Well, who would have known there is a little French island in the Southern Pacific, just off the coast of Australia? Forget whatever tourist attractions and hotspots you plan to visit this year and check out one of the world’s most beautiful places — New Caledonia, another hidden gem to add to your travel bucket list.
An island holiday unlike the Bahamas or Maldives, New Caledonia’s home to the world’s largest lagoon (also a UNESCO heritage site). This is where endangered Green turtles, Hawksbill turtles, Leatherback turtles and Loggerhead turtles come to nest. Over 23 tropical seabirds also call the lagoon their home and come every July, as do the humpback whales.
Apart from its stunning landscapes and rich biodiversity, New Caledonia is also known for being incredibly welcoming. It’s a place where French elegance meets Melanesian hospitality. While most people speak French or Native Kanak, quite a fair few speak English so you’ll get by just fine.
The best part of all? Kicking off in July 2022, Aircalin, the flag carrier of New Caledonia, will offer direct flights between Singapore and the capital, Nouméa. No more stopovers when you can get there in less than nine hours!
There are just so many places to visit in New Caledonia, so much to see and do around, above, on and under the water. Whether you like shopping and eating your way around town, or checking out nature’s biggest wonders, here are some of the things you’ve got to try for your first holiday in Nouméa, New Caledonia.
1. Be mesmerised at Nouméa Lagoons Aquarium
When it comes to New Caledonia tourist attractions, you cannot miss out on the Nouméa Lagoons Aquarium. Ever since it underwent a facelift in 2007, it’s since become the number one must-see attraction.
What makes Nouméa Lagoons Aquarium unique is its display of fluorescent corals – these were discovered by Dr. Réne Catala, the same marine biologist who founded the aquarium. Along with a whole host of nocturnal sea creatures, you’ll get to marvel at the display of lights and colours you would not get to see otherwise.
As well as being a display centre, the aquarium also doubles up as a healthcare centre, dedicated to rehabilitating and nursing sick animals like turtles before returning them to the wild. If you’re lucky enough, you might even get to witness the release too!
Tickets are affordable at 1.600CFP (S$18.75) for adults and 800CFP (S$9.40) for children, with separate ticketed events every season to look out for!
Address: 61 Promenade Roger Laroque Anse Vata,Nouméa, 98807, New Caledonia
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday — 10:00am to 5:00pm
2. Learn about Kanak Culture at Tjibaou Cultural Centre
The Kanaks are the original, native people of the Southern Pacific archipelago, so while France governs New Caledonia, the culture is still very much that of the indigenous population.
Celebrating the Kanak culture, the Tjibaou Cultural Centre is not just your average museum. It’s also a research and creation centre, as well as a botanic garden. All in all, it’s a great place to learn about the local customs, traditional arts, native biodiversity, myths and legends.
In the middle of the centre are 10 structures inspired by traditional Kanak huts, made from steel and iroko woods. Through these replicas, you’ll get to see how Kanaks traditionally live.
Address: PFVJ+GQC, Max Frouin, Nouméa 98800, New Caledonia
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday — 9:00am to 5:00pm
3. Shop till you drop at Port Moselle Market
Shopping in Nouméa feels as fancy as shopping in France, with all its European-style daily markets and patisserie shops. While you’ll find plenty of luxury goods for sale just about anywhere, it’s Port Moselle Market where you will really go wild.
As the largest market in Nouméa, this is where you’ll find all sorts of local produce, handicrafts, souvenirs and of course, the friendly folks selling them. Thanks to their tropical climate, there is no shortage of cute summer clothing, all made with the unique French Polynesian flair.
Considering how it’s located just beside the marina at Port Moselle (easily identifiable by its blue-tiled roof), there is no shortage of fresh seafood coming in every morning too. For something totally unique, try some fresh bluespine unicornfish (dawas), golden-lined spinefoot fish (picots) and mahi-mahi! These colourful fishes might not look edible, but rest assured they’re absolutely delicious. Fish prices can go anywhere between 500CFP (S$5.90) to 1295CFP (S$15.20) per kg.
Address: 51 Rue Georges Clemenceau, Nouméa 98800, New Caledonia
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday — 5:00am to 12:00pm
4. Explore the great wilderness of Blue River National Park
For a chance of pace, how about a day trip out of Nouméa to the nearby Blue River National Park that is just a 1.5hr drive away? It’s considered the finest national park in New Caledonia, the park is actually more like a large conservation area filled with untouched wilderness and native animals.
It is almost amazing how drastically the landscape changes as you move from one area to the next. One section of the park, just past the Col de Plum pass, has rich red earth that looks straight out of Jurassic Park. Further down towards the Blue River Valley is a drowned forest, with hundreds of bleached trees sticking out of the water.
Feel free to go mountain biking around the park, hike along the natural forest trail, or kayak through the drowned forest. The park is pretty much your oyster. Oh, and while you’re at it, see if you can spot the cagou, an endangered near-flightless bird that can only be found in New Caledonia. Just be sure to turn off the flash of your digital cameras or mobile phones when trying to take a quick shot of the blue-greyish bird.
Address: 1 Rte du Pont Pérignon, Yaté 98832, New Caledonia
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday – 7:00am to 5:00pm
5. Dive into blue on Duck Isles
Is it called Duck Isles or the Island of Ducks? Locals have yet to decide. What we do know is that it is found just off the coast of Norméa, perfect if you love island-hopping. The best part? It’s also a true blue haven for snorkellers. So, if you think you’ve had your dose of fun with the amazing activities that thrill your senses, you thought wrong.
Getting there only takes 5mins by taxi boat from Nouméa, and snorkelling equipment is available for rental on arrival, for about 600 CFP (S$7.03) per hour. All that remains is to literally dive headfirst into the water — remember to load up on the suncare and carry an extra change of clothes in your backpack.
There is also an underwater trail (marked by floating buoys) surrounding the island that will guide you past an array of coral and sea anemones, as well as the different sea friends that call those home. Rabbitfishes, thicklips, goatfishes and spangled emperors: you name it, they are all there. In fact, you might just be able to sport a white tip shark or green turtles in the distance too.
6. Kite-surf across the lagoon
For those that love all sorts of water sports, one of the things you must do in Nouméa, New Caledonia is kite-surfing. For real, you will not be able to walk down the beach without seeing dozens of kite-surfers speeding across the lagoon.
This is where the true beauty of New Caledonia’s lagoon really shines — with perfectly smooth water, constant cool breezes and a sandy-bottom beach, it’s the perfect place to kite-surf safely.
For novices who would like to try their hand, there is no shortage of schools, like Nouméa Kite School, with teachers eager to show you the ropes. It will definitely take more than one session to master the sport. But once you get going, you’ll be flying across the water like Aeolus the god of water.
Address: Rue Adolphe Barrau, Nouméa, New Caledonia
Opening hours: Monday to Friday — 8:30am to 10:00am
So the next time your travel buddy says they’d like another island adventure, do not just stick to the usual Maldives or Fiji Island (even though they’re great too). You never know what kind of experience awaits you on New Caledonia’s pristine shores.
Things to note while travelling in New Caledonia
All foreign travellers are required to take an ART 2 days after their arrival in New Caledonia, with the exemption of those under the age of 12.
Face masks are no longer required both indoors and outdoors, unless within healthcare facilities with vulnerable people.
Travel insurance is mandatory for foreign travellers outside of the European Union.
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Best time to visit
Since we’re here to chase the sun, it’s best to avoid the rainy month of February. Otherwise, it’s safe to travel anytime during the rest of the year. For a greater chance of fairer weather, you could also visit during the dry seasons between April and May, and September and November.
The average temperature is about 24 degrees celsius all year round, so feel free to ditch that winter jacket and pack just your beach wear.
It’s recommended to rent a car to get yourself around town, but if you prefer to leave the driving to someone else, the long-distance coach network and the little tourist trains (known as Tchou Tchou trains) do the job just fine. Train tickets cost 2200CFP (S$25.80) while coach tickets cost 300CFP (S$3.52) for a one-off trip and 900CFP (S$10.55) for an unlimited day pass.
The official currency of New Caledonia is the Pacific Franc (CFP), which can be bought at Travelex Moneychanger at Changi Airport.
Now with Aircalin offering direct flights from Singapore to Nouméa, it only takes 8 and a half hours to reach!