A little sunnier, sandier and saltier than its Motherland, this little slice of la France comes with a side of tropical paradise.
Here at House of Coco we’re big fans of a quick French weekend getaway. But for those of us a little further afield (read: on the other side of the world) those luxurious French flights of fancy require a little more plane time than we’d like. Enter New Caledonia. A French territory in the South Pacific, roughly 2.5 hours flight from Sydney and 2 hours from Brisbane, this small island nation will fulfil all your French holiday fantasies; and throw in a few swaying palm trees, white sand beaches and friendly island locals for free.
For years, the New Caledonian capital of Noumea and the always beautiful Isle of Pines have been little more than a cruise terminal, allowing passengers to wander around for only a few hours before disembarking once more. But venture off the well worn cruise ship passenger path and get ready to fall in love, because New Caledonia is so much more than its cruise terminal.
Where to Play
Made up of dozens of small islands, with white sand beaches, perfect weather and calm, barrier reef protected bays, New Caledonia has something to offer almost every kind of traveller.
- Regular and predictable weather conditions means that bays such as Anse Vata and Baie Des Citrons (Lemon Bay) are perfect for swimming or for the more adventurous traveller; wind based water sports such as windsurfing or kitesurfing. Lessons go for around $20AUD per hour. (Around £10GBP)
- New Caledonia is famous for its biodiversity and the richness of the colour palette of its inner mountainous regions. For those who want to get a bird’s eye view over Noumea and don’t mind a little bit of cardio whilst on holiday, the Ouen Toro climb just past the Le Meridien hotel is not too strenuous and offers a great view over Anse Vata and the nearby islands. For those who want to push themselves just that little bit further, Mt Dore is calling your name.
- Toward the eastern side of the main island you’ll find Blue River Provincial Park, and local swimming hole Yatè River. The park is famous for its eery dead trees and impossibly blue water, which contrasts strikingly against the rust red of the banks. If it happens to be raining when you visit, don’t be discouraged, the rain simply makes the colours so much more vibrant.
- Accessible by taxi boat from Anse Vata for roughly $30AUD (£18GBP) are îlot Canard (Duck Island) and îlot Maître (Master Island). The islands are quite small, but Master Island in particular is quite popular for kitesurfing and even if racing across the ocean at the whim of the wind isn’t really your thing, the island is beautiful and the sport is fun to watch from the safety of the sand.
- For a whole day trip, you should consider Amedee Island. It’s still close by Noumea and can be accessed by boat, but it’s much larger than Duck and Master Island. Day trips go for roughly $170AUD (£90 GBP).
- For a longer island visit, the Loyalty Islands to the east really cannot be matched. Lifou, Maré and Ouvéa each have their own unique things to offer travellers, from lagoon festivals, to underwater caves, vanilla plantations to vibrant and colourful marine life. The one thing they all have in common? Crystal clear water and long, white sandy beaches. Not a whole lot to complain about.
- No trip to New Caledonia could be complete without a trip to the île des Pins (Isle of Pines). Described as the closest island to paradise, the Isle of Pines is almost unmatched in its beauty. Swimming in Oro Bay is considered a rite of passage for travellers to New Caledonia and it’s one that you definitely will not want to miss.
Where to Dine, Drink and Dance
Nothing in New Caledonia displays the French influence more than their cuisine. But in true island fashion, they do it with a tropical flair.
- For a caffeine hit or a lazy breakfast you can’t go past Lemon Cafe in Lemon Bay. With fun, modern furnishings and uninterrupted beach views, it’s the perfect place to start your mornings in paradise.
- If its French cuisine with an island twist you’re looking for, the Beach House, also located in Lemon Bay, has you covered. Its one of the more expensive spots on the island, but worth it for delicious food, and more of those beautiful beach views.
- Local haunt, La Case in Orphelinat Bay, whilst lacking in beau rivage, more than makes up for it in mouthwatering tapas, cheap drinks and friendly staff. If you’re looking to escape the tourist hustle and bustle of Anse Vata and Lemon Bay, La Case will be exactly what you’re looking for.
- For those looking to let out their inner dancing lady (or man) emoji, Bodega Del Mar, it’s neighbour XO Club and the MV Lounge have you covered. All three are great places to stop in for a drink any night of the week to watch New Caledonia’s always beautiful sunsets, but on the weekends these places could not be any more different. The XO Club and the MV Lounge stick to the more traditional club vibes with flashing lights, electronic music and a lively atmosphere, whereas Bodega Del Mar remains a little more chill. Pick your poison and get ready to dance the night away.
- Try and look for accomodation in Lemon Bay, Anse Vata or Orphelinat Bay if you’d like to base yourself in Noumea. Its the most tourist friendly spot on the island and offers the most activities for visitors.
- Try and pre-book as much as you can before you go, especially if speaking French is not one of your special skills. It may take a little of the romance out of a spontaneous island getaway, but most of the tourist infrastructure in New Caledonia is based on cruise ships so it can be difficult to make your way around if you haven’t arrived by boat and you don’t want to waste precious time only to discover that the taxi boat to Master Island is fully booked for the next week.
- Hiring a car is a great idea, even for only one or two days. The inner regions of New Caledonia are stunning, and mostly unaccessible by local public transport. Unmissable spots like Mt Dore and the Blue River are difficult to access without your own set of wheels.
- Learn a few French phrases before you go. Most people on the island speak English, but it doesn’t hurt to meet them halfway. Especially when trying to navigate directions with locals you meet in the street.