When I first excitedly announced I was heading to Nouméa for two weeks to take a french language course a number of people responded with ‘Nouméa, what a dump!’ What? Are we talking about the same place? The capital of New Caledonia? South Pacific paradise? On further enquiry every person who told me it was a ‘dump’ had visited on a cruise ship. For a few hours.
Well this just upsets me. Cruising is not my idea of a good holiday but each to their own. Some people love them and can’t get enough. I’d probably jump overboard out of sheer boredom. Or kill somebody. But I don’t understand how, after spending only a few hours wandering aimlessly in a city you can make a snap judgement about it and dismiss it as ‘a dump’. Nouméa, the capital of the French owned New Caledonia, is home to almost 100,000 people – the indigenous Kanaks, Europeans, Japanese, Indonesians and other South Pacific Islanders – a true melting pot of cultures. It is blessed with a magnificent reef, tropical beaches, a rugged mountain backdrop, sparkling turquoise waters and and a rich marine life. Granted, the port area where the cruise ships arrive is industrial and somewhat rundown. Some of the buildings in the city could do with repair. But this is a living, functioning city. The local Noumeans do not live in a postcard and nor should they. And if those on the cruise ships spent sometime getting to know the city they would find it is enchanting. The locals are warm and welcoming. The mix of Kanak and French culture is intoxicating. Nouméa is no ‘dump’.
So forget about the cruise ship. Catch a flight into Nouméa, stay a week or two and let her work her magic.
things to do in nouméA
Central Nouméa revolves around the Place des Cocotiers – literally Square of Coconut Palms – a lovely shady square with palm trees, landscape gardens, and picnicking locals. The main leisure areas lie a couple of kilometres south of the CBD in Baie des Citron and Anse Vata. There is a lot here to keep you entertained.
Nouméa’s central market is located next door to the marina at Port Moselle. Colourful and bustling, its chockfull of fresh seafood just off the boat; aromatic french bread and pastries; fruit and vegetables of all kinds, including the local taro; cheeses, pâtés and olives; and don’t miss the chocolaterie for handmade chocolate like you’ve never had. Get there as early as you can as it is busiest then – and at its most interesting. Once you’ve done your shopping take a break at “La Buvette du Marché – the cafe in the central courtyard. There is also a local arts and crafts market and Sundays sees live music to entertain the crowds.
Where: Port Moselle
When: Tues – Sun 5am – 11.30am
Le Roof Restaurant
Le Roof is hard to miss stuck out over the water as it is, a real landmark in Anse Vata. One of Nouméa’s more upmarket restaurants, don’t let the tacky looking signboard out the front discourage you, this is fine dining at its best. The restaurant is light and airy, with a surrounding terrace perfect for watching the sunsets with a cocktail or two before your dinner. If you are lucky you will see a myriad of sea-life below you as you dine – including sharks and dolphins.
Where: 134 Promenade Roger Laroque – you can’t miss it.
When: 1130am – 2pm for lunch; 6.30pm – 10pm for dinner. Reservations recommended. Ph: 25 07 00
Prices: Eye-watering. Don’t think too hard about it, just enjoy every delicious morsel and worry about the credit card later.
Baei des Citron & MV Lounge
Just north of Anse Vata is Baei des Citrons, a picturesque, palm tree studded cove lined with a wide variety of restaurants, cafes and bars. Take a wander and see what’s on offer – anything from steak houses, to Vietnamese, Italian, French and Spanish. Many places have live music and happy hours. Up the city end of the bay is MV Lounge – a funky little place serving tapas, wine by the glass, beer and spirits. The friendly wait staff and its position virtually on the sand makes this a popular venue for locals and tourists alike. Prices here are quite reasonable for what is good quality food.
Where: City end of Baei des Citron
When: Open everyday 10am – 1am; Breakfast, lunch and dinner; Reservations: 78 97 67
Tjibaou Cultural Centre
This architecturally stunning cultural centre is located around 8km outside the city centre, easily accessible by bus. The centre is named after Jean-Marie Tjibaou, the leader of the Kanak independence movement who was assassinated in 1989. He had a vision of building a cultural centre dedicated to the linguistic and artistic heritage of his Kanak people. In 1998 this vision was realised posthumously when the Tjibaou Cultural Centre was opened. Designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, the striking building is comprised of ten large conical cases or pavilions (all of different dimensions) patterned on the traditional Kanak Grand Hut design, and has been viewed as a small sign of restitution from the French government to the Kanak people. The Centre houses a number of permanent and changing exhibitions from mostly local artists. There is also a research library, bookshop and cafe. Don’t miss the signposted walk around the tropical gardens that surround this eccentric building.
Where: Rue des accords de Matignon, Tina. Bus line 40 from the CBD will take you direct. The Centre is the last stop on this route. You can then get the bus back to town once you are done.
When: Tuesday – Sunday 9am – 5pm
Musée de la Ville de Nouméa, Musée de Nouvelle Calédonie and
Musée de le Seconde Guerre Mondiale (WW2 Museum)
For a small city, Nouméa has a surprisingly large range of exceedingly high quality museums all within walking distance of each other. Located just opposite Place de Cocotiers, is the Musée de la Ville de Nouméa, with displays dedicated to the early history of this city. Housed in a striking colonial-era building surrounded by soaring palm trees this museum is worth a few hours visit. When you are done, take a short walk to the Musée de Nouvelle Calédonie. Ignore the distracting graffiti on the outside of the building for inside are stunning displays that provide an excellent introduction to traditional Kanak culture and that of the surrounding Pacific Islands. There is also a lovely courtyard garden. Finally, before you are all museum-ed out, take a walk to the Musée de le Seconde Guerre Mondiale – a fascinating museum dedicated to New Caledonia’s participation in World War Two. Learn how New Caledonia became the last bastion in the war in the Pacific, preventing the Japanese invasion of Australia. Arguably the best museum in Nouméa.
Musée de la Ville de Nouméa: Rue Jean Jaurès, Open: Mon – Sat 9am-5pm, (closed Sunday and for lunch Sat)
Musée de Nouvelle Calédonie: 42 Av du Maréchal Foch, Open: Wed – Mon 9am – 430pm (closes for lunch)
Musée de le Seconde Guerre Mondiale: 14, avenue Paul Doumer, Open: Mon- Sat 9am-5pm, (closed Sunday and for lunch sat)
Anse Vata and Baei des Citrons
If you like people watching then take a stroll along the seaside promenades in Anse Vata and Baei des Citron. Both popular beach destinations in the city, they are well maintained and have a number of picnic spots, cabanas and rest stops. Pull up a bench under a palm tree and watch the myriad of joggers, walkers, cyclists, swimmers, stand-up paddlers, kayakers and kite surfers. Or take in one of the many rowdy games being played out on the various pétanque courts dotted along the way. Only 10 minutes by bus from the centre of the city, both promenades are lined with restaurants, bars,cafes and shops. Bus lines 10 & 11 run directly form the centre of the city out to Anse Vata via Baei des Citrons.
LEARN TO SPEAK FRENCH
Parlez-vous français? One of the official languages in French owned New Caledonia is of course French and what better place to go to learn this romantic language than Nouméa (other than Paris of course). CREIPAC in historic Nouville runs language courses for all levels from absolute beginners to more advanced conversational classes. Take a look here for what is it like to learn french in this beautiful tropical paradise.
When you have seen all you can see in Nouméa no fear – there are easy day trips you can take to explore further. There are a number of islands to visit not far from Nouméa – Ile aux Canards, Ilot Maitre, Phare Amédée and Ile des Pins are easily accessible. But New Caledonia is more than just its islands. It also has a mountainous, rugged and somewhat remote and often ignored hinterland. And it is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Toutazimut is a small, locally run tour operator who takes small group tours to the beautiful River Blue National Park. Stunning views of this most rugged part of New Caledonia is only the beginning. As you are driven through the valley you will see the Drowned Forest, take walks amongst the towering Giant Kauris, and, if lucky, spot the elusive Cagou – a strange, flightless bird that hisses like a cat and barks like a dog. The tour also includes a tasty french picnic complete with wine and dessert.
Check their website for details: www.toutazimut.nc/en/
When to Go
New Caledonia lies in the tropical South Pacific and as such sees a high rainfall in December – January when it is hot and sticky. From April the weather starts to temper off and by June – August the temperatures hover around a glorious 23-27 degrees, rain is intermittent and the humidity is at its lowest. It may be a little cool for beachgoers and snorkellers but is perfect for exploring.
But what ever time of year you go, I suggest you go sooner rather than later. A recent tourism convention held on the island for local tourism businesses has decided their strategy for the next decade will be to encourage more and larger cruise ships and to attract mass tourism from China. What impact this may have on this island – both ecological and cultural – is anyones guess.