If you’re thinking about nipping up to an exotic Pacific Island this winter, forget the high profile usual locales and head for somewhere very different.
New Caledonia is hardly ever mentioned when you think of a beach holiday. It kind of slips under the radar. I like that. It means that it’s not overrun with tourists after a fly and flop week away, but those who do come here have very specific reasons.
Here are 5 compelling reasons to choose New Caledonia (I could go on, but I’ll leave the rest to you!)
1. The unique French/Melanesian culture
This, for me, is the number 1 reason. Being a French country plonked on the world’s largest lagoon so very far from Paris, New Caledonia is absolutely unique. English widely spoken, but if you want to brush up on your French or take the kids who are learning the language at school for a total immersion experience, this is the place. Make time to visit Tjibaou Cultural Centre (10 minutes from Noumea) which is a spectacular building hidden in 8 acres of lush rainforest and is an art installation in and of itself. But inside you will learn about the indigenous kanak culture and contemporary Pacific art and sculpture.
2. Under 3 hours from Auckland
It’s easy peasy to get to, on the same latitude as Brisbane and flights go about 4 times per week. There are 4-day and 7-day options and you should check with your local travel agent or follow the New Caledonia Facebook page to keep in touch with the latest specials.
Ahhh how perfect is the world in which French cooking techniques and recipes use local, tropical ingredients? Exactly. The great thing about Noumea is the variety in both cuisine options and price points. Go high end and try escargot and frogs legs one night in a restaurant over the sea one night, then wander along the beach front to Baie des Citrons and pick from dozens of restaurants, bars and cafes eating anything from pizza to seafood and everything in between. Another great tip is to head to the local supermarket and the fish market and buy up on gooey French cheese, freshly made baguettes, locally caught tuna and prepare your own meals in your self catering accommodation. (There are lots of hotels that have apartment-style accommodation).
4. Water activities
No trip to the Pacific Islands is complete without submerging yourself into the glassy sea. Be as active or as sedentary as you like. Learn to kite surf or wind surf. Go snorkelling or diving around the reef. Take a fishing trip or even fish off the rocks if you love that. Rent a catamaran – or a guide and explore the nooks and crannies of the beaches and bays. Kayak, swim, jet ski or parasail. Oh and did I say you can just take a water taxi 10 minutes across to Duck Island from the main beach of Anse Vata and lie on a sun lounger with a book and beverage service?
This is a very unique Pacific experience: French shopping in a tropical, cosmopolitan city! Expect high-end French designers next to patisseries and island-themed fabric shops.
La Place des Cocotiers is the heart with its famous bandstand surrounded by flame trees. Visit Chinatown for its colourful shops and Asian snacks for a surprising change of scenery. A short distance away, the Quartier Latin (the Latin Quarter) is great for bargain hunters at the markets and Faubourg Blanchot and the old districts of the Vallée du Tir and Vallée des Colons feature a colonial ambience with old wooden houses, ironwork decorations and flowering gardens of hibiscus and bougainvillea.
Take the cute sightseeing train Le Petit Train to get you from A to B.