FEW things will destroy dinner-table ambience faster than a dog fight breaking out underneath it; especially if it's a picnic table with the attached benches snugly filled.
We flail around helplessly for a minute, jammed at the hips, but then one dog erupts from beneath, bone in mouth, and disappears into the darkness with the other close behind.
We're spending the night in a hill village in New Caledonia's Northern Province, sleeping in a traditional thatched hut beside a ravine.
Life here is very different to the flesh-pots of Noumea, with its nightclubs and restaurants - not that we've eaten badly since driving north and crossing the rugged mountains to the lush and tropical east coast.
Yesterday, we stopped at a settlement tucked up a valley where the hilltops were hidden in cloud. At the Table d'Hote de Simone, we sat in the garden under an iron roof as the rain pattered down, sampling coconut palm hearts, fish in parcels, purple yam cooked in coconut milk, then sweet mandarins and bananas, with French bread and wine throughout then local coffee. It was a good example of how the indigenous people of New Caledonia, the Kanaks, are regaining their lands, pride and a future in the tourism industry.
Here in Tiendanite is where it all began: it's the home village of Jean-Marie Tjibaou, leader of the Kanak independence movement, after whom the Cultural Centre in Noumea is named.
It's also where he's buried, under a black marble slab, near a row of 10 graves of other men who were ambushed on the road in 1984 at the height of indigenous unrest. Outside the village is a shrine made of the remains of their vehicles.
Fluttering above is the flag of the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front, a symbol of rebellion, but since this July flown in Noumea along with the French Tricolour. It's a great sign.
Where to stay: To stay at Tiendanite, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Further information: See newcaledonia.co.nz.
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