On Monday 1 October 2018, eight Year 10 girls and 14 Year 10-11 boys from Woodford House and Lindisfarne College set off on a cultural and linguistic journey to New Caledonia.
On our arrival in Nouméa, we travelled straight to the New Zealand memorial cemetery at Bourail, one and a half hours north of the airport. Here we visited the memorial commemorating members of the New Zealand Land and Air Forces and Merchant Navy, and members of the Western Pacific Local Forces who died during operations in the Pacific during World War II. The boys did a haka and the girls sung a waiata in honour of the fallen servicemen.
We then travelled a further hour and a half to Koné, a mining community on the north-west coast of New Caledonia. There we had a very warm welcome from Collège de Koné, a school we had been exchanging letters and videos with since the start of the year. Woodford House and Lindisfarne College were hosted by local students and participated in a rich exchange of language, culture, values, leisure activities and food.
Our girls attended school from the Tuesday to the Friday, both in the classroom and spending time socialising with the students from Koné. The staff at the Collège de Koné organised some fabulous activities for us including a Tahitian dancing lesson, archery, kayaking around the mangrove swamps at Fouey Beach, sailing in fun boats, horse-riding, and music lessons. Some students were lucky enough to be offered extra experiences such as being driven across the central mountain range to the east coast, which is very lush and tropical, and even a flight over the lagoon in an ultra-light plane.
On the final Saturday of the trip, the school organised a picnic lunch and day at Gatope Beach near Voh. About 20 families attended, each bringing food from their culture, so the cuisine was very varied and delicious. We ate hangi style food from a Melanesian bougna, barbecued fish caught that morning in the lagoon, Indonesian delicacies and, of course, French bread and sausages. The students mixed and mingled all day swimming, paddle-boarding, riding on a jet-ski and being pulled behind a boat on a biscuit. Both groups found it very hard to separate at the end of the day and say their farewells, as they had really opened up to a different culture and discovered a lot about themselves and a very different way of life.
On 7 October we took a bus journey south to Nouméa and then flew across to an idyllic island known as the Isle of Pines or Ile des Pins, named after the numerous colonial pines which cover the island. It is surrounded by a lagoon and coral reef, so is ideal for snorkelling and swimming. We were fortunate to have had stunning weather the whole time we were away with an average balmy temperature of 26 degrees. On the Isle of Pines we took advantage of all the water sports on offer; paddle-boarding, sea kayaking and snorkelling, as well as enjoying the amazing French food.
Our final day was spent in the capital of the country, Nouméa, and it was an action-packed day with a visit to the local market in the morning to buy souvenirs and admire the local products. We then explored the city shops before heading to the tropical aquarium which is a major attraction in Nouméa. We visited a senior high-school in Nouméa to meet with students who are interested in coming to Woodford House and had dinner out at a French pancake parlour with a stunning view over the bays of Anse Vata and Baie des Citrons.
Our girls were beautifully behaved and a credit to our school. They had an amazing time and have come back with less inhibitions in using their French and are much more knowledgeable about other cultures and ways of looking at the world. The host families commented on their openness to the New Caledonian experience and their willingness to build bridges of communication and friendship between two neighbouring countries.
Mrs Sue Pommarède, HOD Languages