After an awesome time on the Cook Islands followed by a short stopover in Auckland, I was on my way to the mysterious land of Noumea in the French territory of New Caledonia – a piece of Europe in the South Pacific
When I boarded the small Aircalin plane bound for New Caledonia, or Nouvelle-Calédonie, I knew this trip was going to be a little bit different. As Aircalin is the national carrier for New Caledonia, the onboard announcements were in French. I was glad to see that the plane wasn’t very full and I had a whole row to myself. It would’ve been great if the flight was longer than three hours, so I could’ve really enjoyed the extra space.
Once the sparkling waters we’d been flying over gave way to land, I became mesmerised by New Caledonia’s beauty. I was glad to see some hills on our approach to Noumea because that meant there would be opportunities to see some great views!
New Caledonia was unlike any South Pacific island chain I’d seen so far. From the time I landed at the slick, new-looking La Tontouta International Airport, the place felt more like somewhere in Europe than a South Pacific island.
Upon exiting the airport, I found the bus stop where I could catch a bus into the city. Or at least I thought I did. I couldn’t tell because everything was in French!
Getting to Noumea in New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific
I used the only phrase I know in French, ‘Parlez vous Anglais’, to check if the other lady at the bus stop spoke English. She didn’t. When the bus came, I tried to talk to the driver, but she also didn’t speak English either. Uh oh.
Luckily, another lady was approaching the bus who spoke a little English and was able to indicate to me that I was in fact in the right place and this was the correct bus. Phew! I paid the 400 CFP Franc (US$3.60) fare to the driver and got a small ticket in return. The ride into the city was long as the airport is 50 kilometers out of the city. That gave me some time to sit back an enjoy the view.
The New Caledonian Capital of Noumea
The bus dropped us off at a station that was almost straight across from the waterfront. A military vessel was docked to the righthand side but it was too far away to read the writing on it. Sunset was fully underway by that point, so can you guess what I did? Took pictures for your viewing pleasure ;o)
Looking back towards the town from the waterfront a casino could be seen. It may have been there for the use of the many cruise ship passengers that visit the place. Further on from that there were some decidedly European looking buildings. I was really starting to wonder if I was even in the South Pacific anymore! Aside from the crystal blue waters, there was nothing about this place that felt like a Pacific island.
The level of development on New Caledonia was different to other South Pacific Islands. All of the colourful buildings and the roads looked shiny and new. I even noticed several buildings that were over 10 stories tall! That is a bit of an anomaly in the South Pacific where things tend to be low rise.
The roads were immaculate and set out in an easy to navigate grid system. This meant that I pretty much just needed to walk up one street to get from the waterfront to the top of the hill where my accomodation was.
Noumea At Christmas
When making my way to my accomodation I stumbled upon Noumea’s main park, the very tropically named Coconut Square.
It was alive with lights, Christmas decorations and a 2 metre tall Santa. With a trusty snowman at his side.
As if that wasn’t Christmasy enough, there were speakers throughout the park playing Christmas songs really loudly.
This was the kind of Christmas fanfare I would’ve expected leading up to Christmas, but it was several days after Christmas! So either nobody told Noumea that Christmas was over, or they just didn’t care. Needless to say, the atmosphere was very festive. Even the local Museum was lit up.
Coconut Square By Day
When I ventured back to the square during the day, I came across a very deflated Santa. As well as a tent claiming to be the North Pole. Which of course seemed very apt for a tropical island where it’s was around 30°C.
The sheer amount of decorations in this park didn’t really hit me until I had a chance to see it during the day.
I can’t imagine how long it must’ve taken to make and place all these man-sized baubles throughout the park. It seemed like more of an art installation than just festive decorations.
Street Art of New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific
The park wasn’t the only place in Noumea that had a bit of art happening. There was a mural on the wall just before I entered my hostel. I figured it might be a one-off because I was staying in the area where all the cool kids were.
But I did find a few other walls in the area that had been used as canvases. I’m not sure these would qualify as art though.
It was a little bit surprising to find a couple of other pieces of art around town. Like this.
I even found this skeleton boat down near the port. I actually spent a crazy amount of time near this boat trying not to look dodgy while I searched for a geocache hidden there. At least one of those things was done successfully.
Down By The Water in New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific
Although New Caledonia doesn’t receive a huge amount of tourists, most that do visit get there via cruise ship. Almost everyone I spoke to thought I’d come over on a cruise ship. They all seemed genuinely surprised when I advised them that I’d flown in.
As most people getting off cruise ships tend to hang out near the waterfront, there were a few restaurants near the port area. They were not the cheapest places to eat, but they were nice. And mostly closed. It seems island time had struck again! I walked along for a little while before I managed to find the only restaurant in a row of several that was open. That became my lunch destination.
Ordering was interesting due to the language barrier, but we got through it with a lot of hand gestures. I ended up being served some raw meat that I had to put on a hot stone to cook. Is this some kind of Melanesian twist on a sizzling plate?
That was followed by a refreshing no waste desert, in the best flavour of all!
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