Lagoons. Culture. A Côte d’Azur flair. Add rich history, festive nightlife and incredible beaches to the mix, and it’s inexplicable why Noumea isn’t on the top of everyone’s ‘get out of winter and fast’ list.
The sun shines year-round in French Polynesia, and New Caledonia – with Noumea at its heart – is a prime candidate for one of the most dazzling coastal getaways in the South Pacific. Here are 12 very good reasons why you should be heading there right now.
#1 A touch of France
What destination doesn’t seal the deal with the promise of a little French flourish? Though it was in fact Captain Cook who made the first Western rounds here back in 1774 (and gave the island its name) it was the French who colonised it, albeit as a penal colony.
France’s lingering influence can be found fused with the indigenous culture in Noumea – expect a good dose of colonial architecture, with a European-like collision of bars, cafes, and restaurants, and French culinary mores. Delicious baguettes and pastries can be found in the local bakeries, excellent French wine in the local stores, and the city is littered with an array of tantalising French bistrots.
#2 The beaches
If for no other reason, you must go to Noumea for the beaches. That archetypal, picture-perfect, still blue and golden sand shoreline of your wildest imagination? That exists here. And while you’ll find plenty of these along the New Caledonian shoreline, the capital’s beaches in particular are some of the most relaxing on the island. Offering good shade and safety, Baie des Citrons is Noumea’s most bustling, while Magenta, Anse Vata, and Kuendu Cove make for idyllic, lazy moments – morning, noon and night.
#3 The bays
The shimmering bays of sun-drenched Noumea – Anse Vata, Baie des Citrons and Promenade Pierre Vernier – are what the French Riviera wishes it looked like. A ‘wanderlusty’ scene par excellence.
#4 The world’s largest lagoon
The New Caledonian Barrier Reef is considered the world’s largest lagoon, and the second largest double-barrier coral reef on the planet. One of the most beautiful spots in the world, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a breathtaking marine experience, home to diverse clusters of coral and plant species and over 9,000 species of rare and common underwater wildlife.
Kitesurfers rejoice: Noumea has you covered with one of the very best spots in Pacific for a raging kitesurfing odyssey. Aquarêve Beach is a popular spot, if not Ilot Maitre, Mbé Kouen Island, and Goéland and Ténia Islands, while Poé near Gourao Bay is a prime kitesurfing paradise, with plenty of other hidden locations around the island to rig up and experience the freedom.
It follows logically that the destination with one of the largest and most biodiverse reefs in the world is probably home to some of the best diving too. It’s all true, and the best part is you don’t even need an air tank to experience the wonders – a simple snorkel, mask and flipper set lets you witness the region’s colourful butterfly fish, parrotfish and clownfish in their natural habitats. For something a little deeper, including shipwrecks and rare species, Amedee Lighthouse and the underwater reserve near Duck Island are some of Noumea’s best spots.
#7 Cultural mix
A melting pot of communities, New Caledonia owns a rich cultural and ethnic heritage. Settling here over 3,000 years ago, the Kanak people are most senior inhabitants of the area and comprise around 50 per cent of the population. As well as a significant number of French inhabitants, the island is home to a vibrant range of Asian communities, including Japanese, Vietnamese and Indonesian, as well as folks from surrounding island areas, including Tahiti and Reunion Island.
#8 Kuto, Oro, Kanumera, Upi
Take a boat, or a short flight, along the archipelago southwest of Noumea, and you’ll find the l’Île des Pins, or Isle of Pines: sheer beauty within beauty, and one of New Caledonia’s most desired and frequented destinations. The southern lagoons, featuring showpiece bays Kuto, Oro Bay, Kanumera, and Upi Bay, is a mélange of searing white sands, turquoise waters and enough primordial beauty to turn you into a willing, lifelong castaway.
By this, we mean the islands – Lifou, Ouvea and Mare. The Loyalty Islands lie off New Caledonia’s north-western coast, and are home to some of the clearest, purest emerald waters and wild species of indigenous marine life in the world. Noumea is your gateway to all of it.
It would be remiss of us not to mention that Noumea is but a two-hour flight from Brisbane Airport. Long weekend anyone?
New Caledonia remains one of the most accessible, luxurious, French-inflected tropical paradises on Earth – an island getaway like no other. Noumea is calling your name.[qantas_widget code=NOU]Check out Qantas flights to Noumea.[/qantas_widget] (Lead image: My New Caledonia / Facebook)
Cam Hassard is an international penman, sax-wielder and rogue wayfarer who writes for Junkee, Carryology, Huckberry, Caddie, Fairfax Media, Carryology, Intrepid, Peregrine Adventures and Europe Up Close. He’s eaten ant salad in Laos, hauled trucks from NYC to Vegas, and destroyed himself on the Camino de Santiago. Originally from Melbourne, he currently calls Berlin home.