If you are living in Australia, it’s a little bit difficult to find a destination close-by that is thoroughly emerged in another European culture. Luckily, New Caledonia is just a couple of hours away, and boy, what a beautiful destination that is. I think that when God created the world He started with New Caledonia first before He got sloppier with other places…
I have visited a number of destinations in New Caledonia – Grand Terre, Lifou Island and the Isle of Pines. All three have their own distinct feel and highlights. See below for further information.
New Caledonia might be part of your cruise itinerary in which case you will probably visit not just one but probably two or three of the islands. The main island with the capital Noumea is called Grand Terre, and to the west are the Loyalty Islands, with Lifou and Maré probably being the best known travel destinations. The Isle of Pines (Île des Pines) is particular attractive to honeymooners.
New Caledonia is a bit special in the sense that it is an overseas collectivity of the French Republic which makes it part of France but not the European Union. Consequently, the official currency is not the Euro but the Pacific Franc (which is however strictly linked to the Euro). There are strong political currents which push towards total independency but I think we will need to wait another couple of years to see these movements come to fruition.
The climate is tropical and warm, with trade winds ensuring that it never gets too hot or uncomfortable. The ecosystem is unique and offers many species found nowhere else in the world, in particular plants, birds, turtles and reptiles.
New Caledonia is not a cheap destination, and in particular Grand Terre is well developed and highly industrialised. You will instantly notice the huge nickel mine not far from the city centre, and I can assure you that you will be stuck in a Renault and Citroën traffic jam in no time. It’s a different story on the outlying islands where Kanak culture is still very vivid and local languages are spoken at least in the domestic environment.
Facts at a glance:
What to eat: New Caledonia is where the South Pacific meets French culture. So whether it’s fresh fish or a croissant, you really cannot go wrong here. Try bougna – fresh fish or chicken cooked in South Pacific style wrapped in banana leafs on hot stones covered in sand and wash it all done with a good French wine.
What to buy: The market in Noumea offers a great range of typical South Pacific souvenirs including carved goods, jewellery made of pearls and shells, coconut vessels, colourful cloths, and much more. After some deliberation we settled on a stone carved local idol to add to our South Pacific island collection.
Best beaches: The Isle of Pines is probably the most romantic beach destination you could ever imagine, with the Piscine Naturelle probably topping the list, and Kanuméra Bay coming second. On the main island (Grand Terre) check out Anse Vata, the Baie des Citrons (Lemon Bay) and Kuendu Beach. On Lifou Island, Luengoni Bay is absolutely picture perfect.
What to pack: New Caledonia’s water is so lovely warm you might never want to get out of it again. Make sure you pack sun protection and swimmers. You own snorkel set might come in handy as well as reef shoes as the tiny corals might be a bit uncomfortable when they are thrown against your ankles when going into the water. More conservative clothing is appropriate for visiting villages and rural communities. A French dictionary might be useful too!
When to go: The climate is pleasant all year around. Most Australians will visit in April to November when it’s colder at home, so if you want to avoid the Aussies, make sure you travel during the Australian summer months.
Good to know: New Caledonia is not a cheap destination by any means. The Isle of Pines in particular is serving the luxury and honeymoon market, and restaurants in Noumea won’t feed you for pennies either. It is important to budget accordingly. French is the official language in New Caledonia but we rarely had problems with English only.
What I like most about New Caledonia: If you want to encounter Paradise on Earth, you need to add the Isle of Pines to your bucket list now. The brilliant colours, warm water, the striking tall pine trees, and the peaceful surroundings make this small Pacific island the perfect honeymoon destination.
What I don’t like about New Caledonia: If I had to pick the top destination in New Caledonia it would probably not be its capital, Noumea. Noumea in particular on a Sunday when shops are closed is deserted, hot, and not very friendly looking. If your cruise ship happens to arrive in Noumea on a Sunday make sure you book a tour to somewhere else rather than exploring the city which on Sundays seems to be frequented only by dubious looking people.
Must-do’s: On Grand Terre, take the bus up to the architecturally surprising Cultural Centre which perfectly mimics the local pine trees. On the Isle of Pines check out the stunning beaches for swimming and snorkelling, and on Lifou island climb all the way up to the Notre Dame de Lourdes Chapel for some great views.