Top 5 Tips For Travel In New Caledonia
Two weeks on a Pacific Island. Sounds like paradise right? Well it can be. But our trip to New Caledonia wasn’t all cocktails and lying on the beach – we wanted to explore. This was one of those trips where we couldn’t just rely on whims and luck to guide us in the right direction, this was a trip that really made us work for it. We learned a lot in those two short weeks, and here are our top 5 take aways from New Caledonia.
1. Plan. (As best you can!)
This sounds way easier than it actually is. Just try to find reliable and up to date information about New Caledonia online. There is the official tourism site, and a few others, but mostly there is a whole lot of nothing. I searched high and low for other travel bloggers who had visited and recorded their experiences, but didn’t find much out there.
New Caledonia is probably one of the only destinations where I would say – buy a guidebook, buy a good guidebook.
Now there are some Pacific Islands where you can arrive without a plan or any up to date information and just let the wind blow you to a great time, but New Caledonia is different. Which leads me to my next point….
2. Booking a little bit in advance can go a long way
I have a few favourite hostel/hotel booking websites that I always check when booking accommodation. They very rarely fail me. But when it comes to Pacific Islands, they usually don’t have any listings. And that’s OK.
That’s the thing with Pacific Islands. Many of the more budget accommodation options are not available to book online. I was prepared for that. After all, I had spent a couple weeks in Samoa (another Pacific Island where it is very difficult to book in advance) and I would just show up at my chosen accommodation and they would be very happy to accept me. That wasn’t the case with New Caledonia. We were able to track down a few email addresses for hostels from our guidebook. But when they emailed us back they all said the same thing, “we are always booked for several months in advance.”
We ended up arriving with no hotel booked and driving around the capital of Noumea in the dark searching for something…. anything. Eventually we did find something, but it was a stressful few hours. We thought that maybe that was just a thing with the capital. Maybe it would be easier in smaller towns. Wrong! It was much much harder. We ended up spending two days in Noumea pretty much all day on the phone trying to find somewhere… anywhere… with availability.
Now this is where that good guidebook comes in handy. Most guesthouses and hotels in New Caledonia are only contactable by phone. But sometimes the guidebook will list their emails if they have one. Send off emails to your hotels of choice as soon as you book your tickets… and if you don’t hear back, get on Skype and give them a call. The last thing you want to do on your Pacific Island holiday is be stranded somewhere random.
3. It is very, very French
New Caledonia is a protectorate of France. So we knew it would be a bit French. But it is also home to a lot of Australian industry (notably the mining industry), so we thought that people in the service industry would at least have a basic understanding of English.
Wrong! It is definitely worthwhile brushing up on some basic French before you go to New Caledonia. And having some sort of phrasebook would also be really handy as well. If you are totally tech and don’t want to bring a paper phrasebook, I would recommend downloading an offline version onto your phone. You can’t always trust the internet connections…..
The other thing that surprised us was the amount of local people that were full descendants of the French. I think we were sort of expecting it to be a bunch of Melanesian people who speak French, but actually in some areas we rarely saw anyone of Melanesian descent. The shopping is French, the grocery stores all import French products, there are loads of great French restaurants, and of course, the drink of choice is wine.
4. If you want a tropical paradise, go to one of the smaller islands of New Caledonia
We have been to a few Pacific Islands before, so I think we had a certain preconception of what it would be like. And while there are decent beaches on the main island of Grande Terre, if you want an island paradise, you need to head to Ils de Pins or the Loyalty Islands. Grande Terre is the place to be if you want to experience mountains, farm stays, eerie tree filled lakes, or a buzzing small city. While there are some OK beaches on Grande Terre, if beaches are your number 1, you are better off elsewhere.
5. Sometimes the more interesting scenery is under the sea
The waters that surround New Caledonia are listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. The waters here are teeming with life. All you need is a snorkel to see dozens of different fish varieties. Better yet, try scuba diving. New Caledonia has the world’s second largest coral reef and also has many unique underwater caves to explore if you have the proper scuba qualifications. Even just sitting in the shallows with my young son, we were surrounded by fish.
Now if you are more of a land lover like myself, and don’t feel comfortable taking on much swimming, there are still ways to experience the beauty of the lagoon. We went out on a glass-bottom boat where we saw tons of fish, all different sorts of coral, and even a giant turtle. And if you want to stay on solid ground, the aquarium in Noumea is a great introduction to the world of the lagoon. We were super impressed with the aquarium and spent hours there. Our highlight was the “glow in the dark” coral.
New Caledonia isn’t easy, but it is rewarding. Our trip to New Caledonia was a lot of work. But the scenery, the people, the beaches (on Ils de Pins), and of course…. the food… all made it worth the effort.
For white sand beaches like these you might want to go to either the Loyalty Islands or Ils de Pins. However there is a nice sandy island just a few minutes by water taxi from the capital of Noumea.