If you’re expecting cobbled-stoned lane ways, an abundance of outdoor cafes where you perch on chairs squeezed together around a minuscule table, just big enough to fit your mini espresso and pain au chocolat, whilst you gaze longingly at an exquisite monument that whispers a thousand tales — then no, New Caledonia is nothing like Paris.
But it is French! Oui Oui!
While it was actually discovered by Captain Cook in 1774, in 1853, under the orders of Napoleon the 3rd, the French took control and Noumea was founded as Port-de-France.
Trivial fact #1: It became a penal colony until around the late 1800’s with about 22,000 criminals and political prisoners sent here.
Trivial Fact #2: In 1849, the crew of the American ship Cutter was killed and eaten by the Pouma clan. Cannibilism was apparently widespread!
An archipelago, Nouvelle Caledonie is a cluster of islands in the Pacific Ocean and just a very short 2.5 hour flight from Australia (3 hours from New Zealand). So if you’re in this part of the world, it definitely can’t be overlooked as a super easy getaway destination.
If you’re not, it’s still a gorgeous part of the globe to visit.
Today, its community is largely made up of Melanesians and Europeans. French is spoken everywhere, even in the most secluded villages. (Great if you want to improve that school yard French). If only I could stop saying ‘Xie Xie’.
Small Person and I were piggybacking on the hotelier’s work trip (as you do), so he met us in Noumea and drove us north to our first stop: The Sheraton Deva located in Bourail!
He’d just come back from il de Pins, or Isle of Pines, which is a 20 minute flight from Noumea and a popular tourist’s choice which he tells me lives up to the idyllic hype.
New Caledonia is 18,000 sq kilometres, so it’s pretty sizeable and we had a three hour drive north to our destination. Most of it was through the countryside, passing through the occasional small French town.
Just between you and me, the hotelier (who drives like he’s still in China) in a hire car, on the wrong side of the car, and wrong side of the road was a little precarious!
We may have mounted a curb and arrived with a flat tyre!
Nonetheless, we arrived, in tact. 😉
Surprisingly dry, arid and mountainous, the Sheraton Deva backs onto these spectacular ruddy peaks and is flanked by a sparkling, turquoise ocean….. And breathe.
It’s also in the middle of nowhere, so is the perfect place to unwind and just let yourself be.
But don’t despair if you can’t lie around the pool for longer than three cocktails. The resort has tonnes of activities plus a world class ‘magnifique’ golf course (if that’s your thing). I was more at home grabbing one of the bikes they keep outside your bungalow and cycling around the resort, mostly in the direction of the spa! There’s also a fully equipped kid’s club…(bonus) snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking, a glass bottom boat tour… and to my child’s delight (until she found out you need to be at least ten), horse riding!
After four nights, it was time to head back to Noumea for destination number 2. If you’re craving more action, this is the place to be. A city about the size of Cairns in Australia, it’s not too dissimilar in appearance.
To me, it didn’t feel as French as I’d hoped, but then I was benchmarking it against Paris. The hotelier tells me it reminds him of holidays as a kid in southern France.
Home to a stunning harbour, Noumea serves as the chief port for New Caledonia, so there are boats of every shape and size bobbing about, not to mention a couple of ocean cruise liners docked!
Le Meridien is right on the beach and while it’s technically in the city, it’s definitely got that resort feel and has a more tropical ambience compared to it’s northern sister.
It is the middle of winter, but temps were still pretty warm. The pool was slightly on the icy side, but that didn’t stop small person from jumping right in, again, and again!
There are plenty of restaurants outside the hotel. And of course the food on the island is pretty delicious, especially my favourite indulgence, Le Fromage! After consuming my body weight in French cheese and French wine, and then this….chocolate fondant, it was definitely time to hit the gym.
Noumea also has a casino if you want to lay your chips down, plenty of museums and a few markets.
While this island of norfolk pines and palms is by no means a cheap holiday destination (like, for instance, Bali, where you can eat outside the hotels for a mere pittance) it definitely makes up for it in appeal and sophistication.
So, if time isn’t on your side and you just want to escape the daily grind for some R & R with or without the kids, this tropical oasis is totally worth a trip with a difference.
This is New Caledonia.