“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 including 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 just a weekend. Many Australians visit Noumea as a short stop 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 our trip to New Caledonia. Here are my recommendations for things to do in Noumea.
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.
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 were staying. 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 amazing. 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. If they can speak English, they 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. Still, we enjoyed this short introduction to New Caledonia’s lagoons. A great appetiser to start the holidays!
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 nice full moon rise on the other side.
We had the pleasure to meet a local young lady, Manon, who was up there with her mother and her grandmother. We had an interesting 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.
Day Trips from Noumea: Things to do to get out of the city
More details will come later on the blog about the other areas we visited on La Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia.
Some of the destinations we went to that can be done as a day trip 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.
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, to be 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 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 lucky 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
Where we stayed in Noumea
I find hotels in Noumea expensive so I haven’t been loyal to one in particular: I like to browse for promotions to get a better quality for the same price.
We booked our first night at Le Pacific / Nouvata* as it was the cheapest option for that day. The room looks old, but if you manage to get a good deal for your stay, it’s not a bad place to pick. However, it can be too noisy during weekends to be comfortable. In the end, it’s a bit pricey for what it is, but I have the feeling that it’s often how New Caledonia is in terms of hospitality services.
When my family got reunited, we booked a 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 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.
For our last night in New Caledonia, we opted for the Airbnb option. We stayed with Marie-Amelie and had a great time. Highly recommended! Not only is it cheaper and often more flexible than hotels, I like the opportunity Airbnb offers to connect with local people or people who live in the destination we visit. We can always learn more about the place, get another point of view and a less touristy experience.
Where is Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia?
Noumea is the main city and the capital of New Caledonia. More than 75% of the total population of New Caledonia live 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 are the best things to do in Noumea according to you? Please leave a comment below to share your experience!
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