We visited New Caledonia for just over a week in May and I came home in love with the country. New Caledonia is fascinating for its complexity as much as for its Pacific beauty. The beaches are soft and white, the snorkeling is enchanting and the cuisine is a mix of French technique and (amazing) Pacific produce. And yet, you can’t go far without seeing the heavy impact of mining or evidence of the poverty experienced by many of the Kanak locals. If you want it to be, it’s an idyllic Pacific island with bath-tub warm water and beautiful resorts. If you want to dig a bit deeper, it’s a complex microcosm centred around the small-but-buzzing capital of Noumea.
If you’re planning to visit, here are my recommendations …
1. Visit the Tijbaou Cultural Centre near Noumea. Designed by the same architect as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, these majestic buildings contain exhibits on Kanak history and culture.
2. Eat. The fruit and vegetable markets in Noumea are a great place to start your gourmet holiday, but you don’t need to walk far to find cute cafes and French bakeries. Take a picnic lunch and eat under the palm trees with the locals in Place des Cocotiers.
3. Get out to the islands. Although we stayed in Noumea, we took day trips to Amédée island and Iles des Pins, both of which were stunning. Amédée offers great snorkeling (I came face to face with a turtle!) and opportunities to get out onto the reef, while Iles des Pins is large enough to support a couple of resorts and contains the ruins of an old penal colony.
4. Check out the ecology of the islands. We organised a half-day guided tour through the area surrounding Noumea through the local visitors centre, which covered a bit of flora, fauna, natural history and geology. The land that now makes up New Caledonia has spent a lot of its life submerged under the Pacific Ocean (that’s why it’s now such a rich source of minerals) and everything that grows or lives their now arrived New Caledonia sprung back up to the surface, like some kind of evolutionary pic n mix.
5. Take your Mum! New Caledonia is marketed as a romantic destination (The heart-shaped mangrove! The heart-shaped power plant!) but the mild climate, relaxed pace and French shopping and food made it a great mother-daughter destination.
If you want a little background before you, watch this documentary to get a glimpse of the complexity of New Caledonian society. The Lonely Planet on Vanuata and New Caledonia had all the travel details we need and
We stayed in Noumea at the Ramada Plaza, about five minutes walk to Anse Vata beach. The suites were beautiful and great value and the restaurant is great for a treat.
We flew Air New Zealand out of Auckland and Air Caledonie to Iles des Pins and took this tour to Amédée island.