Designated an official Overseas French Territory, New Caledonia is the closest slice of that delicious European lifestyle for Australian travellers looking to escape. The unique blend of its unmistakable South Pacific vibes and prevalent French influences make this major scuba diving and gourmand destination one of the most essential getaways for Aussies who have limited time to spend on an overseas holiday, with plenty of things to pack a 2-3 day itinerary.
As a guest of Aircalin, I had the pleasure of scratching the surface in New Caledonia and finding some of the best things to do. Here are some of those to take note of the next time you feel like mixing water sports and hiking with luxury French wine and buttery pastries.
Kayak Through the Drowned Forest of Blue River Provincial Park
At a vast 9,000 hectares, the Blue River Provincial Park is New Caledonia’s greatest natural asset, outside of the UNESCO World Heritage listed lagoon – the world’s largest – and abundant marine life of course. Red soils that look as if they are burning with stories of old, emerald green forests that hide small mullet-adorned native Cagous birds, lakes that sparkle like sapphires – this is heaven for nature enthusiasts.
There’s so many opportunities for mountain biking, hiking and camping around here, but one of the best things to do is kayak through the park’s famed drowned forest. This eerie petrified landscape owes its otherworldly beauty to hundreds of white gum oak trunks which have been stripped of all vegetation, sticking out from the blue waters for what is easily one of the most unique sights on the island.
Kayak through this still, shallow drowned forest either by hiring equipment or going with an ecotourism operator like Toutazimut.
After you’re done, don’t make the mistake of rushing out of the park. There’s still so much to be seen. Hike around and witness the immaculate beauty of natural features like the immense 1,000 year old Kaori tree which shoots up into the air and seemingly never ends. Pop by for a picnic by the crystal clear blue waters, and don’t worry if you’ve forgotten a water bottle, the waters here are perfectly clean and safe to drink.
Enjoy Noumea’s Gourmet Landscape
New Caledonia is a French territory after all, so you can be sure the capital of Noumea is a gourmand’s delight. Various wine cellars, produce markets, and delicatessens lay scattered around the centre of this very small city. Densely packed, you’re guaranteed to find something to taste, whether it’s from the famous Port Moselle Markets or the eclectic wine bar and restaurant Chai de l’Hippodrome. The latter is especially valuable for tasty cuts of meat and private wine tastings, led by charismatic freelance sommeliers keen to showcase valuable Bordeaux wines and complex cheeses.
Scoot Across Noumea Bay via E-Bike
The Noumea waterfront is where locals go to relax, shop and beach the day away. Just the sight of the bay curving around the peninsula is enough to truly take you outside of time and put you on the island clock. It deserves to be explored fully, and the one of the more fun ways to do this is to hook up with local operator ePlay and go on a guided electric scooter adventure from the quiet Promenade Vernier to the bustling Ansa Vata beach precinct.
Choose from various e-vehicles and hit a comfortable speed until you get to the flat, relaxed beach. Chill here, or grab a beer nearby. You might also want to hike up to locally popular Creperie Le Rocher, which benefits greatly from its position atop a clip offering stunning vistas of Lemon Bay. The savoury crepes aren’t much to write home about – although I could have visited on an off day – but the view is worth the trek.
Snorkel Off Green Island
Part of New Cal’s substantial barrier reef, Green Island is a small nature reserve that feels relatively isolated despite its easy access. Hit up Gecko Evasion to book an easy tour out to the island, which will likely pass the Nekweta Surf Camp which is also worth looking into.
The tour will speedboat you out to the island and dock where you can snorkel or just relax in the pristine bright blue waters. Since this is a tiny island, you’ll want to time your visit so it doesn’t clash with any other tours – which I’m sure Gecko Evasion will consider when planning your trip.
Note that our tour with Gecko Evasion also took us to the farm, which I detail below. So ask if you package the two together.
Feast on Local Produce at Nemeara Farm
Even though Noumea is most definitely worth exploring for a few days, you won’t really get a feel of how special New Caledonia is until you leave the capital. It’s very much the same as most other Pacific Islands, with the real beauty found on the outskirts and in other areas.
Bourail is one such area of New Caledonia, edging you close towards the country’s agricultural industries. Here, stop by Nemeara Farm which has recently opened up its quaint lands for tourism and is perhaps best known in Australia as one of the filming locations for a recent season of The Bachelor (the one with the mullet dude who didn’t pick anyone at the end).
Settled onto the farm, owner Cindy Baronnet and her mother will cook up a bush BBQ feast with local produce and all the beer and wine you could possibly need. The locally grown pork and venison skewers go down a treat, as does the pumpkin swimming in rich coconut broth.
Take a tour around the grounds on a bobcat later and Cindy might take you over to an amazing little treehouse perfect for photo opps.
Fly Over the Iconic Heart of Voh
The most quintessential site in New Caledonia would have to be the Heart of Voh. I didn’t get to do it myself on my short trip to the archipelago, but the stunning natural plant formation, which obviously forms an almost perfect heart (the animated kind), is undoubtedly an unmissable experience. You can read more about the heart HERE.
Pick Your Resort Carefully
If you want to hug Noumea for all that food and wine then stay close by at the family friendly Le Méridien Noumea Resort & Spa. The hotel is a comfortable, spacious and very convenient choice for anyone hugging the capital and hoping to explore it’s multitude of bars, restaurants and beaches.
To get out of the capital and settle near Bourail – highly recommended – book a few nights at the Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Spa & Golf Resort. This incredibly thoughtful and secluded property features stunning and genuinely luxurious Melanesian-inspired bungalows and cosies up to a private beach, perfect for morning swims.
The writer travelled as a guest of Aircalin and New Caledonia Tourism. All opinions remain that of the writer’s.
Feature image: Supplied | Credit to Ayaka Ogata / NCTPS