The Five Reasons you need to try New Caledonia
Want a little piece of paradise without the price tag? How about a French holiday without the long haul flight? Always dreaming of trying out an over water bungalow? New Caledonia offers all of these and more. And even better, you don’t need to use all of your days off. Expedia’s Aussie travellers spend 4-5 days in New Caledonia and that’s plenty of time to loosen your shoulders, work on your tan and tantaslise your taste buds. Here’s our guide to the five best reasons to head to this particular paradise.
1. Food and wine
The French could hardly be expected to holiday without good cheese and wine. If you’re staying on the Grand Terre main island, make sure you stop at a supermarket at the start of your trip. Head straight to the deli section, where you’ll find a cheese and cured meat selection straight out of a Parisian supermache.
These supermarkets stock big rinds of aged cheddar, logs of ash-covered goats cheese, wedges of blue cheese and huge chunks of gouda. The prosciutto and salumi selections are just as extensive. Make sure you buy enough for a few afternoon antipasto platters.
And then there’s the wine. A few bottles of Bordeaux wine for $10 each? Yes please. The supermarkets sell imported wine and compared to Aussie prices, it’s cheap.
Luckily much of the accommodation in Noumea is apartment-style – check into the Chateau Royal Beach Resort and Spa and stock your full size fridge and pantry to the brim.
If you’re going to fly and flop, don’t worry. Most hotels have very well stocked larders. You’ll find good selections of meats and cheeses at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The buffet cheese station at the brand new Sheraton Deva is to die for.
2. Overwater and on budget
Not many people associate the ultimate decadence that is an overwater bungalow with New Caledonia. Or the South Pacific. Or affordable holidays. The good news is you don’t need to go all the way to Tahiti or the Maldives to rest your head over the ocean. L’Escapade îlot Maître sits on a little island just a 20 minute ferry ride away from the coast of Noumea. There’s just enough time on the ferry journey to get the wind in your hair before you’re docking in crystal clear water. The overwater bungalows are the first things you see as you walk along the jetty – they sit almost on top of the reef and have steps right down to the water’s edge. Need we say more?
3. Fresh fare
I’ve already waxed lyrical about the wine and cheese, but Noumea’s local farmers and providores are also worth a mention. The local Port Moselle Markets are bursting at the seams with farmers selling fresh fruit and vegetables, and locals offering everything from tourist trinkets to freshly baked croissants. Make a beeline for the undercover pavilions, where the café does a steady trade in croque monsieurs. You’ll smell the fish market stalls before you see them but if you’re after seafood fresh from the sea, this is the spot. Keep an eye out for European expats who’ve made their home in the southern sunshine but spend some of their days selling olives, cheeses and handmade soaps. And then there’s the bakery stalls. This is not Adriano Zumbo-esque fare. It’s flaky croissants bigger than the palm of you hand, sugared donuts the size of dinner plates and custard tarts with a rustic charm. Best part is it’s cheap. A pastry will set you back around $2.
4. Culture Vultures
The local Kanak culture is definitely worth an afternoon of education. A stop on every tourist’s itinerary should be the Tjibaou Cultural Centre. From traditional ceremonies, costumes and rituals to tools, weapons and tribal warfare, the museum provides interesting snapshots and stories of the past. All exhibitions are beautifully displayed in a building that’s worth a visit just for its striking design. Architect Renzo Piano’s grand vision sees beams of wood rise up into the air, creating individual pavilions for different exhibitions in a design that’s reminiscent of the Kanak Grand Huts. Piano’s portfolio also includes the Pompidou Centre in Paris and The Shard in London and this site has drawn worldwide acclaim. Save time to walk through the gardens down to the traditional smoking huts by the beach.
5. Isle of Pines
If there was ever an island to be shipwrecked on, it would have to be this one. The Isle of Pines is 100km south east of Noumea and takes its name from the plethora of pine trees covering its 13km length. Home to just 2,000 people, it is as close to a tropical oasis as you’ll get four hours flight from Sydney. The air transfer from Noumea is only 30 minutes and is a popular hop with holidaymakers and locals. Cruise ships are often tendered off the shoreline, bringing plenty of happy snorkelers across for the day. Splurge on a few nights at the Le Meridien – fresh lobster, French champagne, a horizon pool right on the edge of a stunning blue lagoon. What more do you need? The hammocks and day beds on the sand are also hot property. Drag yourself away from the main hotel on a 20 minute walk through the property to the Oro Natural Swimming Pool and you won’t be disappointed. This sheltered “pool” is actually a lagoon closed off from the rest of the ocean by rocks. Filled with fish and a few patches of phenomenal coral, it’s literally like a big pool. Paradise.
Lisa was the guest of New Caledonia Tourism and AirCalin