island hopping in new caledonia
What does your mind conjure when you imagine a South Pacific island? Warm, tropical breezes…aquamarine seas…beaches of white, silky sand…frangipani and palm trees…coconuts and tropical fruit…coral reefs…seafood…New Caledonia has that and more. In the two weeks we spent in Nouméa learning to speak French with CREIPAC we also took the opportunity to discover and explore some of the islands that are easily accessible from Nouméa. And our first stop is only a five minute boat taxi from our hotel at Anse Vata.
Île aux Canards
Île aux Canards is a picture perfect little coral islet just off the coast of Nouméa. Everything you need is here including a restaurant, bar, deck chairs and umbrellas. There are even private cabanas you can rent if you have a large group. But the best part is the snorkelling trail. Bring your snorkelling gear if you have it, otherwise you can rent it on the island. You will be rewarded with arguably the best snorkelling available this close to Nouméa. Follow the five white buoys and check the signboards dotted along the way for information on the varied sea life. Keep a look out for sea turtles. And sea snakes.
Taxi boats run everyday from 830am-5pm to l’île aux Canards, no reservations required. Boats leave on demand, usually every 15 minutes or so. 1200CPF return.
80 Promenade Roger Laroque, Anse Vata
Ph: 26 90 00
Everything on the island is expensive – face it, you’re a captive audience. If budget is an issue bring our own snorkelling gear, and buy some food and drinks before boarding the taxi boat. And don’t sit on the beach lounges – they cost extra.
The same boat that took you to Île aux Canards will also take you further out to Îlot Mâitre around another 15 minute ride. This is the home of the L’Escapade resort complete with the iconic over the water bungalows. Again there is a restaurant and snack bar available for day-trippers but it will cost you, dearly. But don’t let this spoil what is a quintessential tropical island with beautiful gardens, turquoise waters and coral reefs. You can rent all sorts of water sport equipment form snorkel gear to stand paddle boards to jet skis.
Taxi boats run everyday from 830am-5pm to l’île aux Canards and then on to Îlot Mâitre, no reservations required. Boats leave on demand, usually every 15 minutes or so. 2500CPF return. When you reach the island let the driver know what time you want to return.
80 promenade Roger Laroque, Anse Vata
Ph: 26 90 00
Again everything on the island is costly so if you are budget conscious bring food and drinks. Great place to try stand up paddling or kayaking. All equipment available for rent.
Île des Pins
Probably the most famous of all islands in New Caledonia, a day-trip from Nouméa to the spectacular Île des Pins is a massive undertaking but so worthwhile. Located 110km south east of Nouméa, Île des Pins is all your tropical island dreams come true. White sandy beaches lined with palm trees. Clear, warm, turquoise water lapping the shores. And a myriad of tropical fish swimming in coral-reefed bays. Welcome to paradise.
Known as Kunié to the Melanesians, the island was given is current moniker by Captain James Cook on his second voyage through the South Pacific. In 1853 the French took possession of this island and used it as a penal colony for over 3000 political prisoners. Today it is more likely to be invaded by tourists off the massive cruise ships that dock here. My advice, avoid those days.
We booked a day-tour through the Office de Tourisme in Nouméa which included the return trip to the island on the Betico 2 – a rapid catamaran that makes the return trip to the island every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. The trip takes round 2hrs 15 minutes. The tour also includes a seafood buffet lunch and a bus up to Oro Bay to swim at the pristine La Piscine Naturelle. After a 20-minute signposted walk from the car-park – which includes a traipse through a boggy river, be warned – and you arrive at an exquisite pool of turquoise water lined by pine trees, protected from the ocean by a narrow rocky waterway. The snorkelling here is unsurpassed.
We booked an organised day-trip through the Tourism Office in Anse Vata anear the end of the main drag: Office de Tourisme New Caledonia, 113, promenade Roger Laroque, Anse Vata. You can go independently on the Betico 2 – see their website for details. Cost as of 2017: 10,900CPF, or around A$150, return economy. However, be warned when you arrive at the port there is not much around and you will need some type of transport to see other parts of the island. You can pre-book a car or bike rental or hire a taxi for the day – if there are any around. The ferry leaves Nouméa at 7am and returns at around 730pm. Be sure to take your passport, you will need it to board the ship.
Avoid the days the big cruise ships are in – the tourism office will know when they are due. The day trip includes a delicious two course sea-food buffet. If you are travelling independently, there aren’t lot of venues around other than those in the hotels. May pay to book a table in busy times. Or bring your own food. If you do plan to go to La Piscine Naturelle bring your own snorkel gear – it’s difficult to hire gear on the island. Also remember the trek to the pool requires a wade through a river with a sandy, boggy bottom – choose your footwear wisely .
And finally to my favourite island of all that I visited in New Caledonia- Amédée Islet. Around 20km south of Nouméa, this island famous for two things. Firstly the spectacular lighthouse – Phare Amédée This beautiful white structure was built in France and shipped out to New Caledonia in pieces. It was assembled on the island in 1865. The lighthouse is open to the public at a cost of 200CFP. The steep climb up its narrow spiral staircase will reward you with stunning 360 degree views of the islet.
And the second thing the island is famous for? Sea snakes. Poisonous sea snakes. And lots of them. The tricot rayé – or banded sea krait – is an amphibious reptile often spotted on the water’s surface as well as on land. They are well adapted to the sea and can stay underwater for up to an hour. They come back on to land to digest their food and to rest and warm in the sun. Its poison is extremely potent. However, while often curious, they are not aggressive unless deliberately provoked or if they are protecting a nest. Give them a wide berth and you will be fine.
Book a day trip on the Mary D – includes the return boat transfer, cultural shows, a ride on a glass-bottom boat and a buffet lunch. A word of warning, lunch is a little bit like lining up at school camp – except they ply you with alcohol (included in the cost – unlimited wine). Food is tasty though. And plentiful. Bookings can be made on-line or in person. The trip costs 15,1000CFP, just over A$200 (as of 2017).
Galerie Palm Beach – Anse Vata Bay
B.P. 233 – 98845 – Noumea Cedex – New Caledonia
Tel: +687 – 26-31-31
Website: Amédée Island Mary D
There are lounge chairs and umbrellas free to use however if you want some peace I suggest making your way around the island away from the restaurant / shop / bar area. Snorkelling equipment is included in the cost of the trip however you will need to leave a 1000CFP deposit. Don’t be in the rush to line up for lunch. There is plenty of food. Relax and take in the beauty of this incredible place.
A trip to New Caledonia would not be the same without a visit to some of her exquisite tropical islands. Do you have a favourite? Let us know in the comments below.