Tiébaghi in Melanesian means "mountain of thunder"
About 20 kilometers north of Koumac is a former mining village. It once housed the Tiébaghi mine which was the largest chrome mine in the world! The mining potential of this place was discovered in 1877 and operations began in 1901.
The first miners working there are former convicts who were released, as well as Japanese and Vietnamese. At this time, it is with pickaxes, blood and water that the galleries were digged to unearth the precious ore.
A huge mining crater 100 meters deep is still visible today, reflecting the titanic work primarily done with human resources.
The village built to house workers and their families and the access is only possible on foot or horseback. In 1945, it had 1500 inhabitants.
A tumultuous history
The crisis of 1929 cumulated to World War II caused the collapse of production. An American citizen then bought the mine investing in its equipment to increase productivity and facilitate the work of minors. Gradually, the town was modernized and opened a school, a bakery, a village hall, a chapel, an infirmary and a generator, providing the inhabitants the necessary autonomy given their reclusive situation.
But the instability of the world market and the declining competitiveness of the Caledonian market entailed the closure of the Tiébaghi mine in 1964 and the departure of all minors.
A Canadian group then bought the site and modernized it for the activity to recover in 1976. The production will be short-lived since in 1989, chrome reserves were depleted causing its final closure.
Part of the mountain resumed activity since 1997, since nickel was discovered a few kilometers away, but the village is still inhabited.
Heritage open to all
To do this journey in time and explore this prosperous past, you'll need to contact in advance the Koumac Tourist Office to book a guide. The tour lasts half a day.
This village relives today thanks to the passion of the "association for the protection of the mining and historical heritage of Caledonian North" composed of former miners who strive to preserve and renovate buildings in order to perpetuate History. Through their work, the tour wraps us with a certain nostalgia, one feels transported in the everyday life that was not easy for these men and women living in the mountain and working underground.
Hours: Thursday and Saturday morning
Rates: 5000 XPF for 1 or 2 people and 2000 XPF per additional person