“So, how was Noumea?” I was asked this question a lot when I came back from my trip to New Caledonia. We enjoyed our stay in the capital of New Caledonia as there are a lot of things to do in Noumea. Still, I liked to answer:
“Noumea was the worse place we visited in New Caledonia… But it was awesome!“. The confused look I received in return was amusing.
What I actually mean is that if you have time to wander around New Caledonia, don’t stay for too long in Noumea. Go to explore the amazing collection of islands. New Caledonia’s landscapes are very diverse. It’s not only made of tropical stunning beaches and lagoons. Taking time travelling around the archipelago is worth the effort. Don’t forget to include the Grande Terre (the main island), often referred to by its nicknamed Le Caillou (the Pebble).
Noumea is very close to Australia’s East Coast. With direct flights from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, New Caledonia can become a (pricey) destination for a short trip away. Many Australians visit Noumea very quickly during their Pacific Islands cruise. If your time in New Caledonia is limited and Noumea is your only option, it’s still worth checking it out. Noumea is a lovely little city surrounded by mountains on one side and a lagoon on the other, and with plenty of great activities to keep you very busy.
We spent two days in Noumea during each of our trips to New Caledonia. Here are my recommendations for things to do in Noumea.
Are you planning a trip to New Caledonia? Don’t miss these travel tips for a better (and cheaper) stay!
Things to do in Noumea: What we did
When we were planning our trip to New Caledonia, it quickly became clear that we will not be able to do all the activities in Noumea. We were keen to explore more authentic places and not spend too much time in the capital, so we had to make choices to pick what to do during our stay in Noumea.
Responsible travel tip: We love sharks, but it’s important to note there has been an increased number of unprovoked shark bites in Noumea since 2021. Various measures have been put in place to keep people safe and protect the species. If you are concerned, the information on this page will help you stay informed about risky areas and how to minimise risks. Human behaviour often contributes to increasing the risk of shark attacks and giving the animals a bad reputation sometimes leading to conservation issues.
The Underwater Path at Ile aux Canards (Duck Island)
Duck Island is a small island located just in front of the Anse Vata, the beach where we like to stay in Noumea. Its underwater path caught our attention, so we decided to check it out. A taxi boat took us there in less than 5 minutes. Although we saw much better places for snorkelling in New Caledonia, having such a large variety of corals just in front of a city is fantastic. The natural reserve is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. If you go there during the holidays or the weekend, talk to the volunteers on the beach. Those who speak English will be happy to share their knowledge about the site with you, and you can get some tips on where to find some exciting things underwater or, at least, good stories about it.
Unfortunately, the wind had been blowing hard for a few weeks and reducing the visibility underwater when we visited l’Ile aux Canards. Still, we enjoyed this short introduction to New Caledonia’s lagoons. A great appetiser to start the holidays!
Responsible travel tip: Did you know your sunscreen could harm the reef? The best way to protect your body from the sun is to cover it with long sleeves and pants. If you do have to use sunscreen, choose a mineral one (like zinc) and apply it at least 20 minutes before entering the water.
It only takes 30 minutes by taxi boat to reach Signal Island. But if you’re visiting Noumea from a cruise boat, you can also join a tour* (and even a private tour*) to the island for a more tailored experience. Some go there to camp overnight, but you can explore the island in just a few hours. A few picnic tables with shade have been installed for visitors.
There’s a nice boardwalk to go around the island and learn more about the local fauna and flora. There are many puffin nests on the island (they dig holes in the ground), so be careful and watch your steps.
We enjoyed snorkelling on the left of the jetty. It’s a great spot if you want to see turtles: we spotted three in just a few minutes. The islet is a reserve so it’s not allowed to fish or to take anything home.
Noumea, the place to be for windsurfing & kitesurfing
Kitesurfing and windsurfing are very popular things to do in Noumea for both locals and visitors.
The weather conditions with the trade winds blowing hard were perfect for confirmed windsurfers. You can easily rent a windsurf from the beach in Noumea and have fun between Anse Vata and Duck Island. If you don’t windsurf yourself but still appreciate the sport, you may want to watch the locals showing their skills on the side of Duck Island.
If you are more into kitesurfing, the southern point of the Anse Vata seemed to be a popular spot for it. The nearby Ilot Maitre can be reached after a 10-minute taxi boat ride. It has a vast shallow area, giving the beginners the best conditions ever!
Sunset & moonrise from Ouen Toro lookout
It took us about 1/2 hour to walk to the Ouen Toro Lookout. From there, you get a good view of the bays around Noumea. We went there for sunset, and could also watch a lovely full moon rise on the other side.
We had the pleasure to meet a local young lady, Manon, who was with her mother and grandmother. It was interesting to chat about Noumea and New Caledonia. Manon is in her early 20s and has a strong will to protect the environment and find sustainable solutions. We enjoyed listening to her ideas on her island and to the thousands of tips she gave us for our trip! The beauty of New Caledonia is also in the people who live there. As much as we won’t forget the stunning landscapes we saw during that trip, we won’t forget the great people we met.
Fascinating fluorescent corals at the aquarium
Fluorescent corals… Did you know such a thing existed?
I’m usually not a big fan of aquariums. As a diver, I get to see many marine animals in the wild, and I believe that’s where they belong. Since I’ve been educated on how harmful it is for some species to be kept in captivity, it now always makes me feel uncomfortable and sad to see them in such a reduced place.
Still, we decided to visit Noumea’s aquarium as we were told about the opportunity to see the world’s greatest collection of fluorescent corals, which I had no idea existed. That was a surprise for the founder of the aquarium and his wife, who accidentally discovered them in 1958. These corals only reveal their fluorescent colours when exposed to black light—more photos on the Aquarium website.
Baie des Citrons
It is the best spot to have a swim near Noumea town centre. It’s also the most lively place to go out for drinks at night.
The Mwa Ka Totem
The Mwa Ka is a 12-metre high totem located in a park next to the market of Noumea. We regretted there were no explanations on the site about the totem and the other sculptures next to it.
Manon told us the carvings represented the eight customary regions of New Caledonia.
We love sailing and were lucky to get the opportunity to spend two days and two nights on a sailing boat near Noumea. Even for just a day tour, Noumea is a great playing ground for those who like sailing. Plus, we spotted dolphins every time we got some speed!
Day trips from Noumea: Things to do to get out of the city
We loved exploring La Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia. We visited some destinations that make great day trips from Noumea:
- Le Parc des Grandes Fougeres (1.5h going North)
- Bourail (2h going North)
- a road trip around the South of the island
- Isle of Pines (although I recommend staying a lot longer than just one day!)
Things to do in Noumea: What we could have done
We hesitated to book a day trip to the very touristy Phare Amedee, an island located 24 kilometres away from Noumea. It was quite expensive (over AUD160), and we knew we’d have better opportunities for snorkelling later during our trip. The tour includes some cultural shows as well. But with a departure is at 8.30 am for a 5 pm return, we were not too keen on spending the full day there when there are many other things to do in Noumea. There were other activities we wanted to do in Noumea. So we skipped it. We met a few locals later who highly recommended it. It’s on our list of things to do in Noumea next time we’re around.
Instead, we covered the snorkeling-in-Noumea part at the underway path of Duck Island, a much cheaper and flexible option next to where we were staying. If you want to see the underwater world without getting wet, there are glass-bottom boat tours at the Phare Amedee.
Tjibaou Cultural Centre
We had a few sneak peeks at the famous Tjibaou Cultural Centre from the planes. This cultural centre is famous worldwide for its challenging architecture: it is a modern building serving the traditions and the history of the Kanak culture. There are ten houses of various dimensions for different activities, similar to the tribes’ traditional huts. It is impressive how they blend into the landscape.
Visiting the Cultural Centre is a must-do to learn more about the Kanak culture and other cultures around the Pacific. We were able to learn about the Kanak culture first-hand from the tribes on the Loyalty Islands so we did not feel the need to visit the museum.
We were lucky to have great weather for our entire stay so we skipped the indoor attractions. If you are not as fortunate as we were and need to find indoor activities, there are two other museums in the town: the city museum about the history of Noumea and New Caledonia, and the WWII museum.
Hiking in Noumea
This is maybe the only thing to do in Noumea that I regretted not doing. It’s on the list for our next visit. I love hiking mounts, and there are a couple of great ones both at less than half an hour drive from Noumea:
- Mount Koghi (also called Pic Malaoui): 6.5km / 2.5 hours
- Mount Mou: 7km / 5 hours
Scuba diving in Noumea
We heard Noumea has some great scuba diving spots where you can see beautiful corals but also pelagic fish (Boulari Pass for example was often mentioned). We still haven’t found time to organise a dive in Noumea; it never worked with our schedule (you cannot fly for many hours after diving). However, we went scuba diving in New Caledonia a few times (Hienghene, Poindimie and the Isle of Pines) and loved it.
Where we stayed in Noumea
Finding good value accommodations in New Caledonia is often challenging. I find hotels in Noumea expensive, so I haven’t been loyal to one in particular. I like to browse for promotions to get better quality for the same price. Our favourite area to stay in Noumea is near the Anse Vata. Accommodations in this area often have sea views, it’s easy to find restaurants (and bakeries!) nearby and it’s not far from the busy Baie des Citrons.
A few times, Le Pacific / Nouvata* was the cheapest option for our first night, with a 24-hour reception. Flights from Brisbane arrive late at night, so by the time we arrive in Noumea (the international airport is 45 minutes away), we only have a few hours of sleep left. And we don’t want to pay a premium price for a lovely hotel when we arrive late and we’re leaving early the next day. The room at the Nouvata looks old, but it’s not a bad place to pick if you’re on a budget and can get a good deal for the night. However, it can be too noisy if you’re a light sleeper – we could hear our neighbour snore! In the end, it’s a bit pricey for what it is, but it’s often how New Caledonia is in terms of hospitality services.
When my family got reunited, we booked a nice 3-bedroom apartment at the Hilton La Promenade in Anse Vata*. It was cheaper than booking three separate rooms elsewhere! And we had a kitchen, a living room and a balcony with sea views. We loved it.
Near the Hilton, the Ramada* was also a nice hotel with sea views, although it wasn’t as good as the Hilton. Even with a good deal, it was expensive for a couple, but we got lucky to be upgraded to a bigger apartment. There is a 360-restaurant at the top with great views of Noumea and the lagoon.
We also spent one night at Le Stanley*, further away from the heart of Noumea. We found a good deal online for a suite with a big living room and sea views. It was ideal for a quiet night and to have space to pack all our stuff before flying back home. However, it’s not the best option if you don’t have a car as it’s quite far from everything.
If you’re staying in Noumea for longer than us and don’t mind the premium price, you should check out the overwater bungalows at the Double Tree by Hilton Ilot Maitre Resort*. The hotel has good facilities and it’s the only one on the island (20-minute boat transfer from Noumea). You’ll have unbeatable views of the lagoon from your deck (look out for turtles!). We stayed in front of it while exploring the islands around Noumea on a sailing boat.
In town, I’ve heard I recommend having a look at Le Meridien Resort* looked less old than most hotels in Noumea.
Where is Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia?
Noumea is the major city and the capital of New Caledonia. More than 75% of the total population of New Caledonia lives there. It is located on the biggest island, La Grande Terre. Noumea has an international airport (Tontouta) with direct flights to Australian cities (Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne) and some other places in Asia and Oceania.
What do you think are the best things to do in Noumea? Please leave a comment below to share your experience!
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