Our arrival in Nouméa marked the first landing in memory of National Geographic Orion in New Caledonia. Guests and staff alike are always grateful for a speedy immigration process! After a light breakfast, we freely wandered about the city center for a couple hours. Our birders quickly found a flower-laden park where they searched for new ‘lifers’ (a species that a birder is seeing for the first time), while others explored the vibrant China Town area. Down in the market, elaborate crafts, instruments, clothing, and tapestries were sold. The fish market was filled with exotic whole fish and lobsters the size of your thigh! With a busy afternoon schedule, we returned to the ship at 10:30 for a lavish brunch.

In the afternoon, our personable tour guide shared his great sense of humor and reminded us to wear a smile during our travels through New Caledonia. Our first stop was a tremendous walk through the Parc Zoologique et Forestier Michel Corbasson, a gorgeous park built down a jungle mountainside. Much different than the western zoos we have become accustomed to, the birds here are kept in their natural habitats. The crown jewel of our walk was a close viewing of the kagu. The kagu is the endangered and flightless national bird of New Caledonia. We observed as it calmly wandered through its habitat, barely aware of us at all. Later in the afternoon, we found ourselves at an outstanding museum of cultural heritage. Rooms full of carvings and relics tell the story of the people from these islands. Outside, our birders took a walk through the mangroves before we all ended in the traditional, high-ceilinged meeting houses.

As you can imagine, we were all famished upon returning to the ship. Chef Ronnie had an impressive seafood barbecue planned on the aft deck as we pulled away. Chatter about our successful day filled the air as we sailed through one of the largest lagoons on Earth.