Hienghene and Independence
Old ladies in big flowery dresses and faces carrying the character of a lifetime smile and chat with interest, little kids with shy grins and eyes wide giggle at the strangers and run around the deck.
The broad quiet river of Hienghene has been our home for the last few days. Nestled like ‘La Poule’, the natural work of art that sits at the mouth of the harbour and looks for all the world like a great big chicken on a nest, Hienghene is perched in the north of New Caledonia. A land of different tribes and different languages.
With 8 miles of navigable river serving lots of small communities the local council are very, very interested in the Vaka Hapua. A 33’ (10m) canoe with no mast the Vaka Hapua has a roof full of solar panels, 2 electric engines and can carry 24 people at 8-12 knots (if my memory serves me well).
It’s been designed as a ‘lagoon’ canoe for transport and tourism and is a further step towards a fossil fuel free Pacific. The beauty of it is that clean, regenerative energy sources make solid economic sense. We have travelled 30,000 miles around the Pacific and while we’ve had to slow down a little at times and manage our battery levels we’ve not had too stop at a petrol station once. After the initial cost of installation maintenance costs have been minimal and regeneration potential almost constantly available (we can regen using wind too).
An Australian friend recently told me that after the initial installation of solar electrics in his home it took him only 4 or 5 years to cover the cost with savings in power. The Island of Hope is an initiative that has sprung from the voyage. For small islands it’s relatively easy and practical to go fossil fuel free. These communities are/have been dependent on irregular boats and very expensive fuel. They were in some cases forcibly stopped from using sailing canoes. Here in New Caledonia, I’m told, the Christian missionaries in an effort to control the population collected and destroyed canoes to stop travel. For the love of God…
The control may no longer be conscious on that level, but the reliance on external goods and technology is profoundly apparent. If we can help small communities shift back to self reliance and sustainability it will be a major achievement for them, for us and for the environment. Clean, renewable energy is an important starting point.
The night was crisp and Scorpio just rising above the mountains as we slipped the lines and said our final goodbyes to the Tribal Chief and surviving brother of Jean-Marie Tjibaou (New Cal independence hero). Our torches cut thru the dark spotlighting the river banks as we threaded our way thru the sandbanks to the big chicken and the harbour mouth. The chill breeze filled our sails and we were gone.
It’s been an honour to spend time here and like other small communities across the Pacific the people of Hienghene have touched our hearts. Thanks to all,
Dunc and Faafaite