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Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Friday, 26 February 2016

It's cold, wet and somehow I'm in New Caledonia (via London's old docklands)

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. How a walk along the River Thames got me thinking about whaling and the South Pacific. Words by Nicola Baird


This area was known as Greenland Dock from 1763. But there must have been a strong
South Pacific link as nearby is South Seas Road.
New Caledonia (also known as Noumea) in the South Pacific is a tropical Pacific Island. So it's fun to walk along the south bank of the River Thames - using the Thames Path - and discover the many links this area had with the rest of the world.

There's a large block of City fabulous apartments on the spot where I took this photo, which were built on part of  a 10 acre dock where the whaling boats collected.  The unfortunate whales were caught for their meat, oil and blubber. But the huge whale bones have been put to all sorts of uses too - to shock and awe like the jawbones on Whitby cliff as well as more practical uses, like corsets (fashion) but also for chess pieces and dominoes.

Sperm oil was used when high quality lighting was needed, eg, for non-smokey light and even lighthouses - as well as for lubricating machinery and soap.

At the dock there used to be blubber boiling houses.

Whaling is an old, old trade, possibly dating back to 3,000BC - reaching a peak in the 1930s when the annual whale slaughter was around 50,000.  Since 1986 whaling has been banned, but some countries - Japan, Iceland, Norway and others - controversially persist. In other words it's still going on...

This part of Rotherhithe's original name was changed in 1763 to Greenland Dock, no doubt reflecting the location of where ships were chasing and catching the majority of their whales. You can find more about the history of New Caledonia Wharf and the luxury flats there now here or look at wikipedia for more about whales and whaling.

  • It was Captain James Cook who named New Caledonia - in 1774. Ships initially traded sandalwood (a rather poetic name for timber), and then blackbirding - illegal shipment of locals to work in slave-like conditions in the sugar cane fields of Queensland, Australia.
  • It became - and remains - a French possession, on order of Napoleon, in 1854. it was used as a penal colony for many years although discovering nickel seems to have helped give this small island country a little more status with Mother France.  Although no longer a colony it has been one of France's overseas territories since the end of the second world war. Be born there and you can take on French nationality, despite clearly being Melanesian.

I have such a soft spot for the South Pacific that even on a wet, cold February just seeing the words "New Caledonia" made me imagine tropical warmth. And when I peered through the entrance to the flats I could hear the music of running water - a fountain of course. The apartments also have an indoor swimming pool.

This area had been hugely pimped up. When Charles Dickens and Conan Doyle were writing they'd send their really bad characters to this area in search of R&R at an opium den. Now it seems squeaky clean behind the gated posh conversions. There's not even much graffiti, but there are still a few cranes and along the waterfront little wharves giving just a hint of the bustle, noise and trade this part of Docklands was so famous for.

Verdict: A fabulous way to get to know the Thames.





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