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Travel and Adventure

Noumea coconuts and canned foods

A Whitianga Student was one of the 250 New Zealanders stranded in New Caledonia. Shardae Slade, now a student of Psychology at Waikato University was reunited with her Mum, Granny and Aunty in Whitianga last week. On the last Royal New Zealand Airforce Hercules flight, Shardae and her three friends finally made it home.
 |  MichelleRhodes  | 

Shardae Slade, centre back, with the group that kept in touch with each other through Whats App. This was taken on the eve of their departure from Noumea.

The four, Shardae, Nikil, Mia and Div, had set off to backpack in New Caledonia for 15 days. What they got was two days holiday and 13 days of an unplanned somewhat scary adventure.

This is Shardae’s story:

“We were staying in the Youth Hostel in Noumea, close to the Parliament Building. Everything was going fine, but on returning to our hostel on the first night, there were people in the street waving New Caledonia flags and placards in French about freedom. At the hostel, management explained it was a local protest about an unpopular change, but “they hoped they would keep the peace”.

The following morning, things got a bit scary. As we left Noumea, we saw tyres in the centre of the road and one truck carrying younger men in balaclavas. They had petrol cans. There had been a lot of destruction during the night.

Lining the streets were locals of all ages, the elderly and kids with flags and banners, but they were friendly to the tourists, giving us ‘Peace’ and ‘Surfer’ signs.

We arrived at a campsite near Hotel Auberge de Poe in Bourail. David, the owner, was amazing, kind and supportive, offering to shop for us and as our money ran out, let us do our laundry free.

After three days at the camp site, with no mobile phone signal, so no media or news, we headed into town for supplies; only to find the petrol station closed and food running out in the shops. We got whatever provisions we could, and after letting family know we were okay, we headed back to the camp site.

Our camping stoves didn’t fit with the French gas bottles available, so we just lit an open fire on the beach and lived on scrambled eggs, pasta and chips. At one stage, all we had left was two litres of water and a bottle of Tequila. We foraged for coconuts on the beach; the milk gave us a bit more fluid.

It was so hard to find out what we should do and where we should go. At the New Zealand Consulate, no one spoke English and it closed between 11am and 2pm. We tried to change our flights, but these kept being cancelled by the airline the night before.

We saw people in a wealthy French suburb building a barricade across their street. They offered us safe refuge in the street. They seemed to be expecting a full-on civil war and told us to get out as soon as possible.

My Mum called ‘NZ Safe Travel’. Their advice was for us to go to the Sheraton Hotel as they had food. It turned out the food was only for paying guests. On the upside, we did meet other Kiwis at the Sheraton, and some people from Britain and France. We decided to keep in contact through a ‘Whats App’ chat group.

Then there were three days of silence – nothing official, no contact, no news.

Safe Travel and the Consulate kept telling us not to drive to the airport. Through the What’s App chat group, we heard you had to be in Noumea to be allocated a seat on a flight. Knowing a couple had left in the days before and got to the airport safely and aware that fuel and food supplies were running out, we decided the best thing to do was to get to the airport. We sensed the local feeling towards tourists was okay.

We were so pleased we made that decision. A French speaking couple said they would lead a convoy of cars to the airport and negotiate for us through any roadblocks. Most of the cars had only enough petrol for the one trip back to the airport.

On the way, the roads looked worse but were still passable. The locals had tables and chairs and food at the side of the road. There were all smiles and waves as they directed us through the roadblocks. It reminded me of Bob Marley’s Jamaican revolution and the song “Stand Up for your Rights”.

We were searched by the French armed forces before getting on the RNZA Hercules and were delighted to find snacks waiting on our seats.

When we finally landed in NZ, not one official met us. There was one man from Ministry of Foreign Affairs Transport (MFAT) who said everything was okay once we arrived in Auckland but said and did no more. There has been no debriefing or follow up by the MFA. Communication could have been better, and lessons could be learned.