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krisek Noumea - A travel report by Krys
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Noumea,  New Caledonia - flag New Caledonia -  New Caledonia
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krisek's travel reports

South Pacific Extravaganza. New Caledonia. Noumea

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New Caledonia, or actually Noumea, was a very pleasant surprise of the South Pacific Extravaganza trip. It was clean. It was organised. It was very civilised. It had a massive blow of the French colonial breeze. Back to 1980s, I thought.


Baie de l'Anse Vata
Baie de l'Anse Vata
Noumea is a large place. It can be divided into several distinctive parts. One definitely industrial, another business, yet another residential perhaps and the one to relax, do some water sports, lounge on the beach - I guess this one could be the zone touristique. The city overall looked rather relaxed, thought. It was modern and seemed safe. It resembled mid-size French cities from the end of the 20th century. I loved it overall atmosphere and the vibe. It was practically horizontal. And it was weird, since it did also seem that there was actually a lot going there in the business spheres.

Apart from a very relaxed atmosphere however, the city did not appear excessively attractive. It had a great location on the coast and a narrow peninsula, but it was spread out significantly. Not the easiest of places to navigate. There was a city bus service to move around (although not terribly frequent), so it was not such a big issue. I did not see any taxi stands anywhere in Noumea, so it seemed that one had to phone one up. The best way to find the taxi phone numbers was to ask one of the hotels, restaurants or souvenir shops.

Favourite spots:
Baie de l'Anse Vata
Baie de l'Anse Vata
The Baie de l'Anse Vata was definitely my favourite spot in Noumea. It was a large crescent beach with a strip of green lawn planted with gracious palm trees leaving funky shadows on the golden sand. Not just perfect to hang out or lounge in the sand, but also to have a picnic; you know - roasted chicken, carrots, red wine. The beach was great just to walk on or, like some people did, jog on. The water was clear and gently splashed on the small pebbles and sands. Regularly, as if to a rhythm. The lawn was exceptionally well maintained. It was perfect. Thick and trimmed low, like a carpet!

What's really great:
Water taxis, little boats and beach bars.
Water taxis, little boats and beach bars.
For a large place Noumea was, it had incredible ambiance. There was something in the air. I could not explain it at first. It took me several hours to articulate it in my head. Finally, I realised it was this French colonial vibe that resonated in the cafes, little souvenir shops, on the oceanfront pavements. I am not exactly sure how I got this feeling. It must have been all those French films based in the Blue Coast in the south of France. The pavement cafes with tiny tables snuggly positioned by the front window pane of the venues frequented by clientelle sipping coffee from the smallest of cups and showing no trouble on their foreheads. Ladies with large brim hats and gentlemen, who missed at least four top buttons of their shirts. The palm trees swayed gently putting their shadows in motion.

Sights:
New developments at the ocean front, near the pubs, restaurants and souvenir shops
New developments at the ocean front, near the pubs, restaurants and souvenir shops
Noumea was not terribly abundant with sights. Very few colonial buildings survived the encroaching modernity. And they did not have features that could immediately be associated with French heritage. Less than a handful of structures would attract a regular traveller. There was the residence of the president. The main assembly hall, and was pretty much it.

From a photographer's point of view, the situation was much better. Noumea boasted interesting architecture. Modern, not so modern and ... some Modernist, too. Yet, I did not take too many photographs of the city.

Accommodations:
Executive Suite at the Le Meridien Noumea
Executive Suite at the Le Meridien Noumea
I stayed at Le Meridien Noumea in the southern tip of the city, based on a small peninsula. Management upgraded me to an executive suite, so I had two rooms, two bathrooms and two balconies sporting vintage wooden shutters that teleported me back to the 1950s, it felt like. It was a lovely place, full of quality amenities, everything fresh, crisp and fluffy. The usual five star quality. The personnel were friendly, helpful and professional. And most of them spoke English, not that it was absolutely necessary...

The buffet breakfast served in the pool-front restaurant offered a great choice; pastries, different kinds of bread, all sorts of eggs (including poached, and Benedict), pancakes, cheeses, hams, fruit, etc. The only slight disappointment was coffee and juices. The coffee was weak and lukewarm brewed in large American coffee-makers, and there were just two type of juices to choose from.

Nightlife:
A water taxi and a few boats for water sports near the nightlife corner
A water taxi and a few boats for water sports near the nightlife corner
The Rimba Juice Bar Club at the ocean front at Baie de l'Anse Vata was one of the several nightlife options in the area. The area was humming at night. Not bustling. Humming. It seemed that everyone was so well behaved. There were not screams. No drunken people in the streets. It all looked very civilised, composed. Almost as if it was staged. I guess Noumea was not geared up to wild parties with revellers spinning out of control. Instead, the nightgoers enjoyed the evening with their acquaintances, friends or neighbours over a few cocktails. Sitting at the tables, sometimes outside in the cooling Pacific breeze, chatting, exchanging jokes, reflecting on a day, planning a forthcoming weekend. And they took their time. Stayed late until the wee hours of the morning. It was a great ambiance indeed.

Hangouts:
Fun Beach restaurant and grill at the beach with terrace overlooking the ocean
Fun Beach restaurant and grill at the beach with terrace overlooking the ocean
Le Fare Palm Beach was a perfect hanging out spot. It offered a handful of seaside cafes, bars and unsophisticated eateries, on top of those views deep into the ocean, clearest water, golden sand, blissful ocean breeze. A water sports stand on the beach right there had several accommodating options for some splashing action, with plenty of patience and sympathy for beginners. On the other side of the waterfront avenue, several unpretentious stores invited for leisurely shopping or browsing, if that's your pleasure. The word of warning though: there is no bargaining in New Caledonia, the price on the tag is the price you pay. A more relaxing way of shopping of course. But this is how shopping works in Melanesia, outside Vanuatu, perhaps.

Restaurants:
View of the Le Roof restaurant placed on a wooden pier.
View of the Le Roof restaurant placed on a wooden pier.
Le Roof, a large seafood restaurant on the main pier of Baie de l'Anse Vata, might have been amongst the best, if not most spectacularly located, places to try local cuisine. It was located on a large wooden pier running right into the ocean. It had a lovely fishermen tavern feel, complete with funky wooden furniture. The menu featured a long list of French-inspired fish dishes, crustaceans and other ocean creatures, at surprisingly reasonable prices. When I visited, the restaurant did not feature lunch fare, as it was opening for evening meals only.

If one wanted to stick near the ocean for an evening meal and stay on firmer ground, the beach area boasted a few other options. Some with similar price range and some cheaper (and more cheerful) with somewhat less class. Not all of them had menus dominated by seafood dishes.

Other recommendations:
Carvings
Carvings
The Noumea international airport (Tontoua) is about 50km from the city centre and it takes approximately 45 minutes to drive there. For about half of the way, there is a motorway. When landing in Noumea, there is no public transport of taxis, which is really odd and extremely inconvenient. The routine is to have someone pick you up (that's what the locals do) or to rent a car (that's what the locals and travellers do). A taxi ride if booked in advance would cost 11,000 francs. The car rental was at least 13,000 francs. Fortunately, a company called Arc du ciel does hotel transfers and charges 3,000 francs (or €30) one way. From the airport they leave after all passengers collected their luggage from the incoming flights. On the way back, they depart on specific hours from specific hotels, and it is always best for the hotel front desk to confirm your seat. This is not always too convenient as often the minibus would deliver you to the airport as early as 2 hours before departure.

Published on Friday January 11th, 2013


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