Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Walking with Wild Horses

Horses graze near the bay in which we are anchored

Chris tries to tempt them with a feed of oats

Our friends Roz and Holger had written that there were good walks on Ile Ducos in Baie St. Vincent, about thirty five miles north of Noumea. We anchored in Baie des Mustiques on a windy afternoon between two local yachts and launched our dinghy to explore the nearby beach where our closest neighbours' inflatable was already parked. The hills were parched, with crisp dry grass rustling in the breeze. A couple of houses hid under a cluster of trees a short distance in both directions along the beach and a wire fence, leading up from the low tide line, divided the land. There was a dusty track just above us, so we walked along it toward the nearest house/ranch. An old rusting Dodge truck with surprisingly shiny chrome lights and wipers lay in our path. Low level thorn bushes that reminded us of the Torote Blanco in Mexico's Baja scratched a few etchings on our exposed legs here and there. I was happy to be wearing my hiking boots, but should have worn trousers.

Fossil clam shells on the beach

What looks like a fossil crab

The path was easy to walk, well-trodden by horses as evidenced by their drying droppings, and we reached the stand of niaoulli trees behind the house quite quickly. Not wishing to disturb anyone, we skirted the stand and came out in a flat valley where many trails criss-crossed the grassland. We headed inland and then up a hill onto a ridge. The wind was pleasantly refreshing on the top and we had superb views of the passage we had sailed that morning and saw many possibilities of walking across the island. Small groups of horses,half a dozen to a dozen, grazed on just about every hill on the island. We descended to a forest on the north side of the island where I spied a deer that leapt away at our approach. As the day was late, we returned to
Ladybug for supper and decided on an early start the next morning.
Ile Ducos Panorama

We rowed ashore around 8am when the tide was out and struck out along the beach in the opposite direction to our previous hike. We did not see any signs of life as we walked past a house near the barbed wire fence. However, a small kids' slide on the beach and a flower garden spoke of recent occupation, maybe ranchers visiting from the mainland. The sandy beach turned into a rocky beach with sharp volcanic terraces. We continued along the shore and at one place found fossilized shells in soft sandstone rocks. The fossils were all small clam or scallop shells, except one which appeared to be a crab, with distinct claws and round body.

Horses run from us even though we are close to a km away

A little while later we climbed up the bank and came close to a clan of horses. We had brought along some oats and tried to entice them to come closer. They were very shy and skittish and kept their distance, eyeing us wearily. A few had beautiful shiny brown coats but most looked half-starved with their skin stretched taut over the ribs. A very young foal stood close to its mother and peered at us curiously. I was a little anxious myself while trying to tempt them with an open dish of oats. They were edging away from us but stopped to stare. Then Chris took the oats and crouched down in the grass while I took a few steps back towards the beach. One brave mare slowly approached Chris but turned away as if she thought the better of it. I guess they are not used to people offering them food. So we continued our way up the hills and left them in peace.

Rani hikes into a forest where she saw a deer

We switch-backed up one tall hill and saw a settlement on the lagoon side of the island. There was a palm plantation around the 4 or 5 houses but it was too far away for much detail. The white-capping bay would not be great for fishing boats other than landing small skiffs on the beach. Ladybug was anchored on the opposite, protected side of the island.

The dry  plains here are a stark contrast to the lush jungles of Fiji
It was tempting to continue walking and we hiked along a long undulating ridge to another headland where a herd of goats grazed. Despite trying to approach them from a blind side, they must have seen us from afar and scampered down before we reached their pasture. Piles of manure attested to their preferred hangout and who could blame them? They had a magnificent view all around - the islands to the south, the lagoon to the west, the mainland to the east and their own island laying at their feet. The horses outnumbered the goats (we could count a couple of hundred within our sight) and we wondered where they all went for water.

More horses in motion

After a light picnic lunch at "goat point" we reluctantly began our circuitous tramp home. We had to sail out early the next day to Noumea to check on some overdue important emails. Little did we know of the drama we would endure on that passage (described in a previous blog post)!


Ann Adams said...

Beautiful pictures, as usual. Loved the wild horses!
Good luck with the repairs!

hotspur said...

Great photos!!