18 URBAN EXPERIENCES YOU’D NEVER EXPECT IN THE PACIFIC
Nouméa is undoubtedly the big smoke, drawing people from all over the French South Pacific and abroad. The city is a hub for nightlife, shopping and gastronomy with a distinctly French feel. Here’s how to experience the best of it!
1. Upmarket shopping at the Centre Ville
Many suburban shopping malls in Nouméa now house bigger brands but the boutiques of the Centre Ville still draw the smart set to its narrow streets. Centred on the Rue d’Alma, the network of streets around the main square, Place des Cocotiers, has many a surprise. As well as the boutiques, there are a host of New Caledonian shops to look out for too.
2. Check out Chinatown
Moments away from the dockside is the new Chinatown, or Quartier Asiatique, which opened in October 2013. Around 7% of Nouméa’s population has Asian heritage, mostly drawn from former French colonies such as Vietnam and Cambodia, but also Shanghai, which was French until 1946. A statue here honours the Vietnamese workers who came to New Caledonia to mine for chrome and nickel in the late 19th century. Stop here for delicious nem spring rolls and Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.
3. Have a wander through the Place des Cocotiers
Place des Cocotiers Itself is a metaphor for New Caledonia. This typically French central square is fringed with the South Pacific coconut trees of the same name and now completed with Kanak totems. The square has also been spruced up in recent years and is now the perfect spot to stop and relax, review your purchases and people watch. Young couples stroll together, businessmen march on through, Kanak ladies braid hair and many stop and read Les Nouvelles Caledonians daily newspaper. You can even watch the locals play chess, or if you think you’ve got what it takes, join in.
4. Visit the chocolatiers of the Latin Quarter
The undeniable architectural highlight of the city centre is the imposing St. Joseph Cathedral. The cathedral, which calls to mind those found in Latin American countries, was built by convict labour in ten years from 1887.
But the highlight of the Latin Quarter remains the chocolatiers, whose use of locally-sourced cacao, vanilla beans and sugar give the products a unique flavour. These incredible purveyors of chocolate and other treats will make even the quickest pitstop an unforgettable experience.
5. Admire colonial architecture at Faubourg Blanchot
Many of the best examples of French Pacific colonial architecture can be found in Faubourg Blanchot – the earliest bourgeois neighbourhood of the burgeoning colony in the late 19th century. The suburb contains almost 60 colonial homes and four other historical buildings that are all expertly mapped out in English in a new walking trail produced by Nouméa city council.
Like Queenslander houses, the properties of Blanchot were built for the conditions. These wooden abodes come complete with verandahs, canopies and metal roofs. Start at the Maison Célières, a grand family home whose porch was once the largest in New Caledonia. Wind your way back to the former city prison at the top of the Latin Quarter.
6. Unwind by the water
With a beat throbbing into the bay until early in the morning every weekend, Noumea’s coastal suburbs promise much in the way of nightlife. Several bars, perched atop a pontoon jutting out into Anse Vata, have launched New Caledonian live acts and DJs into the international arena for over a decade. In total there are three venues on the same pier, with an upmarket restaurant to add to the appeal. Anse Vata is one of the prime nightspots of Nouméa after dark, with nightclubs and eateries dotted along the beachfront.
7. Learn about Indigenous culture at the Tjibaou Centre
Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, the Tjibaou Cultural Centre is a world-class museum, gallery, exhibition and interpretive hub and is a major tourist drawcard for those wanting an insight into New Caledonia’s Melanesian peoples. A visit is a must for anyone interested in New Caledonian culture.
8. Walk from Port Moselle along the bays
Like Sydney and Auckland, Nouméa is a city of interconnected bays. And with so much of the town’s life taking place on or around the water, it’s not surprising that many want a coastal view for their homes. Also like its antipodean sister cities, Nouméa has some great walks around its most famous bays. The place to start is Port Moselle, home to the inter-island ferries, taxi boat and yacht charters that can sail you to one of Nouméa Bay’s many islands for daytrips.
9. Visit the Port Moselle Market for a tasty treat
Behind the marina is the town’s central market, which is a melting pot of cultures, with enormous yams and taros vying for space with fresh baguettes, French cheeses and local cured meats. Try the venison saussison and wild boar pâté for a taste of New Caledonia or watch the Noumean citizens haggling over kilos of freshly caught prawns. Roll up early on Saturdays and Sundays to ensure you get the best of the locally grown produce and the freshest offerings
from the plentiful coastal waters.
10. Take a day trip to an offshore island
L’ile aux Canards, or Duck Island, is a just a two minute water taxi ride from Anse Vata pier and is ideal for those looking to while an afternoon away. You can swim at the beach, kick back under an umbrella, or if you’d like a meal and a drink, you can enjoy lunch under a traditional thatched fare. On land there’s a both a nature trail and an art trail to explore, while offshore, the shallow 400 metre underwater trail is well marked and has signs that help identify the multitude of marine inhabitants.
11. All aboard the tchou tchou train
An excellent way to get your bearings around the city of Nouméa, the Petit Train runs twice a day, except on Sundays, and completes a wide circuit of the city. Aside from getting a feel for Noumea’s sights it’s also relatively inexpensive entertainment for families with kids. It departs from 10am on Mondays and at 3pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tickets can be bought
from the driver.
12. Relax with a spa day
For the ultimate in indulgence, visit the spa Chateau Royal with its aquatonic spa pool, which is the largest in Noumea. The city also has a host of other options – both hotels and institutes – around for a chilled out day. Treatments options include hamam, massage, spa and sauna.
13. Be the big cheese at a picnic
One of the best things about New Caledonia is its selection of exquisite French cheeses. Despite New Zealand dairy making inroads and local producers starting new artisan creameries, most fromage on the shelves of Nouméa’s supermarkets and specialist cheese shops is imported from mainland France. Pick some up along with a freshlybaked baguette and a fine French wine. For the real aficionados, the Le Méridien and Chateaux Royal in Nouméa and Sheraton Deva Resort and Spa in Bourail have French cheese festivals in June.
14. Take a Segway tour of nouméa’s zoo
Nouméa’s botanical gardens also houses the city’s zoo. The Parc Zoologique et Forestier is a veritable urban park only minutes from the city centre in the Vallée du Tir suburb. The gardens are home to the elusive Cagou, New Caledonia’s national bird, as well as hundreds of other endemic flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth. One of the best ways to get around the sprawling site is on a Segway personal transporter.
15. Stop for a pint
Craft beer lovers are not left wanting in Nouméa. Although its famous lager Number One dominates, you can try a wider selection of beverages in the numerous bars, cafés and clubs that are popular spots for visiting Australians and New Zealanders.
16. Find Nemo behind glass
For undersea action, head to the city’s main fish tank, L’Aquarium des Lagons, which reopened in 2007 in a state-of-theart building. Sitting on a headland between Anse Vata and the Baie des Citrons, the aquarium also offers one of the best views in Nouméa.
17. Discover kuendu beach
For another memorable coastal option, Kuendu Beach is located just 10 minutes away from the city centre and possesses a beautiful sandy stretch which is very popular among local families. Nearby hotels also offer multiple activities (waterslides, a restaurant, kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding) and you can also visit the remains of Fort Tereka.
18. See Noumea from atop a scenic lookout
Ouen Toro provides a marvellous view over Nouméa’s lagoon and surrounding islands. From here you can even see the distant Amedee lighthouse in fine weather, while views of Mount Dore and the city of Noumea are guaranteed. There’s also another lookout behind the Noumea Cathedral, Mont Vénus, and another on the way to the Zoological and Botanical Garden Park.