Nouméa

l'Orphelinat Bay

Noumea is the largest city in and capital of New Caledonia, lying on the main island of Grande Terre. One of the most westernized capitals in the Pacific Islands, it features beautiful beaches and colonial mansions and is not yet a heavily touristed destination. Where metropolitan French will hear a bad French accent, wince and say that they speak English, the Francophones of New Caledonia are either less willing or less able to accommodate Anglophones. It is probably a matter of capability, since they are marvellously willing to persevere in determining what it is that a foreigner needs. Without tourist-level French, you may find yourself lost--but it's a lovely place to be lost! The French spoken by Caledonians is much harder to understand than the French of people in Paris: on a par with Quebec French (or think of the challenge offered by broad Scots or Yorkshire for a naive English-speaker).

Get in

By plane

La Tontouta International Airport (IATA: NOU), +687 351118, is New Caledonia's only international airport and the primary point of entry into Noumea. Located in Païta, 52km northwest of Noumea, there are direct flights to Japan, Australia, New Zealand and nearby Pacific islands. Aircalin is the national airline which operates most of the flights, with Qantas, Air New Zealand and Air Vanuatu also operating flights out of the airport. Most visitors from Europe and Asia will connect via Tokyo or Osaka in Japan, while those from North America can connect via Auckland or Papeete. The airport offers free Wi-Fi and a number of eateries and gift shops, which accept both CFP and major worldwide currencies.

Due to the long distance between the airport and the city centre, connecting transport can be very expensive. The cheapest option by far is a public bus, run by Carsud. Ligne C runs 9-11 times a day each way Monday to Saturday, however only twice a day on Sundays. The journey time is about an hour 20 minutes costing 400 CFP one-way, departing to the city from just outside the airport terminal on the right, and to the airport from the Desmazures interchange near the bingo centre. A pre-booked shuttle service to your hotel will cost about 3000 CFP per person; there are a variety of options, but the largest company is Arc en Ciel (+687 271980). A taxi could cost up to 10,000 CFP.

Noumea Magenta Airport (IATA: GEA), +687 251400, is the city's domestic airport, with the territory's domestic airline Air Calédonie operating flights to and from most of the country's islands, such as the Loyalty Islands (Maré, Tiga, Lifou, Ouvéa), Île des Pins, Belep and mainland destinations including Koné and Koumac on the west coast and Touho on the east coast. Located just 4km from the city centre, it can be reached by public buses 20 or 40 from the Moselle interchange near the market, or easily by taxi and hotel transfer.

By boat

Noumea is a popular port of call for people sailing around the Pacific, though most dare not sail during cyclone season.

Get around

The Little Train (Le Petit Train) is a motorised tour on normal roads, that runs several times a day. It is an area tour, but you can also hop off one train, and catch the following service. Check the timetable, though, because it may be cancelled or only offer two services on a given day.

CarSud bus stop at La Tontouta international airport in New Caledonia

The city is also serviced by several bus routes that costs 210 CFP if you buy your ticket on board (as of June 2014), or 190 CFP if you buy them ahead of time. Others have recommended this only if you feel your French is up to scratch, as the bus drivers very rarely understand anything but French. It is sufficient to know that the bus goes to "Centre Ville", then hand over the money and state the number of tickets required (une personne, deux personnes, trois personnes, etc.). The big catch is working out where the buses start, as different lines leave from different places. The majority of buses go from near the ticket office in Place de la Marne, where Rue d'Austerlitz passes through the Place des Cocotiers. Other lines depart from a rough piece of ground near the corner of rue Clemenceau and rue de la Somme, within sight of the Municipal Markets and the cinema and a couple of blocks south of Place des Cocotiers. See the official map for more details.

You can buy a number of tickets in advance at the office on rue d'Austerlitz (it's more of a booth, actually) but you need to validate the appropriate number of tickets for the trip when you board the bus (that includes the ones you buy from the driver). Validation just means inserting them in a machine that will stamp them with a time and a date, but this is nowhere explained. We heard rumours of ticket-selling machines that were in shops, but never saw any. We also heard of an all-day ticket, but never managed to track that down either. The city bus line is called Karuiabus.

The first trick is to recognise a bus stop when you see one. These are white-ish pillars, usually with a name on them, sometimes with a shelter from sun or rain, but usually with no indication of the line(s) that stop there.

Also available for tourists is a "Noumea Explorer" service that runs an hourly loop pass the major tourist sites (Museums, Parc Forestier and Zoo, Tjibaou and hotels) hourly. That for 1500CFP a day (March 2010 price), is a great idea to be used to explore each of the sites for an hour before catching the bus onto the next location when it comes past again. The service takes a little over an hour, the stops are hard to locate at the start, and you need both a map that shows the stops, and also a leaflet from your hotel or a tourist office that gives the timetable.

See

Most of the tourist attractions in Noumea are closed on Mondays and open all other days. with the exception of Museum of Caledonia that is closed on Tuesdays. Each venue has its own entry costs, but in 2014 for 1700 CFP a "Pass' Nature and Culture" could still be purchased that provided admittance to the Tjibaou, New Caledonia, Noumea and Maritime History Museums, Zoo and Aquarium that could be used over 6 months.

Another good idea, is to grab the Free English publication "The New Caledonia Weekly" and check in it for local events and ideas. The best map was the "New Caledonia Visitor map" found in many places. This is an A1 sheet that can be a challenge in high winds, but at least it shows you where the "Noumea Explorer" stops are.

Tjibaou Cultural Centre

Do

New Caledonia is home of one of the largest lagoons in the world. So naturally water sports are very popular.

Baie des Citrons is also very protected from wind, making it even more enjoyable for the novice. But also if you are prepared to pay for a water taxi ride, Ile aux Canards just off Anse Vata (maybe half a kilometer away) has a snorkeling track in a marine park that has even better coral to see. The visibility can be poor after rough weather, and the charges for almost everything are appallingly heavy (600 CFP for a chair, the same for an umbrella, and the service is surely the surliest found anywhere in Nouméa, aside from the Tjibaou cafeteria). You get there by water taxi from the lower level of the faré ("native hut") half-way along the Plage Loisirs or Anse Vata beach. The price in June 2014 was 1200 CFP for a return trip, which was good value. It should be noted that seeing sea snakes is not uncommon in Noumean waters, but they are very unlikely to bite a snorkeler. Sharks are very rarely seen though. You can rent a mask, fins and snorkel for 600 CFP, so you may think it worthwhile taking your own.

The quickest way up from the area near Anse Vata is to walk along rue g. Laroque, but if you reach the pharmacy and the Hippodrome, you have gone too far. Go past the first couple of cross streets, then look for rue Paul Baumier on your right: there is a Gascon restaurant on one corner, and the Val Plaisance Charcuterie on the other. Walk up the street warily (the drivers are a bit wild) then pick up the track at the top end of the street. This leads up to the road that comes from somewhere past the Meridien hotel. The track is a bit of a scrabble, with a number of 5 cm stumps, but this mid-60s rambler got up it all right. Once you are on the road, you can either go west to look out over the sea or just look for the walking tracks that start immediately opposite. There is a painted map-sign there (we could not get any printed ones) so take some notes, especillay of the distances, because these are repeated on the track signage.

The main thing is to be aware that there are many other tracks than the ones shown, and the red tracks (on the signboard map) are indeed "difficult". In the late afternoon, we found plenty of other walkers and runners so the place is safe enough. Take some water, and watch where you put your feet, as twisted ankles are always possible on the loose stones and rocks. Keep an eye on where you are going so that you can retrace your steps, because the internal signs are poor. The views, however, are superb.

Most of Nouméa is also very close together, and safe to walk day and night between most of the suburbs (anyway avoid the surroundings of the "place des cocotiers" at night, were many drunken people are roaming. Neighbourhoods of Montravel, Vallee du tir, and Riviere salee can be also be unsafe place at night). By day, the walk from Anse Vata along to and around the Baie des Citrons is pleasant. Assume that coffee and tea along the way will leave you little change from 500 CFP (each).

Buy

Food is not cheap in New Caledonia, but you can do well shopping at the non-tourist shops. Learn to detect the boulangerie and patisserie for bread and pastries, the charcuterie for meat and pâté and so on, but don't pass by the slightly seedy-looking general stores, where you can probably get tinned pâté, packaged cheese (wedges of brie, for example) and more.

Plan your alcohol purchases carefully because many supermarkets will not sell you alcohol on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Eat

At night, locals who eat out seem to wait until "vingt heures" (20.00 or 8 pm) before they eat, though most places are open from 18.30 (6.30 pm).

Views and food

The 360 Restaurant is a revolving restaurant on top of one of the Ramada towers. At one point, you are looking straight into the apartments of the other tower, but the food is truly superb, and the lunch views are great.

Drink

The main local beer is 'Number One', it is not a complex beer, but pleasant and refreshing. The other local beer is called "Manta".

There are many French wines to be had, but as a rule, the New Zealand and Australian wines seem to travel better (but that is an Australian opinion, and so open to being questioned). The local tap water is perfectly safe to drink, but bottled water is easy to find if you are fearful. We stocked our hotel fridge from the neighbourhood general store and effected considerable savings.

For Australians, the idea of 'flat white' coffee is foreign. A short black is 'espresso', cappuccino comes heaped high with cream (not froth), and tea is served without milk. The hot chocolate is up to Belgian standards. Fruit juices are pricey but excellent.

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Le Surf (www.grands-hotels.nc) Le Parc

Splurge

Ramada Plaza, rue Louis Blériot, Anse Vata

Royal Tera *** Excellent accommodation. Situated on Anse Vata Bay - self contained (kitchen incredible), short walk to bus to City. Close to restaurants.

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