Rich in history, steeped in personality, drenched in sunlight, New Caledonia has something to offer every tourist. From beaches to shopping, it has it all. With an extraordinary mix of French Colonial architecture, South Pacific charm, tropical fruits and warm hospitality, New Caledonia has it all for a holiday destination. With locals being fluent in both French and English, it is a perfect opportunity to try your hand at another language, with the easy option of reverting to English if the need arises.
History of New Caledonia
The native people of New Caledonia originate from the Lapita period, where these expert navigators traveled around the Pacific Ocean. In 1774, Captain James Cook sighted New Caledonia on his second voyage. The area reminded him of Scotland, so he named it after that country. Shortly after Cook, French explorers entered the region. The area was then rarely visited by Europeans until the 1840’s, when trade in Sandalwood became lucrative. As the sandalwood trade declined in the following decade, “Blackbirding” became popular- the taking of native peoples as slaves to work on sugarcane plantations in Fiji and Australia.
In 1853, New Caledonia became a French Colony, and Noumea was founded in 1854. While free settlers emigrated to New Caledonia in the early years, later it served as a French penal colony. The native people were excluded from the French economy on the island, which led to outbreaks in war. During World War II, Noumea became a based for the American war effort in the Pacific, important during the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942.
Following the war, New Caledonia has experienced numerous nationalistic uprisings, and several highly public demonstrations of instability. However, since the signing of the Noumea Accord in 1998, and the plan for local government to take over the country, New Caledonia has become the tropical haven it is designed to be. With trade in nickel still a life-blood, Noumea is thriving as a modern city.
Noumea is the capital and only large settlement of New Caledonia. While being a fantastic destination, Noumea is not overrun with tourists, so is a wonderful lively city to visit. With many French Colonial homes and buildings, it is a beautiful city to view. The climate is warm year round. Local people all take a break during the lunch hour, and eat in the many central city parks. Joining the trend, enjoy your own lunch in style under the palm trees listening to the varied sounds of the city.
As the temperatures increase, head down to one of the many beaches. Lemon Bay, or Baie des Citrons, is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. The beach is safe for swimming, and fantastic for children. Well set up for a day out, the beach is close to many restaurants and cafes as well as having fresh water showers on the beach, a must for post-saltwater swimming.
Traveling around Noumea is easy, with many buses traveling the city circuit every few minutes. Take a ride up to the French Quarter, or the Notre Dame de Pacific lookout. Duck Island is a pleasant resort for the day where snorkeling, kayaking and quietly laying in the sun are popular activities. The popular Tchou tchou train is a must for an inexpensive way of seeing the sights of the city, with a bilingual tour guide.
Shopping in New Caledonia
With their roots in France, shopping in New Caledonia has as much to offer as any high street in the world. French fashions are abundant, as are stores stocking high end beach wear. While not cheap, the shopping experience is gorgeous and thrilling. Souvenir stores are abundant, and while not as cheap as other Pacific Island nations, quality goods can still be found. Be prepared to shop around for the best price. On days when the port is open for Cruise ship passengers, markets seem to spring out of the woodwork, offering a vast array of goods and merchandise. The Cruise Ship Terminal is also worth a visit, as the tourist information is second to none and the goods on offer all meet the high standards required for customs officers in most countries.
New Caledonia is made up of a number of small islands. These islands each have their own charm, and adventures not far from Noumea. Heading to the outer islands, make sure you have French Pacific Francs with you, as credit cards may not be accepted. Also, be prepared to make the most of the opportunities on offer. Away from the metropolitan Noumea, ‘Island time’ becomes more prevalent, so expect to slow down the pace of your holiday. Travel with a snorkel, as the tropical fish are inquisitive and abundant not far from the shore. Also, be prepared to build sandcastles, rent kayaks or walk the beaches in seclusion. The Isle of Pines is a popular destination off the mainland, as are the islands in the Loyalty chain.
New Caledonia has a deep sense of history and personality. A trip to this French speaking nation will always leave you with good memories, pleasant experiences, and a relaxing break from the mundane.