Adventures in the Pacific


the little islands of New Caledonia, found north of New Zealand, situated on a
hill in Noumea stands a beautiful statue under the title of Notre Dame du
Pacifique (Our Lady of the Pacific).  It
was under her mantle and protection that I entrusted our first senior French
class trip to New Caledonia during the month of May.  Two Sisters, our senior French teacher, and four
pupils embarked on an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime to a place now
known as my “Pacific Paradise”.  The main
aim and objective of the trip was to fully immerse the teachers and students in
the French language and culture.  Our
other intention was to sing the proper for the Sunday Masses and the Ascension
Thursday Mass for the faithful of New Caledonia.  We also learnt some polyphonic pieces to sing
at the Offertory and Communion.

Much thought,
preparation and fundraising went into the organization of this trip.  The idea of a trip to a French-speaking
country is one I have had for quite some time but one which I was not able to
work on due to other commitments and financial constraints.  Ideally, I would take the students to France
and one day, God willing, I will – but for now this little paradise meets my
requirements for the pupils’ advancement in French.   New Caledonia is serviced by our priests
here in New Zealand and is a part of the Asian district. 
As a priest is scheduled to go every 6 weeks to New Caledonia from New
Zealand and his passage there for the month of May worked in perfectly with our
school holidays, we were able to get a good deal for flights and the
bookings were made.
The day before
departure, as I was hurriedly doing last minute preparations and finishing off
booklets of songs and prayers in French, I encountered difficulties with our
computer and printer system at the convent and had to make many trips back and
forth to the school office to use the computer and printer over there.  I was also told that day that I was very
courageous to be taking the girls at that particular time to New Caledonia as
the weather was terrible with continuing storms and rain.  I was a little bit perturbed and anxious
about what to expect but I asked Father to offer a Mass for a safe and
prosperous trip and fine weather, and from the moment we arrived to the day we
left we had sunshine and fine weather, except on one occasion.
Setting off on
Friday, May 11th with possibly bigger suitcases and more clothes
than needed (one must remember there were 6 females travelling) we left our
farewell committee of Father, Sisters and parents for a day of
sightseeing.  We drove the scenic and
longer route to Auckland via Lake Taupo and Rotorua.  We arrived in Auckland by 7pm in time for a 3
course meal provided by the couple who take care of the chapel in Auckland and
discovered that one of our air mattresses had a hole in it.  No matter how many times we pumped it up it
continued to deflate.  The girls arranged
themselves though for the night on the other air mattress and the sofas
provided and our alarms were set for a 4.30am rise.  
were driven to the Auckland airport at 6am the next day and deposited with all
of our baggage for the 8.30am flight to Noumea. 
The line for checking in was quite long and by the time we got through
to customs it was time to board the plane. 

After a very
smooth flight and landing we disembarked the plane – we had to walk on the
tarmac – to experience the heat of Noumea, quite a change from the New Zealand
temperatures.  Not a drop of rain or a
cloud was in sight.  As we cleared
airport control and collected our baggage we met with our hosts and collected
our rental cars.  We loaded
into the vehicles and took in the beautiful scenery which surrounded us.  Palm trees, rolling hills and right hand
driving – it took a little while to get used to driving on the ‘wrong side’ of
the road and using my right hand to change the gears and to keep up with the
car in front –  but we managed it.  We also remarked that people drive really
fast in New Caledonia.  It was a lot to
get used to all at once.
Upon arriving at
our destination we were treated to the nicest steaks you have
ever seen, served on the biggest plates imaginable. Our host was a retired chef
and he certainly knew how to cook and present his food.  We were treated like
royalty from day one with the most exquisite French cuisine you can
imagine.  If you were to look through our photos,
you would find that numerous of them include pictures of food and its presentation.  We even went so far as to eat snails, and
oddly enough, really liked them.   

Saturday was spent settling in and on Sunday we were treated to fresh
croissants – biggest ever seen – and pain au chocolat fresh from the local
bakery.  Father arrived on Sunday
afternoon and Mass was offered at 5.30 that evening.  After Mass we felt like Hollywood movie stars
with nearly every member of the parish coming to shake our hands and introducing
themselves.  It was the first time that the majority of them had ever
 seen religious sisters before.

Our weekend
activities included a visit to the local fish and produce market – to teach the girls how to ‘purchase’ in French.  Being a seafood lover, I found this very
interesting as they have a very different variety of fish in New Caledonia and
fresh seafood in abundance.  It was
rather fascinating looking at the different sorts of fruit and vegetables that
can be purchased and comparing the prices with those of New Zealand.  It was very difficult to get used to the new
currency too and to make the conversion in your head.  The girls had great fun buying jewellery and
souvenirs for their friends and relations and just seeing what was on

Glorious oceanic views in this Pacific Paradise

spent Monday in Noumea visiting the Cathedral of St Joseph and the statue of
Our Lady of the Pacific. After lunch, Father drove us to a private swimming
hole, which turned out to be most calm and peaceful.

Tuesday we spent a day with a family from the parish. They live half an hour
from the chapel in a private estate. 
They practically have their own beach as only those residing in the
estate have access to it.  The girls had
great fun swimming out to see the coral and swimming amongst the tropical
It was a dream come true for one
of the girls and it was her favourite day over all.  The only disadvantage was the cuts and grazes
the girls had to their arms, feet and legs from the direct contact with the
coral.  There were a few trips to the
doctor on our return to New Zealand for
 antibiotics but everyone
would do it again, only avoiding contact with the coral next time.
Wednesday we went to the aquarium and zoo in Noumea.  The girls had their first experience of
ordering food in French.  Next door to
the aquarium was the fast food chain called “Quick”, opposition of McDonalds
but with more reasonable prices.  I gave
the girls 1000CPF to spend on lunch. 
They were all rather scared, but the experience was great for them as
they used their basic French to order and everyone was able to make themselves
“I learnt many new words,” wrote one of the pupils,
“and after 3-4 days, I began to think in French!”

Thursday was a very busy day with a very early rise.  We had to drive three hours for Father to
offer Mass at Houailou.  After
breakfast we set off in two vehicles. One and a
half hours later we discovered that the tyre on the rental car was flat.  Father and Allan, our senior French teacher, tried to change the wheel
but to no avail – one of the bolts was
too tight to budge.  The road-help was
phoned and in the meantime two natives drove in to give us a hand.  Within 10 minutes they had the tyre off and the spare put on and then we waited
around for the road help who had apparently come in a 4WD but found that it was
fixed and so left again without informing us who they were.  We then drove to the nearest petrol station
and had the tyre repaired and replaced and sped off again for the chapel.     

We were two hours late for Mass but
fortunately had the priest with us. 
Lunch was served at 3pm.  A
splendid feast had been prepared for us and faithful from all corners of New
Caledonia had come to assist at Mass and partake in the festivities.  We were told that it was the 30th
anniversary of the first Mass offered in New Caledonia, but Fr Laisney who said
the first Mass, told us on our return that it was only 29 years – as he celebrates
30 years of ordination this June.  It was
worth celebrating anyway.  We could not
stay long with the tribe as Father was scheduled to say Mass at the Noumea
chapel as well, in the evening.  We had to
sing the evening Mass too, so we set off again at 4pm and got back just in
time for Mass to begin.  Dinner was
very late that night and so was lights out, but it was a day to remember.

next day was spent in the south at La Riviere Bleue with a family from the
parish.  We were fortunate in that
everything was free that day.  We were
able to catch the bus which took us on the tour and we were able to get off and
on as we pleased.  It did rain quite a
bit down there, unfortunately, but we were still able to do some walks and we
also spotted the native bird known as the cagou.  It is a bird that has wings but does not
fly.  It also barks. 

“What impressed me most,” wrote one of the pupils afterwards, “was the beauty of the islands…sunny beaches, rolling hills, green forests… It was beautiful…”

We found a 1,000 year old tree to our immense delight

was planned that Saturday would be spent with another family exploring the
south, especially going to see the Madeleine Waterfalls but it had to be
cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. 
Nevertheless, the girls had fun shopping all morning at the hypermarche
and tasting crepes at the creperie.  In
the afternoon we rested, as we were all very tired.
Mass was earlier
on the second Sunday. It was also our host’s birthday so many parishioners were
invited to celebrate the occasion – we
had a wonderful time practicing our French with the visitors.  The festivities
lasted the whole day – a typical French celebration!

Monday was a
restful day with a visit to Noumea to do some last minute souvenir
shopping.  Tuesday was an early rise as
we were invited to spend the day at Bourail with a lovely couple on their 16
hectare property.  We visited the NZ
cemetery, explored the property from the back of a utility, and went horseback riding.   The views of the coastline and mountains were
breathtaking.  Wednesday was spent with some
ladies of the parish, opening presents and enjoying a good laugh and a last
minute visit to one of the families for a last peek at the coral whilst the
tide was low.  We then spent the evening
making crepes, cleaning and packing.

“I think that the cemetery for the New Zealand soldiers from WWII,” wrote one of the girls after the trip,
“was well-maintained and shows a deep respect for the soldiers…”
final day in New Caledonia is one we will never forget.  With tears in our eyes, we said goodbye to our
hosts and boarded the plane 5 minutes before takeoff as we experienced
difficulties at the check in.  Our Fijian
did not have a copy of her ticket and they would not let her check in.  Finally, they realized she was a New Zealand
resident and it was no longer a problem. 
We all rushed through to customs and had to quickly fill in our
departure cards.  Then someone set off the beeper.  You can imagine my heart rate at this
point.  The return trip went smoothly and
we arrived safely in Wanganui in good time for everyone to have a good night’s
sleep in preparation for school the next day. 

The success of this trip has inspired ideas of student exchange between New Zealand and New Caledonia.  At present, we have one young lady visiting for a month and attending our school, with two more coming later this year. 

Our first young lady from New Caledonia (right) to visit
New Zealand, with one of our pupils.

May the planting of seeds in our first trip continue to bear fruit for the future.  The Dominican friars were some of the first missionaries to the Asian/Pacific region and we, their little sisters, desire to continue to spread the flame, lighted by our Holy Father, Saint Dominic.

Notre Dame du Pacifique, priez pour nous!