Are you ready? We’re about to introduce you to a tropical island that’s right at our doorsteps. And that’s not all. It also has the best of France… their food and their wine. It’s a little island (actually several islands) called New Caledonia and it’s just a skip and hop (and a 2hr 45m flight) away.
You get the best of both worlds at New Caledonia. Island life with crystal clear water, snorkelling and several little islands just a quick water taxi trip away. Then there’s the other thing we all look for in our holidays… great food. Being run by the French government has its perks – French imported food, and most importantly, Bordeaux wine!
Brush up on your French and pack your bikini. Here’s our guide to going to New Caledonia…
There’s no shortage of watersports on offer in New Caledonia. Wind sports like windsurfing and kite surfing are the crowd favourites (it’s a pretty gusty island so it’s the perfect place for it). Snorkelling is also great, but you’ll need to visit one of the nearby islands to see the good stuff. There’s also kayaking, stand up paddle boards, jet skiing and so much more. You’ll go broke before you get bored here!
While Noumea has some nice beaches, it can get pretty windy along the coastline of the main island. Plus, the nearby islands are even better so hit them first. If you’re strapped for time, visit these ones first:
Duck Island – only a 5 minute water taxi ride away from the resort area of Noumea (Anse Vata), Duck Island is very small but has a great self-guided snorkelling route just off the shore. Go there for snorkelling, sunbathing, and relaxing.
Amedee Island – this island is home to the historical lighthouse. You can take a tour boat there, or simply book your own water taxi or glass-bottom boat. Stay for at least half a day.
Isle of Pines – you’ll need to book a domestic flight or ferry to Isle of Pines, or Ile des Pins as the French say (ferry’s only runs three times a week so make sure you book well in advance). This island is heaven on earth. You’ll find the most picturesque white beaches, crystal clear water and relatively untouched land. There’s not a lot to do (that’s part of the charm!), but there’s plenty of beauty to be seen. If backpacking isn’t your thing, there are just two resorts to choose from: Le Meridian and Oure Tera Beach Resort.
Our tip: Hire a bike for a few hours from Gite Nataiwatch, Oure or Hotel Kodjeue (these hotels are not far down the road from where you get off the ferry) and explore the island. Trust us, it’s not a lot of fun to walk… hot heat, big hills… need we say more?
Cooking The Local Way
The locals love their coconut milk. And their root vegetables. Unfortunately New Caledonia isn’t blessed with the richest of soil thanks to nickel lying under almost every inch of the main island, so they’ve had to improvise over the centuries. The best way to get a taste for the local fare is with a cooking class. Cuisine et Sante offer a great selection of cooking classes that teach you a thing or two about cooking local dishes or French favourites, which ever one you’re in to mastering. They pick you up from your hotel, take you around the food markets to gather your supplies, and show you how it’s done in a state-of-the-art kitchen. Then, you eat the fruits of your labour. Wine included.
Take a Road Trip
The best way to see the most of New Caledonia’s main island is by hiring a car and venturing on a road trip. Or, if you’re worried about getting lost then book a tour (ask your hotel concierge) – either way you need to take to the road (there’s pretty much only one road to follow once you leave Noumea). Bourail is the next biggest town after Noumea; nearby you’ll find panoramic views at La Roche Percee, the stunning Poe beach and a quaint town.
Where to Eat
Like we said, the French are to thank for the food offering in New Caledonia. Unfortunately, they’re also to ‘thank’ for the hefty prices, as most of the produce is imported from France. Sure, that means there’s plenty of great wine to choose from, but meals can be on the expensive side. But you’re definitely spoilt for choice. Most resorts have a few restaurants on-site and they’re pretty good too. If you’re staying at one of the resorts on Anse Vata Bay, there’s plenty of dining options (and cuisine types) within walking distance, and more if you go the extra distance along the coastline to Bay de Citron. An ice cream from Amorino is a must at Bay de Citron. In the city centre, Chez Toto is known for its authentic French bistro charm and cuisine. If you’re looking for the oldest bakery on the island, that would be La Vieille France; you’re guaranteed to leave on a sugar high.
There aren’t a lot of transport options in Noumea, and some parts are quite spread out so hiring a car is a good option to make the most of your time. Buses are actually quite reliable and easy to navigate, however they stop running at 8pm so don’t’ get caught out! Taxis are virtually non-existent on the island so don’t rely on them to get around – you might just find yourself stranded. Water taxis are great for island hopping at your own pace. And they’re reasonable priced too. To get from the airport to your hotel, it’s recommended you book yourself on an airport transfer bus. You can book ahead or when you arrive.
Where to Stay
If you want to stay in Noumea, there’s plenty of options. Chateau Royale Beach Resort has everything you’re looking for from an island getaway – beachside, pool with swim-up bar, restaurants on premise, breakfast included, concierge on-site to book all your tours and activities, self-contained apartment style rooms and very friendly staff. Plus the water taxi jetty is right there too, and the shops at Anse Vata are a few minutes walk away. Next door is Le Meridian, which is a lovely luxurious resort too, but comes with a bigger price tag. However they do offer paddleboards, canoes, and snorkelling gear free of charge and have one of the best locations on the island for kite surfing.
When to Go
The weather in New Caledonia is normally between 15 ° and 32 ° C, but can get cool at night or on a windy day. The best time to visit is from April to November – outside of these months is cyclone season.
Parlez vous français? Because pretty much everyone in New Caledonia does. Luckily, their English is pretty good too, so you’ll get by without knowing any French.
The French Way of Life
While life in New Caledonia is calm and relaxed, it can sometimes be frustrating as a tourist. The island tends to shuts down from about midday on Saturday to Monday night, with tours and rental cars being difficult to book (some don’t run at all). Plan ahead to avoid missing out on anything, or, embrace the way of life and just sit back by your resort’s pool and sip on your Pina Colada.
For more New Caledonia inspiration, check out new-caledonia.com.au
Photos by Chelsea Tromans