Top 10 things to do in New Caledonia
Wondering what to do in New Caledonia? We promise you'll never have a dull moment. New Caledonia has six UNESCO World Heritage sites, all atolls or reefs. It's been a French territory since 1853, so you'll have many opportunities to practice your français. It's home to a fascinating indigenous Melanesian culture that's respected and celebrated. Plus it has some of the most delicious food you'll ever eat on a Pacific holiday. Vive la différence! This tropical holiday is like no other.
1. Eat at a French restaurant in Noumea
When in French Polynesia, eat like a French person! Many of the best restaurants in Noumea are French, ranging from the relaxed Le Faré du Palm Beach in Anse Vata to the magnificently-located Le Roof, which is in an overwater bungalow-style building off Promenade Roger Laroque. The food you'll discover is prepared and cooked using French methods, but given a twist by the use of delicious tropical ingredients. Bon appétit!
2. Find out about Kanak culture
Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Noumea is one of the top New Caledonia attractions. Designed by famous Italian architect Renzo Piano, the centre's design is a visually-stunning modern interpretation of traditional Kanak architecture. Here you can discover the unique art, history, customs and culture of the original New Caledonia people, while wandering beautifully landscaped grounds from site to site. Check out the events programme to see if your visit to this Noumea cultural centre can coincide with a concert, show, dance or market.
3. Try New Caledonia food specialties
Certainly you'll find plenty of baguette, croissants and tempting little tarts in Noumea, but there are also New Caledonia cuisine experiences that will take you by surprise. Bougna, for example, a traditional food made of chicken, lobster or fish mixed with yams, sweet potatoes and coconut milk. It's all wrapped up in a banana leaf and baked in an earth oven. Or how about New Caledonia blue prawns, which are carefully farmed in New Caledonian lagoons. New Caledonia is also famous for delicious wild venison.
4. Relax on Amedee Island
Imagine the Pacific beach of your dreams - powdery white sand, clear turquoise water and living coral just offshore for a lazy snorkel with hundreds of tropical fish. That's exactly what you'll find at Amedee Island, an easy day trip from Noumea. There's a white-painted lighthouse on the island that was first illuminated in 1865. You're welcome to climb the cast-iron staircase to the top for some bird's eye sightseeing. In 2009, Amedee Island made it to the UNESCO World Heritage list, so it's truly worth seeing.
5. Get into the outdoors on Mont-Dore
Just 30 minutes east of Noumea is Mont-Dore (golden mountain), a hiking challenge that will reward you with the area's biggest panorama. It takes about four hours to hike to the summit (800 metres above sea level) and back, so you'll need to stock up on baguette, cheese and water for this adventure. To make a day of it, you can also explore the town of Mont-Dore on the lower slopes of the mountain.
6. Visit the Musée de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale
This fascinating museum is inside a WWII Quonset hut, which gives it an authentic point of difference. In addition to displays of war artefacts and photographs, it tells compelling stories that expose the huge human and logistical effort required for the Pacific War. Thousands of troops from the USA, New Zealand and Australia were based in New Caledonia after the main South Pacific Fleet base of the United States Navy moved to Noumea in 1942. Another WWII site that's relevant to New Zealanders is the Bourail New Zealand War Cemetery and Memorial, which is a two-hour drive northwest of Noumea.
7. Go biking in La Parc de la Rivière Bleue
North-east from Noumea is Blue River National Park, which protects some of Grande Terre's best natural attractions and wildlife. You can hire bikes within the park at Sud Loisirs, then pedal the 13km road through the park. Signs along the way tell you where to look for rare Kagu birds and New Caledonian kauri trees. The scenery is spectacular - everything from red-earth like the Australian outback to deep rainforest. The park base also rents out kayaks, for exploring on the river. As New Caledonia activities go, this is one of the best.
8. Go snorkelling at Ile aux Canards (Duck Island)
Just off Anse Vata Beach is Ile aux Canards, an idyllic little island fringed by one of the best beaches in Noumea. Catch a water taxi over, then rent a deck chair with an umbrella. There's snorkelling straight off the sand, plus an underwater trail you can follow marked by buoys. Food and drink is available on the island or bring your own. Reef shoes are a good idea.
9. Explore Fort Tereka for New Caledonia history
Right at the tip of Nouville Peninsula is Fort Tereka, an abandoned 19th century military fort, complete with canons and tunnels. The scenery here is just as good as the history, so it's easy to while away a couple of hours exploring tunnels, gunpowder holdings and lookouts. A great way to visit the peninsula is on a rental bike. On your way to the fort, stop off at the maritime museum. There's a resort restaurant at Kuendu Beach for lunch.
10. Shop until you drop in Noumea
Shopping in Noumea comes with a touch of Paris glamour, because you'll find European-style supermarkets, exquisite patisserie shops and French fashion shops. There are plenty of luxury goods for sale, but it's also easy to find bargains. Another recommendation is the Port Moselle Market, which is right beside the marina in Port Moselle. It's open six mornings a week for fresh food and handcrafts, as well as bright-coloured summer clothing and accessories with French Polynesian flair.