Sue’s Turtle Garden

Îlot Signal, New Caledonia

Everyone has a superpower... is the sort of thing they tell you at school to boost your self-esteem. Being something of a cynic, I’m not sure this is true. What I do know is that my mum has a superpower and it involves turtles...

Our day started with a short drive through Nouméa to the ferry port. This area is awash with salespeople promoting various tours to and around the various New Caledonian islands and islets, and I feel as though we made the right decision in pre-booking online which was, in fact, much more difficult than it sounds. The sheer quantity of visual noise (and actual noise) would mean that logical decision making was all but impossible. Spoiler alert: We chose well.

We booked a “turtle tour” to Signal Island and naturally our tour company, Dal Ocean Charter, had the coolest logo available - a skull and cross bones with a turtle under it. As the island was right in the middle of the marine reserve (New Caledonia’s lagoon) a water taxi was required to take us to Signal island and we had been forewarned that we may get a little damp (even if we avoid falling into the ocean blue). Waiting in the port for the other passengers to gather I pondered what kind of pirate our captain was likely to be, hook-handed, big pirate hat, maybe a parrot companion? Disappointedly, he was just a regular, modern sea-goer wearing an anorak and baseball cap (no parrot either).

Apparently our skipper loves “ladies first” as a strategy to ensure an organised entry to our inflatable vessel. Old school. This meant that I was seated at the front, with Jane and Mum at the very back of the boat. The front rocked around a lot (I was hopping about like a kangaroo on hot coals) whilst the back was more stable but perhaps still not perfect somehow? We’ll see...

The water around Signal Island is one of those glorious stretches of ocean that the hyper-rich visit in order to take pictures for their Instagram followers aboard a luxury yacht. I know this because we saw some hyper-rich people taking pictures for their Instagram followers aboard a luxury yacht. I’ve never been a part of this world and I was a little concerned that the island itself might be choc-full of champagne-guzzling, butler-employing stereotypes or whatever. I. Was. Wrong. (See, Jane? I can admit it!)

Tranquility abounds! Even with our 33 additional visitors, the island was so calm. We inadvertently stole some amazing snorkels from a professional snorkelist (Is that a word? Is it a profession? Either way, a guy with lots of really good snorkels got annoyed that people stole them) and headed into the water, on a quest to see some turtles!

The previous day we had seen the rescue turtles in the aquarium chomping up broccoli like there’s no tomorrow, but it is tomorrow at this point (relative to yesterday) and we hadn’t brought any veggies to share. As a result, I was a little nervous that we wouldn’t see any marine life whatsoever. How does one possibly attract marine life without suitable legumes to offer? As we swam around the jetty with a group of other visitors, one of them cried out “I’ve found one!”. Happy days!

The way that turtles swim is so incredibly graceful. I do hope that they are entertained by my slapstick efforts to stay afloat whilst desperately holding onto a GoPro (other brands are available, probably) but they don’t seem in the least bit interested in mankind. They hug the perimeter of coral and sand, in order to eat little morsels of sea moss, which I’m sure is delicious! (Well, better than broccoli I assume).

After our own tasty lunch (not sea moss or broccoli), we headed back to scramble around the reef again in search of more turtles. Mum took a slightly different approach and headed in the opposite direction where she floated around on an inflatable noodle, rather than committing to full-snorkel mode. Due to the aforementioned superpower, this was a fantastic idea. She used some kind of (potentially imaginary) sonar signal (on Signal island, no less) to call in either a “bale, nest, turn, or dole” (all are correct according to Google) of six or seven turtles. Apparently being calm and blending in to the natural environment is more appealing to marine life - who knew?

Once Mum shared her self-styled “Turtle Garden” with us, we had one of the most magical experiences ever, swimming from one majestic ocean grazer to another, in the clearest, bluest water, with beautiful sunshine. Also, I saw a reef shark from a distance that can actually be classed as safe, as I was on land.

As our time on the island drew to a close, we were pretty tired out from all the swimming and excitement, and looked forward to the gentle ride home. The way out was relatively uneventful. Why would the way back be any different?

This time we all sat at the back of the boat, Jane and I were in the centre, with Mum out to the right. The wind had picked up a little and as we hit our stride, waves started to pummel the starboard side whilst out captain rode the throttle like a speed daemon. Things really reached an adrenaline-fuelled peak about ten minutes into the journey and - I honestly can’t overstate this - Mum got SOAKED.

Jane fashioned a fabric wall between the water and my Mum’s face, using a hat and my T-shirt, so that some oxygen could be had, but she still almost drowned. The forty minute journey was both hilarious and deeply concerning in maybe equal measure, but fortunately Mum made it through her near death experience and Jane had the time of her life on the crazy ride. A word of advice - if you’re on a boat, sit at the front!

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