked out on Presqu’lle Isle or the Kuto Peninsula. In the 1800’s France built a prison on the Isle of Pines to
the north of Kuto. On this peninsula, they built a home for the Governor and surrounded it with a tall stone wall as a precaution in case any prisoners should escape. Today there is modern wharf on the peninsula and the old Governor’s home is now the gendarmerie. There is also the Boutique Creations Ile des Pins. Naturally we had to check this out as we had read about the boutique’s owner, Hilary Roots, her selection of books for sale, and the hand-painted clothing done by Albert. We had not
read about a young woman named Marian who has a separate shop selling jewelry she makes from shells, seeds, and coral, and some small wood carvings. Marian was a wealth of of information about places to snorkel and about the names of trees that are the source of seeds for her jewelry and the wood for the carvings.

After visiting the boutique and the wharf, we walked back to the main road and headed north to the prison ruins. The prison was built around 1870 and was used until 1913. It is now just rock walls and buildings overgrown with vines. Nature is doing a great job of reclaiming the land, but we really enjoyed walking through the structures. Mark became my guide as he explained what he thought each building must have been used for based on evidence I didn’t notice. Some of the buildings had small,
single cells, but then another building had very large rooms. Mark pointed out how the holes in the wall appeared to once hold the supports for bunks for inmates who were allowed to be housed together. He also noticed metal supports over every window that looked like they once held some sort of sun awning. As we were leaving, he also noticed the shards of glass that were imbedded in the top of the rock wall to deter prisoners from escaping over the top. I thanked him for the guided tour and suggested
a new career for him–prison guide! We also visited a building that houses a water reservoir. It was built at the same time as the prison and has been restored and is still used today.

I forgot to mention that just across the road from the prison ruins there was a rotisserie, a source of lunch. We ordered what we thought was going to be sausage and french fries. We got the fries, but the “sausage” was foot-long American-style hotdogs sans bread. Each order was enough for two people, so next time we will order only one for the both of us. After eating lunch and visiting the ruins, we walked another kilometer north to the Cimetiere des Deportes. In France in 1871, just after
the prison was built, there was an uprising in Paris and 3,000 people were deported to the new prison in New Caledonia. Over 240 of these people died on the island and were buried in this cemetary. The graves are very simple, small rectangles surrounded by stone. The political prisoners still living were given amnesty in 1879, and after that true convicts from France populated the island prison.

We hitched a ride from a local back to Kuto, went back to Windbird to regroup, and then headed back to shore to snorkel around Le Rocher, the rock in Baie de Kanumera. Marian at the boutique had told us that it was good snorkeling, and she didn’t mislead us. After getting over being greeted by a poisonous water snake, Mark, Marie of Ranger, and myself slid into the water. Obviously the fish here are fed. We have never snorkled where the fish were so friendly. Marie discovered a little alcove
in the rock where Gorgonian sea fans were in abundance. We need to go back during the morning to get good pictures of the sea fans and to enjoy the friendly fish once again.

Tomorrow at 7:30 we meet Ranger, Galaxy, Incognita, and Scot Free on shore to go rent the cars and start our day of island exploration. Ten of us are going to squeeze into two small cars, so it should be a most interesting day.