Planning a first-time trip to New Caledonia

In this post I outline some of the process of planning a first-time trip to New Caledonia, based on my own experience of organising a ten day holiday there.

First time trip to New Caledonia

When to go

New Caledonia has a beautiful semi-tropical climate which means that it is warm (by comparison with Melbourne winter anyway…) all year round, although it does have distinctly warmer and cooler months. Maximum daily temperatures average 24°C, but drop to 20-22°C in the cooler months (June to August) and peak at up to 28° in the warmer months (December to March).

New Caledonia Summer: a bit wetter than winter with semi-frequent rainfall and a chance of cyclones during this period. February is usually the hottest and wettest month.

New Caledonia Winter:  August is the coolest month of the year and temperatures then could drop as low as 17°C. Mid-July to mid-September is the whale watching season in New Caledonia.

We visited during Victorian mid-year school holidays (June/July) which was the perfect chance for a dose of warm weather during Melbourne’s dour winter. New Caledonia is a popular destination for Australian families during school holidays, so accommodation options during those times book up quickly.

For all the lowdown on weather details in New Caledonia, visit the Meteo New Caledonia website.

How long to go for and where to go

We chose to fly direct from Melbourne to Noumea with Aircalin, so the flight schedule determined how long we went for, as that flight only operates on a Monday, Wednesday and Saturday each week (both ways). As a result, we left Melbourne on a Saturday and returned on a Wednesday – making our stay 10 days.

Our aim for this first trip was to base ourselves exclusively in the country’s capital of Noumea and explore the city and surrounding areas. With hindsight, we possibly would have done it a bit differently by staying two weeks in total, and including a few days on L’île des Pins…which is what we’ll do if we return.

I used the New Caledonian Tourism website (and its Facebook page) as a great source of essential information, itinerary suggestions, news, tips and links.

There’s also a great post at Nomad-Nester about what to do and see in Noumea, and a fascinating post about what it’s like to do French language classes there – which I have on ‘my list’ for a future visit.

How to get there

Many people visit New Caledonia while on a South Pacific cruise and we certainly saw a few cruise ships come into port while we were in Noumea. But if you’re planning a stay on-the-ground, you’ll probably arrive by plane.

The following airlines fly into the quiet, but very modern, La Tontouta International Airport (which is about 45 kms out of Noumea): Air France (code-share with Aircalin), Aircalin, Air New Zealand, Air Vanuatu and Qantas. Direct flights using one of these airlines are available from: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Auckland, Tokyo, Osaka, Nadi, Papeete, Wallis, Futuna and Port Vila, then you can connect to other cities worldwide.

Be warned, the flight schedule is limited. There’s only a handful of flights arriving or departing at the airport each day.

There is only one non-stop flight option from Melbourne to Noumea and that is with Aircalin, which flies the Melbourne-Noumea direct route (3.5 to 4 hours) three times a week, otherwise there are options to fly via a stop in Sydney or Brisbane. We chose to do the direct Aircalin flight.

How to get about

We wanted the flexibility of being able to do our own thing on a whim, visit local supermarkets to stock up our fridge and be able to get out of Noumea to do some day trips, so we hired a car for the entire stay, picking it up at the airport on arrival and dropping it back there as we left.

In New Caledonia, like France, you drive on the right-hand side of the road.  The car we rented was manual, so it was a bit nerve-wracking initially to master driving on the right-hand, in a manual car, in the dark as we navigated our way from La Tontouta to Anse Vata.

The Office du Tourisme website has all the information you need about car rentals as well as other options, such as buses, domestic flights or ferries to the islands and taxis. One of the more unusual means of transport is taxi-boats, which is how you get from the Grand Terre (mainland) to many of the beautiful islets just off-shore. We used a taxi-boat to visit Duck Island (Île aux Canards).

One of the routes of the local Noumea Karuia Bus passed right outside our hotel (Complexe Château Royal) and ran from 6am to 7pm. This could have been a good option to get about if we hadn’t had the hire car.

Where to stay

Usually I rely on word-of-mouth recommendations for places to stay, but I didn’t know anyone who had been to Noumea recently, so I read a few bloggers’ perspectives, and checked out websites such as expedia.com.au and booking.com to see what was available (and at what prices), and then cross-referenced that information with Tripadvisor reviews.

The main tourist areas of Noumea with restaurants, hotels, bars and beaches are south of the city centre at Baie des Citrons and Anse Vata. Both are just 10 minutes from the city centre, and close to each other. From Anse Vata beach its just a short taxi-boat to the islands of  Île aux Canards and Îlot Maître.

Planning a first time trip to New Caledonia

One thing which was very important to us was proximity to the beach, and we narrowed our Noumea accomodation options down to two hotels which were right on the beachfront at Anse Vata – Le Méridien Noumea Resort and Spa and Complexe Château Royal.

The deciding factor for us was that Château Royal is an apartment-style hotel, so we could get a two-bedroom apartment, with a large living area and a full kitchen for the four of us, which gave us flexibility to do some self-catering, especially for breakfast and lunch (Mmm-mmm French cheeses, seafood and pastries…).

Planning a first time trip to New Caledonia

What to see and do

These were some of the must-do items we added to our New Caledonia itinerary, plus a couple I’ll add in for our next trip.

Highlights of our first-time trip to Caledonia:

  1. Snorkling – like swimming in an aquarium!
  2. A daytrip to Île aux Canards (Duck Island)
  3. Shopping at Le Marché (the market)
  4. Aquarium des Lagons
  5. Tjibaou Cultural Centre
  6. Dinner at Le Roof
  7. Aquatonic Spa at Complexe Château Royal
  8. A daytrip to La Foa, Farino and Le Parc des Grandes Fougères

and for next time:

  1. Île des Pins
  2. Îlot Maître
  3. A daytrip to Parc Provincial de la Rivière Bleue

Watch this space, as I’ll write posts about what we did in coming weeks and link to them on the list above. Sign up for email updates (see the box in the sidebar) or my monthly newsletter if you don’t want to miss a single word. And, of course, you can check out my back-posts on Instagram and Facebook for for the live-posts of our trip.

Planning a first time trip to New Caledonia

Guide books

Guide books are really useful in the planning stage of any travel. There is just sooooooo much information on the Internet, that narrowing it down and making sense of it can be an overwhelming task.

I usually start planning an itinerary by using a guidebook which gives me a solid sense of what can be achieved in my given timeframe, but then, once I have all the essentials in place, I trawl the Internet to add the colour, spice and quirk to our plans.

There are very limited options of guidebooks for New Caledonia in English. The ones I used are:

  • Lonely Planet Vanuatu & New Caledonia: this is the Lonely Planet comprehensive guide to both these countries. It’s great if you are visiting both places as you get two-for-one in the same volume.
  • Lonely Planet’s South Pacific: this guide is partcularly good if you are on a South Pacific cruise, as it covers all of the following countries: Easter Island, Fiji, the Cook Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tahiti, French Polynesia, Tonga, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

Bookdepository.com has a huge range of travel guide books at great prices and I usually order all the ones I need from there for delivery straight to my mailbox.

Disclosure: The links to travel guides at bookdepository.com in this post are affiliate links, which means that if you click on them and then purchase anything from the site, I will receive a small amount of each sale. You don’t pay any more that you would normally. 

Good to know

  • New Caledonia (Nouvelle-Calédonie in French) is a territory of France.  A referendum on independence is due to be held in 2018.
  • The country includes the main island of Grande Terre,  the Loyalty Islands, the Chesterfield Islands, the Belep archipeligo and the Isle of Pines (L’Île des Pins) plus a few islets.
  • New Caledonia’s timezone is UTC+11.00 (which makes it one hour ahead of Australian Eastern Standard Time).
  • The currency is the Pacific Franc (XPF or CFP) which is fixed to the Euro. At the time of writing, 1 Australian Dollar is equal to 79.68 Pacific Francs and 1 US Dollar is equal to 101.08 Pacific Francs.
  • New Caledonia’s power supply is 220/240 volts with the two-pin plugs being the most common. See this image on Lonely Planet website for examples of the plugs.

What to pack

There’s a few items which are very handy to have…

  • French phrase book: French is the official language of New Caledonia. While we found most people were able to understand English, our attempts at mangled French were appreciated!
  • Reef shoes or thongs – These were essential for the beach at Duck Island, as it is made up of broken up coral.
  • Snorkling gear. We brought our own fins, mask and goggles with us. Sure we could have hired them when we needed them – but it’s reasonably pricey to do so on a daily basis, and having our own meant we could don our gear on a whim and take off snorkling from the hotel beach. It was when I did this one morning that I encountered turtles.
  • An underwater camera. I took the Sony DSC-TX20 which The Impossible Princess got for Christmas one year and then lost interest in. 🙂 I took some fabulous photos of turtles, fish and coral just by pointing, shooting and hoping for the best.
  • Runners or hiking shoes – if you’re planning to do any walking, comfortable, sturdy shoes are a must.
  • Sunscreen – An essential whenever you’re outdoors, but find a ‘reef-friendly’ sunscreen like this one from Surf Lifesaving. You want to enjoy the extensive reef system, not destroy it.
  • A windbreaking jacket – It can be chilly as you climb higher into the mountains. The day we went to La Foa and Farino, north of Noumea, I was glad I had a windbreaker and long leggings on for the first part of the day.
  • Insect repellent – There are frequent outbreaks of dengue fever in New Caledonia. The dengue viruses are transmitted through the bite of infected female mosquitoes that feed both indoors and outdoors during the daytime (from dawn to dusk). The International Association for Medical Assistance for Travellers recommends using repellents containing 20%-30% DEET or 20% Picardin.
  • A phone powerbank – There’s nothing worse than your phone battery going flat when you’re wanting to capture the perfect shot.
  • Power adapters – see ‘Good to know’ above.

Planning a first time trip to New Caledonia

Is New Caledonia on your ‘list’? Or have you already been? If so, please add all your tips, places to go, things to do, what to see, in the comments below!

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Planning a first time trip to New Caledonia

 

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