I’ve got a free day before the start of a conference in warm and sunny New Caledonia – although the forecast is for rain rather than sun! I’ve done a bit of research before getting here, but there’s not a lot of information on-line, except for the well-documented, multi-day Grande Randonnée. I’m hoping that the New Caledonians are as avid hikers as the “European French”, and the hotel concierge will be able to suggest a suitably challenging walk… Alas, none of the hotel staff have any ideas, but with a bit of help from Google they propose Les Koghis (Koghi Mountains). It’s about half an hour away by car and I can see from my online map that it has a few different trails, including one up to the summit of Pic Malaoui.
A steep and winding road leads to the Auberge du Mont Koghi, which has a restaurant (with “unmissable Savoyard specialties” like fondue and raclette) and offers accommodation in a number of bungalows. It would be a convenient place to spend a night so you can get an early start, as a number of walks start from here.
I’m thinking we’ll do the longest route (Mecci, a work colleague, is joining me on the walk): the “Tour des Monts Koghis” or “Sommets Tour”. It’s a 6.6km loop that ascends the Mont Moné (1,079m) peak, so it should take a couple of hours. Although the signage states 4-5 hours, which seems very conservative.
We set-off on the summit loop in an anti-clockwise direction, so we have the option of doing the shorter route to Malaoui Peak or Pic Malaoui (2-3 hours), depending on the rate of our progress. The track is obvious but pretty rough and muddy – and rather steep. In fact, the entire walk consists of either a steep climb or a steep descent. A bit of scrambling is required at times and we need to be careful on the often slippery path.
The first part of the hike is through tropical forest, dominated by dense ferns at ground level and huge rainforest trees (including strangler figs) towering above. (New Caledonia has extreme botanical diversity with 3000 species of plants, of which 2400 are native to the island.)
Not that I’m really admiring the flora – the track ascends fairly constantly and steeply and despite the slightly cooler temperature up here, it’s still pretty warm where you’re trudging up a mountain. Our effort is rewarded after about 45min of walking, with a gap in the forest affording nice views towards the coast.
We push on, and not long afterwards have a decision to make: continue on the summit loop to Mont Moné, or take the track to Pic Malaoui. As all of the higher mountain peaks are covered by low cloud, we head towards the lower summit of Malaoui (or Malawi). There’s a initial short climb up to Le Belvédère, the highest point on the walk that we’re doing at about 750m (the sign incorrectly states an altitude of 652m). Although the name “belvedere” suggests a view, there’s not much to see from here.
The track soon descends very steeply, and while the “down” bit is a nice change, it’s slow going as the track is muddy and slippery.
After another kilometres or so through the rainforest there are views again of the coast.
Finally we can see our destination in the distance, although the track first descends through the forest before making its way up to the bare peak.
Pic Malaoui is also referred to as Chapeau de Gendarme, as it’s looks like a policeman’s hat that was worn at the end of the 19th century… not that the resemblance is obvious to me!
What is very noticeable as we near the valley below the Malaoui peak is the diversity of plants: in a short space the vegetation changes from rainforest to low heath. There’s a plant that looks very much like a pandanus you’d find in Tasmania (I can’t work out what it is), and nearby a grevillea (I think Grevillea exul) that I discover later is one of two grevillea species that’s endemic to New Caledonia.
A last steep but short ascent takes me to to the top of Pic Malaoui, which is not particularly high, but provides a panoramic view from Mount Dore on the left to Païta and the Mont Mou botanical reserve on the right.
Directly ahead is the Nouméa peninsula, home to about 180,000 people.
It’s back (almost) the same way, down the small peak and back up the big mountain to re-join the summit loop track.
There’s an an alternate track which bypasses Le Belvédère – so it’s a bit less steep, but the track seems less-used and is very rough. In a couple of sections, fallen trees necessitate a careful scramble to get past them.
There’s a last glimpse of the coast from the main track, as we descend back to our starting point. The clouds have lifted, and it’s clearer now than it was four hours ago on our way up.
It’s taken us about 4.5 hours to cover just over seven kilometres – which is slightly longer than the summit loop, but involves significantly less elevation gain. Given the low clouds, it was the right decision – with an early start you could combine this with the Sommets Tour for a pretty solid day walk.
0.0km Start at Auberge du Mont Koghi (465m asl) 1.7km Junction with track to Pic Malaoui 1.9km Le Belvédère (~750m asl) 3.7km Pic Malaoui / Malowi Peak (642m asl) 5.1km Junction with alternate track route back to main track 5.6km Back on the main summit loop track 7.1km Return to Auberge du Mont Koghi