New Caledonia

Noumea’s Place des Cocotiers reflects its red and orange flame tree canopy. The stature of Admiral Olry looks down on the busy throng of lads with skateboards, visitors with maps, workers with purpose and lovers with smiles. A woman, topless, sits on Anse Vata beach and peels an apple, oblivious to the men playing petanque on the grassy verge above, as they are to her. Clack.

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Bienvenue a Nouvelle Caledonie – Welcome to New Caledonia

New Caledonia isn’t for everyone but for those it is for – c’est manifique! It is very different to its neighbouring Pacific countries but offers lots of rewards and surprises. The capital, Noumea, really is like a little piece of France dropped into the Pacific. There’s no ‘third world’ here – efficient public transport runs on sealed roads (sans potholes), there are stylish shops with French flair, great restaurants, lively nightlife, the casino, topless bathing on the beaches and men in berets muttering ‘merde’ if their lob at petanque goes awry. Add quality accommodation to the recipe and you have one fine destination.

Why isn’t it for everyone? It is ‘French’. Most people working in tourism speak English and those who don’t are very patient and welcoming but, for some people, this can be a little threatening. And it is not as tropical as the neighbouring countries, being further south. While still warm to hot, the non-summer months may find the water a bit cold for swimming. The final negative – it is more expensive than other nearby destinations (after Tahiti, the most expensive in the Pacific). There are ways around this, however. You can opt for self-contained accommodation and use the supermarkets. Even with no kitchen you can grab a breadstick and some cheese from a supermarket for lunch so dinner doesn’t seem such a splurge. Ask the locals for advice on dining out – they will steer you away from the tourist traps and towards places they like to eat at (like La Fiesta Chez Alban at Bair des Citrons). And, luckily, the attitude to tipping is Melanesian (not expected).

The main beaches (and accommodation) in Noumea are at Baie des Citrons and Anse Vata. Only a walk from each other (with a wonderful restaurant strip between, at the end of Baie des Citrons) they face different directions so if one is windy, the other will be sheltered. Apart from Le Meridien, which has direct beach access, the other accommodation properties along the promenade, sit across the road from the beach.

Watersports like windsurfing (Anse Vata) and kayaking are accessible but if you want a rewarding snorkel or dive on the reef you should put a day aside and head out with one of the dive companies.

Apart from soaking up romantic French ambience with a backdrop of the world’s largest lagoon and swaying palm trees there are great day trips like Armedee lighthouse and the Tjibaou Cultural Centre (museum, art gallery, library, botanical gardens) is a must. And to see the ‘real’ New Caledonia, hire a car (surprisingly inexpensive) and head to the Grande Terre’s exotic east coast where you will find dramatic, rugged scenery and Melanesian culture – and for those wanting white sand beaches backed by towering pines and total relaxation, the Isle of Pines is a short flight away.

More Information

Note: It’s not possible to legally marry in New Caledonia unless you’ve resided in the country for 30 days.

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