I thought it was time to do a throwback story.
A couple of years back, I visited New Caledonia, and it was this trip that really ignited my passion for travel.
New Caledonia is located in the Pacific Ocean off the eastern coast of Queensland, Australia. It is an overseas territory of France; it governs itself but back in 2018 actually voted against full independence.
Like many other countries in the Pacific, New Caledonia is relatively small and made up of several small island groups;
Isle of Pines
The capital Noumea is located on Grande island, and this is where I began my adventure. Noumea is a cruise ship stop-off, where thousands of tourists disembark daily to see the sights of the city.
In the city you can hop on one of the ‘Tchou Tchou’ trains – bright yellow things that you can’t miss – which take you around the island to several of the main attractions. They are quite slow, but this gives you an opportunity to really see the local sights properly (And even get your camera out for a quick snap), without it all whizzing by in a car/taxi.
My first stop was to the highest point within the city of Noumea, Parc Municipal du Ouen Toro, which is situated at the southernmost tip of the city. Here you can see an Australian Battery – which is a large defence cannon left over from WWII.
The views were beautiful, as the peak overlooks the coastline and the open ocean is visible for hundreds of miles when the weather is clear.
On my way back to the center of town I stopped off at Rocher á la voile, which is a picturesque rock with a tree growing on it just off the coastline.
I then walked through Lemon Bay. This is known for its long stretch of sand (it’s relatively narrow so can’t hold too many people laying in the sun before it feels too crowded) that is beautifully clear and would be great for snorkelling.
After a quick bite to eat I was back walking through the local markets by the docks. It really is worth just sticking to the coastline when visiting Noumea, as most things are situated by the sea or are a short five-minute walk inland, and you certainly don’t want to lose the beautiful views of the ocean.
I then came by the Pacific War Triangle Garden, also known as the New Caledonia Freedom Memorial, which was built in honour of the American soldiers stationed in New Caledonia during the Second World War to protect the island. It is a semi globe with wooden pillars surrounding it in the colours of the American flag.
Even though the war never reached the shores of New Caledonia, it was a vital spot to hold within the South West Pacific. With the French overcome in Europe, America and the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) were key allies in protecting New Caledonia from any threat.
The Musée de Nouvelle Calédonie (Museum of Culture for New Caledonia) was a great little side stop. I learnt about the culture of the locals, known as the Kanak people, and got to see some traditional artefacts that showed how people lived, hunted, fought and dressed before the colonisation by the French.
I had one final stop on my day in the capital. I walked through Coconut Palm Square, a lively little area surrounded by palm trees where locals gather to relax and catch up with friends and family throughout the day. At the time it was also filled with people from the recent cruise all trying to find some shade to eat their ice-creams.
I made my way up a narrow walking path and found myself at F.O.L Hill. The building at the top of the hill is covered in graffiti and poorly maintained (along with the trees and shrubbery) but you do get a decent view of the city, the bay, the P&O cruise ship and the back of the cathedral.
Isle of Pines
Isle of Pines is the set of islands just south of Grande Island. Given its name the island is covered in tall native pine trees and is around 15km long and 13km wide. The local population are the Kunies and the island has a population of around 2,000.
You know how I mentioned that Noumea was filled with tourists from a cruise ship… well I was one of them. I am not totally against the idea of a cruise holiday, as it does allow you to get to certain island nations that can cost an arm and a leg to fly to, as well as being able to visit different islands which can be difficult to do otherwise. However, sometimes I do wish the ships stayed longer in each port, as I love to explore every inch of a place when I visit.
After getting off the cruise ship I headed towards the area of Vao. Along the shoreline were market stalls with locals selling food, gifts, and local weapons (I don’t know how tourists were going to get those back into Australia), and offering a local stamp for your passport to say you had visited the island (obviously something I went and got).
I decided to talk a walk as the weather wasn’t too great for sunbathing and the island was quite small. First, I made my way to Saint Maurice, which is a monument to the saint that overlooks the ocean, with carvings in wood surrounding the monument. These carvings are very traditional and found on pretty much all the islands, as they are a style of design to honour their ancestors.
I decided to go inland and came across the Sanctuaire Notre Dame de la Salette church. Christianity was brought to the pacific when places were colonised, and the French set up churches for the locals.
There wasn’t too much else to see on the Isle of Pines, it was just great to have the opportunity to meet the locals, see how nature is still prominent on these islands.
My final stop in New Caledonia was Lifou, which is found in the Loyalty islands – the furthest west islands of New Caledonia.
Our tenders took us to shore near Easo, where again lots of market stalls were awaiting our arrival selling similar items to the Isle of Pines.
This time, tourists could get their hair braided. What a site, white people with braided hair… I took this opportunity to try drinking from a coconut. It was freshly cut from the trees for us and was delicious.
One part I didn’t get a chance to see was Notre Dame de Lourde. The church itself is nothing special, as it is smaller than most houses, however I was informed that the views of the bay were beautiful, with nothing but open ocean for hundreds of kms (Vanuatu is in that general direction, but not visible by the naked eye).
I made my way inland, and came by Church of St Francis Xavier, again nothing that special in comparison to the hundreds of churches I have seen across Europe, however this time several people were being directed further inland for a trek through the forest.
It was an enjoyable trek, not difficult at all so I recon most people would be able to complete it. At the end of the trek we found a hidden waterfall.
The pacific has so many hidden gems scattered across its vast emptiness. I have only had the opportunity to visit a couple of countries here so far, however from my brief yet interesting experience to New Caledonia, I know I am excited to visit the rest!