When asked about my trip to New Caledonia, the first question was often, ‘How was Noumea?’ And my answer always left people puzzled: ‘It was the worst place we visited in New Caledonia, but it was awesome!’ While it may sound contradictory, the capital city of this South Pacific archipelago offers a unique blend of experiences that left a lasting impression on me. In this article, I’ll share with you some of the amazing things to do in Noumea that made it a memorable part of my trip.
What is Noumea known for?
Noumea is often associated with beautiful beaches, warm weather, and a diverse cultural blend of French and Melanesian heritage. The city also boasts a rich history: the indigenous Kanak people inhabited the area for thousands of years before French colonisers arrived in the 19th century. Today, Noumea is a popular tourist destination that offers a unique tropical paradise with a French twist. Many cruise ships make stops in Noumea when exploring the South Pacific. Moreover, the city serves as a hub for trade and commerce in the region.
Why Noumea was the worst place we visited in New Caledonia
While Noumea is undeniably charming and worth a visit, it may not provide the most authentic experience of New Caledonia. To truly immerse yourself in the stunning beauty and diverse landscapes of this South Pacific paradise, I highly recommend exploring beyond the city limits and venturing out to the archipelago’s many islands. From the tropical beaches and dazzling lagoons that New Caledonia is famous for to rainforests, from cultural sites to outdoor adventures, there is so much to discover1 So, if you have the time, I highly recommend going beyond Noumea and discovering the true beauty of New Caledonia.
That being said, if Noumea is your only option, there are still plenty of reasons to visit. This lovely little city and its stunning lagoon are brimming with exciting activities and attractions that will keep you busy during your stay. In this article, I’ll share my recommendations for the top things to do in Noumea based on my own experiences during my multiple trips to New Caledonia.
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
As we planned our trip to New Caledonia, we knew we couldn’t fit in all the activities and attractions that Noumea had to offer. We were eager to explore more of the archipelago’s authentic and off-the-beaten-path destinations, so we had to be selective about what we included during our stay in the capital city.
With so many options to choose from, we decided to focus on the most unique and memorable experiences that Noumea had to offer.
Responsible travel tip: We love sharks, but it’s important to note that shark attacks have been on the rise in Noumea since 2021. While there are measures in place to protect both humans and the sharks themselves, it’s essential to stay informed (check this page) and take precautions to minimise risks. Human behaviour can often contribute 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)
Nestled just off the coast of Anse Vata, the beach where we usually choose accommodation in Noumea, is the small but stunning Duck Island. The island’s famous underwater path, which winds its way through a natural reserve of vibrant corals and marine life, piqued our interest, and we decided to check it out for ourselves.
Within minutes of hopping on a taxi boat, we found ourselves transported to a world of underwater wonder, surrounded by a diverse array of colourful corals and fish. Although we have since discovered more impressive snorkelling sites throughout New Caledonia, we were amazed by the variety of marine life so close to the city.
Duck Island is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and if you visit during the holidays or on weekends, you can chat with passionate volunteers. Some may speak English, and they’re always happy to share their knowledge about the site’s unique ecosystem.
Despite the challenging visibility we encountered due to recent winds, our experience on Duck Island was a delightful introduction to the lagoons of New Caledonia and left us eager to explore more of the archipelago’s stunning underwater world.
Responsible travel tip: Did you know that your sunscreen could harm the fragile ecosystem of the coral reef? It’s essential to be mindful of what you’re applying to your skin when snorkelling or swimming near the reef. The best way to protect your skin from the sun is to cover up with long sleeves and pants. If you must use sunscreen, choose a mineral-based one to avoid harmful substances (see the full list here). Mineral ingredients are less harmful to the environment and provide excellent protection. Apply the sunscreen at least 20 minutes before entering the water to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Signal Island, located just off the coast of Noumea, is a must-visit if you are spending a few days in the capital. It’s only a 30-minute taxi boat ride from the mainland, making it easily accessible for a day trip. Alternatively, if you’re visiting Noumea on a cruise, you can join a tour* to the island for a more tailored experience and even arrange private tour*.
A boardwalk takes you around the island, giving you the opportunity to learn about the local fauna and flora. Be sure to watch your step, as the island is home to many puffin nests. These birds dig holes in the ground to make their nests.
One of the highlights of Signal Island is snorkelling. The left side of the jetty is a particularly great spot to see turtles, and we were lucky enough to spot three in just a few minutes. As Signal Island is a reserve, fishing and taking anything home is strictly prohibited. Picnic tables with shade have been installed for visitors, making it the perfect spot to enjoy a packed lunch with a stunning view.
Responsible travel tip: Respect the island’s delicate ecosystem by not leaving any litter behind and being mindful of your impact on the environment.
Noumea, the place to be for windsurfing & kitesurfing
If you’re looking for some outdoor adventure in Noumea, kitesurfing and windsurfing are both very popular things to do in Noumea among locals and visitors alike.
For experienced windsurfers, the strong trade winds provided perfect conditions when we visited. You can rent windsurfing equipment from the beach in Noumea and enjoy the wind and waves between Anse Vata and Duck Island. Even if you don’t windsurf yourself, it’s worth watching the locals show off their skills near Duck Island.
Kitesurfing enthusiasts should head to the southern point of Anse Vata, which seemed to be a popular spot for the sport. For beginners, Ilot Maitre is a great option, just a 10-minute taxi boat ride away. The shallow waters make it an ideal spot to learn and perfect your skills.
Keep in mind that both sports can be affected by weather conditions, so it’s best to check ahead and plan accordingly.
Sunset and moonrise from Ouen Toro lookout
Experience the breathtaking views of sunset (and moonrise when you’re there on a full moon) from the Ouen Toro Lookout, which is just a 30-minute walk away from the town centre. From the lookout, you can get a panoramic view of the stunning bays surrounding Noumea. It’s the perfect spot to unwind and relax.
During our visit, we were fortunate enough to meet a delightful young lady named Manon, who was accompanied by her mother and grandmother. We had a fascinating conversation with them about Noumea and New Caledonia, and it was inspiring to hear Manon’s passion for protecting the environment and finding sustainable solutions. As a woman in her early twenties, Manon shared her thoughts and ideas on how to preserve her island home. She also gave us invaluable tips on what to see and do during our trip, which we greatly appreciated. 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 lovely people we met.
Fascinating fluorescent corals at the aquarium
Fluorescent corals… Did you know such a thing existed?
As a diver, I prefer to observe marine animals in their natural habitat, and I am concerned about the impact of captivity on the creatures. However, the opportunity to see the world’s greatest collection of fluorescent corals lured me to visit the aquarium.
Interestingly, the discovery of these corals was an accidental one made by the aquarium’s founder and his wife in 1958. These corals only reveal their fluorescent colours under black light, and it’s truly an incredible sight. Check out the aquarium’s website for stunning photos of these fascinating corals.
Baie des Citrons
With its crystal clear waters and pristine beach, Baie des Citrons is the best spot for those looking to swim and soak up the sun near the heart of Noumea town centre. However, Baie des Citrons is not just for daytime activities. At night, the area comes to life with a vibrant atmosphere that is perfect for going out and enjoying drinks with friends.
The Mwa Ka Totem
Located in a park next to the market of Noumea, the Mwa Ka Totem is a 12-meter high totem that represents the eight customary regions of New Caledonia. While the site doesn’t offer any explanation about the totem and other sculptures in the park, the lovely Manon shared with us the cultural significance of these carvings: they represent the eight customary regions of New Caledonia.
If you’re a sailing enthusiast, Noumea is the perfect playground for you. Whether you’re looking for a day tour or an overnight adventure, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the waters around the island. During our trip, we were fortunate enough to spend two days and two nights on a sailing boat near Noumea. Not only did we have an incredible time enjoying the stunning views, but we also spotted dolphins every time we picked up speed. It was an unforgettable experience that we highly recommend to anyone visiting the island.
Day trips from Noumea: Things to do to get out of the city
If you’re looking to venture out of Noumea, there are plenty of day trips worth taking on the main island, La Grande Terre. We loved all the destinations we visited:
- Le Parc des Grandes Fougeres (1.5h drive north)
- Bourail (2h drive north)
- 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
Although Phare Amedee, an island located 24km away from Noumea, is a bit touristy and expensive, it is still worth considering if you’re looking for a full-day trip. The island offers beautiful snorkelling opportunities, cultural shows, and glass-bottom boat tours for those who don’t want to get wet.
During our trip, we hesitated to book a day trip there as it was quite expensive (over AUD160). We were quite interested in snorkelling, but we knew we’d have better opportunities for it later. Furthermore, the departure at 8.30 am for a 5 pm return didn’t appeal to us, as we had other activities planned in Noumea. Instead, we opted for the underway path of Duck Island, which was a much cheaper and flexible option located close to where we were staying.
However, we met a few locals later who highly recommended Phare Amedee, so we have added it to our list of things to do in Noumea next time we visit. It’s also worth noting that if you want to see the underwater world without getting wet, glass-bottom boat tours are available at Phare Amedee.
Tjibaou Cultural Centre
When we landed at Noumea domestic airport, we caught glimpses of the famous Tjibaou Cultural Centre. This modern structure, designed to reflect the traditions and history of the Kanak culture, has an impressive architectural style. The Centre consists of ten huts of varying sizes, mirroring the design of the traditional tribal homes and seamlessly blending into the surrounding landscape.
A visit to the Cultural Centre is a must to learn more about the Kanak and the Pacific’s diverse cultures. However, as we had already experienced first-hand the Kanak culture during our visit to the tribes on the Loyalty Islands, we decided to skip the museum.
We were lucky to have splendid weather throughout our stay in Noumea. It allowed us to enjoy outdoor activities fully and we skipped all the indoor attractions. But Tjibaou Cultural Centre was first on the list. If you are not as fortunate and require additional indoor attractions, there are two museums in the town: the city museum, offering insights into Noumea and New Caledonia’s history, and the WWII museum.
Hiking in Noumea
Hiking is the one thing I regretted not doing in Noumea. But it’s on the top of my to-do list for our During my research, I found a couple of exciting hiking trails less than one hour drive from Noumea:
- Mount Koghi, also known as Pic Malaoui, is a 6.5 km trail that takes approximately 2.5 hours to complete.
- Another great option is Mount Mou, a 7 km trail that takes approximately 5 hours to complete.
With their stunning views and lush surroundings, these hikes are perfect for nature enthusiasts seeking a short adventure just outside the city.
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.
Noumea is renowned for its exceptional scuba diving spots, where you can witness magnificent coral reefs and pelagic fish (Boulari Pass, for example, was often mentioned). Regrettably, we never had the chance to organise a dive in Noumea due to our busy schedules. It’s worth noting that after diving, you cannot fly for several hours, which creates a logistical challenge when you’re planning island hopping.
Fortunately, we were still able to go scuba diving during our visit to New Caledonia. We explored various diving spots, including Hienghene, Poindimie, and the Isle of Pines, each with its unique underwater landscapes and marine life. We loved it.
Where we stayed in Noumea
Finding affordable accommodations in New Caledonia can be challenging, especially in Noumea where hotels tend to be expensive. However, by browsing for promotions, you can often find better quality accommodations for the same price. That’s why I haven’t been loyal to one in particular. Anse Vata is a popular area to stay in Noumea, often offering sea views, with nearby restaurants and bakeries and easy access to 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.
For those on a budget, Le Pacific / Nouvata* hotel offers a budget room with a view. While the hotel may look a bit dated, it can be a good option if you can find a good deal. However, light sleepers may want to be aware that it can be noisy. As it was the cheapest option with a 24-hour reception, we stayed there a few times for our first short night in New Caledonia when our plane landed close to midnight.
When I travelled to New Caledonia with my family, we found the Hilton La Promenade in Anse Vata* was a more luxurious option with a 3-bedroom apartment that is often cheaper than booking three separate rooms elsewhere. We had a kitchen, a living room and a balcony with sea views.
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!). My friends loved it.
In town, I’ve heard I recommend having a look at Le Meridien Resort*, It looked less old than most hotels in Noumea.
Where is Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia?
Noumea serves as both the major city and the capital of New Caledonia, with over 75% of the total population of the country residing there. Located on the largest island, La Grande Terre, Noumea has an international airport (Tontouta) that offers direct flights to cities in Australia (including Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne) as well as several other locations in Asia and Oceania.
Noumea has a second airport, Magenta, located close to the town centre. This airport primarily services domestic flights to smaller islands such as Lifou, Mare, Ouvea, Tiga, and the Isle of Pines, as well as some towns located in the northern part of the main island.
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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