Tropical short trip with a French vibe….
Let’s take a short holiday from the Fashion and Petrol: A love Story series and travel to New Caledonia….
At 2 hours by plane from Brisbane, why not? We took an Aircalin flight from Brisbane and landed in Noumea shortly thereafter. For those in the southern states, Aircalin offers direct flights from Melbourne and Sydney as well. Fun fact, did you know that “calin” means hug in French…… Haaaa, so cute…. There are also plenty of cruises that will stop to New Caledonia if this is your preference.
We did not have a lot of time, and we decided that we would leave the loyalty islands, which are the jewel of New Caledonia, to another trip. Instead, we decided to explore the mainland or ‘’ le caillou’’ (the rock) as they call it.
We stayed in Anse Vata which is located just outside the CBD on the seaside. We stayed at the hotel ‘’Le Lagon’’ and were quite impressed by the joyful welcome and services provided there. Le Lagon is a more ‘’boutique’’ hotel located in a quiet spot of Anse Vata and offers charming rooms. There are other accommodation choices like the Hilton Promenade, but we opted for a smaller scale hotel. We explored from there and made a short road trip to Bourail and Kone.
What you need to know before going
Language: French and Kanak with English spoken in the tourist sectors. If you do not speak French, you can definitely get by in the tourist spots but will struggle if you venture further like in Kone. Learning a little French vocabulary may get you a long way if you want to go outside the beaten path.
Money: Pacific Franc. You need to be warned: the cost of living is much more expansive than in Australian capital cities. If you live in a more remote Australian location, it will be very similar….
Temperature: Quite comfortable really…… there is a wet and dry season, so expect more rain from December to March with potential for cyclones. We went there at the end of December beginning of January and got a mixed bag of sun, rain and wind. There are plenty of activities to do in Noumea on rainy days, so it was not really an issue.
Politics: New Caledonia is an overseas ‘’collectivitée’’ of France. It is still part of France in many ways but is governed by the Noumea Accords which gives a great deal of autonomy to New Caledonia. This accord also allows for referendums on New Caledonia’s independence to occur at various stages. The last referendum happened in November 2018 where Caledonians voted to stick with France. As we travelled there only a month after the referendum, we still felt a bit of a social tension but nothing to make us feel uncomfortable.
What to see
In Anse Vata, the foreshore is quite nice for a stroll. It is swimmable but do not expect the white beaches of Isle of Pine or Loyalty Islands. If that is what you are after…. Then, hop on a boat or a plane, and I am sure those places will fill you with joy. Nevertheless, a taxi boat away is Duck Island. If you want to enjoy a relaxing day at the beach only minutes away from Anse Vata, Duck Island is the place to be. It is quite small and attracts lots of tourists, but it is still quite pleasant. I did the underwater snorkelling trail, and surprisingly, I was surprised by the quality of the coral and amount of fish I saw. I even saw a turtle! Due to the number of tourists and the close proximity of the urban areas, it is not bad. Not a pristine reef, of course, but quite good. If underwater is not your thing, there is an arts trail on the island. Worth a stop.
But, back to the more urban area. We are in French territory so let’s talk croissant, wine and cheese. To my greatest delight, there was a boulangerie located just a stone throw away from Hotel Le Lagon. That was the spot for our endless supply of baguette and croissant. There was a corner store where we could get some good cheese and other French delicacies which we brought back to our room for dinner on the balcony. A wine shop was also not too far, so we avoided the expansive restaurants on main street. Surprisingly, good French restaurants are off the beaten track and not easily accessible from Anse Vata. A bit of a shame.
The Kanak people who are the first inhabitants of New Caledonia have a rich and diverse culture. There are two museums dedicated to the Kanak people and more broadly to the Melanesian culture. Both offer different perspectives. I personally really enjoyed the Museum of New Caledonia which is located right downtown in a bit of a shabby looking building. It has an extensive collection of artefacts which tells a story about mostly about pre-colonisation life. It helped me to better understand the cultural roots of the Kanak people. A must see. The Tjibaou Cultural Centre, on the other hand, is an architectural wonder and stands tall in the landscape; you will see it from afar. The centre is a bit of a hike from Noumea CBD or Anse Vata, I recommend to take a cab for less of a hassle; otherwise, you need to take two buses from Anse Vata, and if you don’t speak French, it may be a bit of a headache. To be honest, the centre had interesting exhibitions, but somehow I felt that the content did not commensurate the architectural grandeur of the building. But I am an archaeological nerd…. The Tjibaou Cultural centre is still worth the visit. The architecture is stunning, but it is captivating to understand the more recent history and struggle of the Kanak people.
Another great place to visit around Noumea is the Parc Zoologique et Forestier. Again, I would suggest the cab (even if it is expansive) to go there as it can be a bit of an expedition. Nice place for a pick-nick and stroll in the gardens. But the real reason for my visit there was to meet the Cagou ( what is this, you may ask?). The Cagou is a beautiful non-flying bird that is endemic to New Caledonia. It is now an endangered species and is very rare to find in its natural habitat. Definitely worth meeting the bird!
Venturing Further on the Caillou: Bourail and Kone
Bourail, or more specifically the Domaine de Deva is a large estate with ocean frontage and mountain views. It will make the joy of hikers and golfers. It is home to the Sheraton Deva Spa and Golf. Quite posh and expansive but with an awesome location. It is possible to stay overnight in a luxury hut and sip a drink near the Polynesian inspired main building. If you are there, you can arrange to go snorkel in the UNESCO classified lagoon or enjoy a view from the top of hills or from the skies (by plane). For our part, we definitely enjoyed the view from the hills.
For a less expansive getaway, I would suggest going to Poe, which is nearby, we stopped at Nemo for lunch, and the food was absolutely exquisite. I recommend you do the same.
We also ventured further to Kone which is inland. The lush green mountains and the scenic route was a nice change in the backdrop. It is mostly a mining town with some agriculture. Not very touristic but good to see a variety of landscape. It is possible to take a small plane and see the heart of Voh. Unfortunately, the weather was not very clement, and we decided to pass as we there only one night. We stayed at the Koniambo hotel which was quite lovely. We really enjoyed eating bougna, which is a traditional meal consisting of sweet potatoes and meat, at the dinner buffet that night.
Overall, we had a great tip, albeit short, in New Caledonia. We will definitely have to go back to see the islands, but Noumea was really pleasant. There are heaps of things to do and see in and around the city. The people we met were really nice and friendly. The relaxed atmosphere was quite enjoyable. We were there for new year and had the best time with the locals celebrating in the streets of Anse Vata. Truly unforgettable!
Until next time….. travel safe!
Julie from Tropical Suitcase