A Slice of France 'Pacific Style' Right on our Doorstep
Nestled in the South Pacific, right on New Zealand’s doorstep, lies a small slice of France – New Caledonia. Describing this island nation is far from easy. It isn’t a South Pacific island as we know it. While New Caledonia has the palm trees, beautiful beaches and tropical warmth, it also blends French wine and cuisine, luxurious hotels and resorts and local Kanak culture, offering a truly exotic and relaxing holiday destination.
If you’re a first-time visitor, you may arrive expecting to find another Fiji or Cook Islands, but New Caledonia’s French influence distinguishes it from the rest of the South Pacific.
French cuisine and charm, sunshine and beaches aren’t the only attractions of New Caledonia – a sweeping part of its coral reef and lagoon was recently listed as a World Heritage Site. The New Caledonia lagoon is the second largest continuous coral reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The lagoon’s ecosystems provide a home and habitat for a number of threatened fish, turtles and marine mammals.
As in France, food is a way of life in New Caledonia. Meals are taken in leisure with friends and lovingly prepared. While there is some feeling that food is expensive, this isn’t necessarily the case. As with anywhere you travel, you just need a bit of local knowledge about where to go.
The huge supermarkets in Noumea will keep you entertained for hours, and the shelves of reasonably priced French wine and selection of cheeses, pates and freshly baked bread sticks are enough to make your mouth water.
There are cafés and authentic French restaurants aplenty, or visit the colourful waterfront marketplace for fresh produce – including live crabs and freshly caught fish –and cook for yourself. You can pick up a bottle of French wine at the store, a chunk of cheese and some crackers and head to the beach to watch the sunset.
Culture and History
On the outskirts of Noumea, you can absorb some of the local Melanesian history and culture at the stunning Tjibaou Cultural Centre. Sitting majestically on the Tina Peninsula, the modern wooden architecture mirrors adjacent Melanesian huts and is home to precious artefacts of the nation’s history.
The cultural centre was named after Jean-Marie Tjibaou, philosopher and former leader of the Kanak Socialist Liberation Front, who was assassinated in New Caledonia in 1989. Fittingly, his statue now stands sentinel on the hilltop overlooking the cultural centre.
There is also a strong Kiwi link in New Caledonia, in nearby Bourail up the northern coast. Here, the New Zealand War Cemetery commemorates the memory of New Zealand army, air force and navy personnel who died during World War II in the South Pacific.
Ile des Pins
A short plane flight away – or boat trip – lies the divine island of Ile des Pins, so named because of the mass of pine trees that stretch along its short breadth and width. If you want a tranquil and secluded spot for a holiday, then this is it.
This little island is easy to tour by car, and the roads are good and all but traffic-free. Here you get a taste of the true island life of New Caledonia as you pass through Kanak villages, alongside prison ruins from the French penal colony days, past the sparkling beaches and roadside French patisserie shops.
The lagoons and beaches are stunning – with accommodation to match. Le Meridien and Oure Lodge are nestled lagoon-side on the shores of Kanumera Bay, with luxurious rooms and awe-inspiring views.
It is a 2 ½ hour flight to Noumea. Aircalin, the National carrier of New Caledonia, and Air New Zealand have a code share arrangement offering direct flights four times a week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Air Caledonie offers services to the Isle of Pines and the Loyalty Islands.
Language and currency
French is the official language but English is widely spoken. The local currency is the French Pacific Franc.
Where to eat
La Chaumière in Noumea, Les Trois Brasseurs at Baie des Citrons, the 360 degrees revolving restaurant at the Ramada Plaza Noumea hotel and there are plenty of choices lining the Baie des Citrons and in Noumea itself.
Where to stay
When it comes to accommodation there is something for every budget and level of comfort, from palm-thatched bungalows on the water’s edge to the luxury five-star resorts. Fully self-contained apartment-style hotels are very popular with the New Zealand market. Travellers can shop for food delicacies at the local markets and supermarket and cook up a French feast in the comfort of their own hotel. La Promenade, and the Ramada Plaza Noumea are perfect for this, both complemented with their own excellent on-site restaurants.
If it’s luxury you’re after, head to the five-star Le Meridien in Noumea. On the water’s edge it offers direct access to Anse Vata bay, one of the city’s best beaches. The hotel’s 245 spacious rooms and suites overlook the pool, vast tropical gardens and the coral-fringed lagoon – the largest in the world. Also right on the beach is Nouvata Park Hotel, with a choice of three room types – standard, superior and deluxe.
• Order your free copy of Jasons New Caledonia Visitor Map
• Isle of Pines Travel Guide
• Isle of Pines Activities & Attractions
• New Caledonia Price Guide
• New Caledonia Tourism - www.newcaledonia.co.nz
• Aircalin - www.aircalin.co.nz
• Alpha International - www.alpha-tourisme.com
Editorial and images supplied courtesy of New Caledonia Tourism