In May we went to New Caledonia for 7 nights. Staying in Noumea at Casa del Sole located on the point of Anse Vata and Baie des Citron, opposite the aquarium. The self serviced apartment was excellently located for stunning views across the water and a 2 minute walk to either beach. This area however is well known for its great nightlife so expect it to be incredibly noisy from Thursday through to early Sunday morning.
We had been struggling for months about where we were going to holiday in the pacific. Vanuatu was our first choice but trying to find any information on the activities we enjoy doing was getting frustrating. If you enjoy a fairly normal holiday of beach lazing and typical tourist things then the information is prevalent. But when you want to do out of the ordinary things like track down a particular coffee bean variation, find out where to do SUP or camp overnight on a volcano the tourist books don’t really work so well for you.
Finally, having seen a great Air NZ price for New Caledonia that was the decision making factor. Now to find a suitable apartment and away we went. Why an apartment? To sample and cook locally sourced food of course.
Arriving into New Caledonian waters we came across the stunning turquoise blue water that we expected to see. The reef edge is kilometers from shore meaning NC is surrounded by calm waters protected by the reef. As a side bar, this also means a smaller chance of being shark bait while swimming. Hooray!
Being mid May the height of the tourist season has passed, as have the rain storms. The beaches were generally quiet so yet again we managed to get around without bumping into thousands of others. The weather was still warm (on average 23 degrees each day) and the water still warm enough to enjoy. In fact we snorkeled for 1.5 hours one day without realising it before getting cold.
Pricing of course can be expensive as such a high proportion of food stuffs are imported. However, as with any country if you look to buy in the supermarkets or markets and select locally sourced products then this should decrease the load on your wallet. Even at home this applies, buy seasonal and local and save. Surprisingly though imported french wines were quite well priced. My idea of eating local tropical fruits didn’t work so well. I found the quality of vegetables and fruit at the market not too great and given my terrible cooking skills when it comes to fish I passed this by as well. Next time I shall come armed with some better cooking skills. Most often we shopped at the local boulangerie for fresh bread each day or went to the supermarche.
Having hired a car for 4 days this was an incredible tool to get out of Noumea and explore more of New Caledonia. If I came away with anything further in regards to travel this time it was, your first stop is not the sum of a country. So many people told us that we would hate Noumea. Fair enough, parts of Noumea are quite disturbing, the disparity between the halves and halve nots is visible in many areas and this is not “pretty” for tourists. But this is also reality. While there we encountered 2 protests, both peaceful. These interactions provide a deeper story of the country. Being invited in for drinks with a local shop keeper provided an even better insight to this seemingly perfect paradise. We heard stories of cultural divides, racial tensions, people struggling and people surviving. This talk was able to provide further insight into things we had observed but couldn’t put it into context. For example, a stunning and seemingly fertile landscape yet no dairy cattle? Stunning tropical location but importing many fruit and vegetables? The story given to us was that people don’t want to do the “menial” labour to produce such products. I will leave judgement on this as it is one persons story and there is surely other politics and intrigue that underlie this issue.
Anyway, where I was going with the “you will hate Noumea” advice that we got was that Noumea is not New Caledonia, just as Auckland is not New Zealand. Just because you visited Queen Street and its wharves for the day does not mean you visited New Zealand. There are parts of Noumea we enjoyed, parts we didn’t but more importantly New Caledonia has a stunning landscape of red desert like locations, mountainous coffee regions, sandy beaches, mangrove swamps, rainforests and open plains. The country goes beyond white sandy beaches and snorkeling. And these wonders were just within 3 hours driving time from Noumea central.
On the language – speaking french. I have been taking french private lessons for nearly 2 years now and was very excited to try out some new skills. I was disappointed with my skill set at the time but in hindsight I think I handled it reasonably well. Where my skills let me down is listening. Great at asking what I want but understanding the reply requires a lot more work. This will only come from more practice, increasing the vocabulary and listening more to native speakers. Rapidly spoken french is different from a relaxed teacher/student environment. Be prepared to use french. Unless you are hanging out in Port Moselle or key tourists areas where English is spoken (brokenly) in order to sell their wares then you will get stuck getting further out to the more interesting locations. Remember, English is not a first language here so do the right thing and learn some key words and phrases.
Top things we enjoyed about New Caledonia? Warm sea breezes, warm weather, pastries and bread, cherry beer from Les trois brasseurs, finding a fruiting coffee tree, finding a rare type of coffee bean Steve had been looking for and being able to buy some, excellent apartment, driving through stunning countryside, great company with our friend Jolanda joining us for a few days. Gosh and so much more. Are we going back? Absolutely.