My 15 Favorite Things to do Noumea, New Caledonia
My 15 Favorite Things to do Noumea, New Caledonia - Understand
Noumea is the capital of New Caledonia - a French overseas department north of New Zealand. New Caledonia is not just French in name but the whole group of islands and the city of Noumea are so French that you have to remind yourself you are not in Southern France.
New Caledonia is a rich country, with a GDP exceeding almost all Pacific nations. The mines and the generally highly educated and productive population of just 100,000 people contribute to these high GDP numbers.
While there is tourism, there is no mass tourism to speak of. Unlike Tahiti, you share the island with mostly locals and just the odd tourist.
In general, the price level is VERY HIGH, with prices 50% to 150% of what you'd expect in the US. Great value is almost impossible to find here. Food seems to be the biggest offender and you won't find an entrée under $30 anywhere, including a simple burger.
The New Caledonia landscape shares more characteristics with New Zealand than Tahiti but it does have its pretty lagoons, though you usually require a boat or good kayaking skills to enjoy them.
Noumea is blessed with a dry, temperate climate and attracts a lot of windsurfers and kitesurfers for its stable winds.
Most people are friendly and speak some English and tourist rip-offs are rare. Expect everything to be more complicated than anywhere else, though, with seemingly random hours for shops and SIM cards sold only in post offices.
My 15 Favorite Things to do Noumea, New Caledonia - Get Around
The road infrastructure in New Caledonia is superb - easily better than most of the US. Roads are plenty, smooth and rarely crowded. There are taxis but distances are long and prices are extremely high. Expect an airport ride to be $100-$130. I rented a car at Noumea Airport, which is somewhat competitive, and you'll pay around $50 a day. There is a bus system that works very well but you will need to be the patient type.
The airport is hyper-modern and everything works just as expected.
My 15 Favorite Things to do Noumea, New Caledonia - Safety
There will likely be no safety issues during your time in New Caledonia. There are some less fortunate neighborhoods but Noumea seems much safer than most French neighborhoods.
My 15 Favorite Things to do Noumea, New Caledonia - Connectivity
T-Mobile does not include New Caledonia in its Simple Plan for unlimited international roaming. My favorite alternative - Skyroam - does not offer a roaming service here either. SIM cards can be bought at the post office but it is a cumbersome process, so I did not bother.
Many restaurants and coffee shops have free WiFi but the quality is atrocious, usually on a par with Lagos, Nigeria or Malawi's Blantyre.
Hotels also feature extremely slow WiFi that often disconnects. Don't expect to do ANY work while in New Caledonia and Internet-based calling will also likely not work.
My 15 Favorite Things to do Noumea, New Caledonia - Pollution
Noumea is one of the cleanest places you'll ever encounter. The only issue is the turbo diesel cars with crazy amounts of particles when accelerating in the city. Off those few busy roads, it is pristine.
My 15 Favorite Things to do Noumea, New Caledonia - Sights
Despite a South Pacific location and the green hills, the island is oddly devoid of great vistas. It sounds strange but somehow there is always something in-between blocking a great vista (if there is one).
About two hours north of Noumea, close to the town of Bourail, is a huge lagoon that made it into the UNESCO World Heritage list. The lagoon is about 500 yards off the beach and you need a kayak or to be an excellent swimmer to get out there. The beach itself isn't great and has a lot of rocks and plants spoiling the experience a bit.
Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Spa & Golf Resort
Right on the shore of that lagoon is the Sheraton Deva Resort, which commands a huge real estate for its golf course and along the beach. It is very tranquil and beautiful. This is a great spot for lunch (as expensive as everywhere else, though) and to rent a kayak.
Located just offshore, opposite the beach, this small island will kick alive memories of the Maldives in your head. The speedboat taxi takes just a few minutes and is only XFP 1,200 for the return trip.
The island is strikingly peaceful and has a lovely snorkeling area. Make sure to bring protective shoes and plenty of sunscreen to enjoy a few hours of tanning.
The beach promenade along the city's southern shores has some of the best city beaches - it will remind you of Brazil and southern French cities. It is great for running and walking and could not be better maintained.
Windsurfing and Kitesurfing
If you like windsurfing and kitesurfing, you'll be glad to hear that there are plenty of rental locations (like at Plage de l'Anse Vata) that pop up when the winds blow northward. Rental fees are just XFP 1,500 an hour.
Noumea has a number more 'sights', like the Heart of Voh and more lagoons but they can only sensibly be discovered by helicopter and/or boat. This will easily cost several thousand dollars, given the inflated price level on the island.
My 15 Favorite Things to do Noumea, New Caledonia - Eat & Drink
Food and drinks in Noumea are VERY expensive and the quality is average at best. Imagine an overpriced hotel meal - bland and $30 at every restaurant here.
There are precious few cheap eateries and given the low quality of restaurants and shockingly high prices ($10 raita or $7 Indian naan anyone?) you'll probably resort to fast food (which is also expensive at $10 per meal).
My favorite place in Noumea for its superb espresso creations and the general chill atmosphere. There is good food on offer, too (it's cheap compared to other options in the city but not otherwise). The WiFi is the fastest on the island and the staff are very friendly. I stopped by every day!
Le Paradis Gourmand
This big local bakery is a local favorite and produces a huge host of delicious creations - from sandwiches to pastries and more complicated desserts. Everything I tried was spectacular and as good as most Parisian bakeries. Make this your daily stop but come early since many items are sold out by 9AM.
Tipico Latino / Le 'Taj / New Bangkok
The courtyard of the Hilton Noumea features a number of small restaurants, each with a small outside patio. None are especially great but they all dish out decent food (at crazy prices) for a quick dinner.
This Indian restaurant gets great reviews and lunch options are affordable.
Au p'tit Café
Despite its name, this is a proper restaurant which enjoys a great reputation by the locals. Try not to wince at the cost of the $50 entreés, which are rather mid-range options here.
MV Lounge is a local favorite and has some pretty beach areas for you to enjoy a cool beer while watching the Noumea sunset.
My 15 Favorite Things to do Noumea, New Caledonia - Where to Stay
Cash rates for hotels tend to be extremely expensive in Noumea, so I'd suggest looking for redemption options. Le Méridien Nouméa Resort & Spa, Hilton Noumea La Promenade Residences, the Sheraton Deva and the Ramada Hotel & Suites Noumea all vie for your redemption points.
The best deal seemed the Ramada Hotel & Suites Noumea, at 3,000 Wyndham points and EURO 60.