Chasing an endless summer in New Caledonia
Impossibly clear water, an unhurried vibe, a smattering of French and plenty of palm trees was what I was promised and New Caledonia delivered. It was only 17 degrees on the day Carnival Spirit sailed out of Sydney Harbour, but on my first trip to the South Pacific, the winter weather was still warm and sunny most of the time. Noumea may be just a two-hour flight from Brisbane, but it takes two whole days at sea before we reach New Caledonia.
Despite being warned by seasoned cruisers that Noumea was nothing flash, I found the New Caledonia capital to be charming with its French signs, low-slung buildings and pretty landscape on the main island of Grand Terre.
I took the brightly coloured Tchou Tchou train to orient myself and get a guided overview of the petite city. It was a religious holiday on the day we arrived, so it felt like a Sunday. Everyone waved at the train as it amazingly made it up hilly streets, but that may have been because of the ludicrous sight of seeing tourists get around in a kiddie train.
After some quick pics at Notre Dame de Pacific lookout point and some cider and a French pastry (yum!), we meander past houses in the old district of Faubourg Blanchot, spot heaps of cycling and running locals along Onto Cote Blanche (our guide, Elizabeth, says Nouméens are extremely body conscious) and then travel up to Ouen Toro Lookout point, before heading back down past Anse Vata and Lemon Bay beaches to the city centre.
I caught the end of the Noumea Morning Market where monstrous tubers and giant yams lurked amid handicrafts, pastries and olives, while locals lopped fresh coconuts and traded seafood at the fish market close by.
At Coconut Grove – La Place des Cocotiers (free wi-fi!), we took the local bus from the city back to Lemon Bay, also known as Baie des Citrons. A fresh and light lunch looking out to the beach with beautiful water (21 degrees all year round), a gelato macaron to walk along the sand with, and it all feels trés, trés French! Nor surprising since Noumea is known as the Pacific French Riviera!
Our second New Caledonia port stop was Lifou Island, part of the Iles Loyauté (Loyalty Islands). Surrounded by coral, we have to take a tender boat to the shore as the cruise ship can’t come into port. Once on land, I walk up to a church on the hill where I get a panoramic view of the island (and the ship) and then walk down the slope to the Cliffs of Jokin, where you need a permit to snorkel in the cool water.
After chilling out in a shady spot on the rocky cliffs, I walk back to the beach where the tender docked to paddle in the shallows. The water’s a little cool but OK once you’re in, but the coral floor means you have to tread water to avoid cuts to the feet. On shore, some large open huts offer Kanak cultural souvenirs and various local foodstuffs like curries, fresh baguette sandwiches and fried coconut cake.
So this is what an unspoilt island paradise looks like. Our third and final stop in New Caledonia, and a new port for Carnival Spirit, is the small island of Maré. For snorkellers, check out the area close to the jetty or the natural aquarium – a large ocean pool created by rock formations, while swimmers will want to get a 20-minute bus transfer through the green jungle to the other side of Maré for the promised clear water and crushed shell golden sands and the perfect beach ratio of blue on white. Just beautiful.
Yejele Beach is ringed by a coral reef and seemingly tranquil waters where I blissfully float and paddle around for ages before catching some rays back on the beach. Small huts off the shore offer the ubiquitous hair braiding, massages and refreshments, such as the local beer, Number 1.
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