For a taste of France in the South Pacific, Natalie Gruzlewski visited New Caledonia for a double dose: Noumea and Isle of Pines. It's a good idea to brush up on your French, and you may like to take a phrasebook with you!
The capital of the French territory, Noumea is in the south-west of the main island, Grand Terre. It's home to European, Polynesian, Indonesian and Vietnamese populations, as well as many Melanesians, Ni-Vanuatu and Kanaks, so visitors are in for a cosmopolitan treat.
This is a beautiful way to explore Noumea. A two-hour round trip takes in the city's highlights, major hotels and resorts. Hop on and hop off when you fancy. You can explore the town's marketplace, museum, botanical gardens and the suburb of Faubourg Blanchot which has beautiful colonial homes. An interesting commentary tells you all about what you see.
You may even fancy hiring a local guide later to further explore things you may have spotted from the train. Natalie was shown around by Guillaume Soulard, a passionate and very French local.
Apart from history and culture, Guillaume won Natalie's heart with a visit to La Vieille France. For over 30 years they have cultivated the art of producing true French bread and pastries and each day they provide the best taste and flavours imaginable. It's indulgent and irresistible.
Noumea is on the world's largest lagoon, and just 30 minutes from the world's second-longest barrier reef. It has an amazing amount of coral and more than 2000 fish species. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
A full-day jet-ski tour is an exciting way to explore the lagoon. It's predominantly flat and calm, the perfect condition for beginners.
Loca Jet is on the western side of Baie de la Moselle on the private Nouville-Plaisance, just two minutes from downtown Noumea. A day tour begins with introductions by a qualified instructor and then a briefing on safety and use of the machine which is a Sea-Doo GTI.
Many islands and sites are visited on the tour including Lemon Bay, Ducks Island, Island Gulls, crossing Crouy Reef and the islet Larégnère Signal. The tour stops a number of times for snorkelling and exploring the isolated islands. Lunch is served on a deserted island en route.
Isle of Pines
Lying 100km south-east of Noumea, Isle of Pines' nickname is the "Closest Island to Paradise". It's a magnet for scuba divers and snorkelers who think they are in paradise when they see the coral and fish.
France used the island as a penal colony in 1872, and its 3000 convicts were used to do hard labour. Sparkling and secluded bays remain the same, but accommodation is certainly more comfortable and activities more relaxing.
Protected from the trade winds, Hotel Oure at Kanumera Bay has 20 individual bungalows and five double bungalows. Some face the beach and others are spread amongst a coconut grove or forest.
Dinner is served in the softly lit restaurant. Breakfast, lunch and sunset drinks are taken in the open-air bar on the water's edge.
The hotel has a heated pool, shop and facilities to rent cars, scooters and bikes. It also has a wedding chapel.
A trip in an outrigger, similar to those used by Melanesians to criss-cross the South Pacific, is an absolute highlight and guaranteed to build an appetite for a plate of snails and the freshest lobster ever.
The Isle of Pines in New Caledonia.
Petit Train rides are around $17 for adults and $8 for children. Purchase your ticket at your hotel or when boarding the train. It makes two loops every day.
Loca Jet half-day discovery tours are around $170 per person. Masks, snorkels, lifejacket, snacks and beverages are included.
Hotel Oure rooms start at about $460 a night.
Prices correct at August 6, 2009.
For further information
Le Petit Train
Ph: +687 798 815
20 rue Albert 1er
Vallée des colons
Ph: +687 25 99 21
La Vieille France
77 rue de Sebastopol
Ph: +697 262 613
Baie de Kanuméra
BP 170 Vao
98 832 Ile des Pins
Ph: +687 431 315
Fax: +687 431 344
www.welltogo or www.smartraveller.gov.au.