Busting the ‘Noumea is dull and expensive’ myth

When I was a teenager growing up in Australia, we heard about New Caledonia all the time. Being only a 3 hour flight from Sydney, their tourism board was really pushing it as the perfect island getaway on T.V., on billboards, in newspapers, everywhere. But in the last few years, as Asian beach holidays grew ever more popular, I heard barely a peep about New Caledonia.

So when a Groupon deal too good to ignore came up for a week in New Caledonia’s capital, Noumea, I did some pre-departure Googling. ‘There’s not much to do’ was always the first thing I’d read. ‘It’s really expensive’ was the second. On arrival, I discovered both these things were true, to an extent, but actually they were both positives.

‘There’s not much to do’

I’m the kind of traveller who will cram as much stuff as possible into my holiday. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it also means that I feel guilty if I simply want to just relax for a day and that I end a lot of trips needing another holiday to recover from my holiday (I’m working on slowing down and taking my time, it’s much more fun if you can!). So the fact that there wasn’t much to do actually sounded pretty good to me: so I’d be lazing on the beach with my best friend for a week, I really can’t see a downside to that!

Now that I’m home again, I will agree that a week here was the perfect amount for me, but there was plenty enough to do that filled up seven days with a perfect balance of exploring and relaxing.

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Snorkelling, island trips, water sports of all kinds, hikes, markets, remnants of colonial and WWII history, cycling, village visits; the list goes on (and I do with this list of my favourite things to do in Noumea). Basically, like Harvey Danger said, ‘If you’re bored then you’re boring.’

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As for nightlife, I wasn’t looking for any wild nights (I was here to be Queen of chill), but I must admit, the Air Cailin inflight promo videos for Noumea’s nightlife had me a little nervous. A two minute montage to ‘inspirational’ music felt the need to include McDonalds. Now I know the locals apparently are just really proud of their McDonalds. There may not be the same number of bars as a typical city, and there are only two nightclubs that I came across, but there are plenty of drinking choices, and most of them with a spectacular view! You can find my suggestions here.

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‘It’s too expensive’

This one was not untrue, but coming from Australia where food and drink can be quite expensive anyway, it wasn’t too much of a leap. The main problem I found, was that the quality of food didn’t match the prices. It was easily edible, but you’d never ask for more.

Does this ruin the holiday? Not even a little bit. Make like us and skip restaurants and cafes for bring-your-own picnics.

No matter where you stay (I strongly suggest L’Anse Vata), you’ll find convenience stores and larger supermarkets nearby. The prices are actually decent, compared to Australia at least, and there’s plenty of choice. Even better, head along to Noumea Morning Markets with fresh local produce for only slightly more.

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No kitchen facilities? You’re in French settlement, it’s all about the wine and cheese! Not to mention there’s an abundance of French bakeries, just thinking about them makes my mouth water. A baguette will only cost you a couple of hundred francs (or a couple of Australian dollars).

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Once you’ve stocked up, your only problem is narrowing down where to eat. Should you join the locals with their friends and family eating on the beach in the late afternoon? Maybe you’d just like to enjoy the view from your balcony with some tunes. You could always climb a mountain lookout, like Ouen Toro, for 360 degree views of Noumea as the sun sets.

Honestly, I feel like doing this actually enhanced our experience of New Caledonia.

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