A Nomadic Family’s Guide to New Caledonia

I wasn’t expecting a tropical Paris when I arrived in Noumea, but that’s what greeted me when we drove through the streets. New Caledonia is much more developed and glitzy than the rest of the Pacific islands that we’ve visited, due to the French financial support and the nickel mines.

Know before you go:

Captain James Cook sighted it in 1774 and named it New Caledonia because it reminded him of Scotland. I’ve never been to Scotland, so I can’t agree or disagree.

 

noumea sunrise

Magenta beach in New Caledonia. Could it fool you into thinking it was Scotland?

The word Kanak originates from the Hawaiian word for man, and the nickname first started when the New Caledonians were sold into slavery to work on sugarcane plantations in Fiji.

In 1853 Napoleon III sent orders for France to take formal control of the island, which at the time was known for being cannibalistic.

New Caledonia is on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. They’re due for another talk of claiming independence from France in the next few years. There’s a lot of tension between the French and the Kanaks and has been since the French first arrived.

This area is Melanesian, (not Polynesian as Jacob constantly had to correct me) which means that they are black not brown and originally come from Papua New Guinea, not Southeast Asia.

Highlights:

The beaches, easy living for the South Pacific, shopping, and fine dining

Lowlights:

Some French snootiness, class tension, and high prices

Dangers:

Nothing to worry about here. Healthcare might be a little more iffy the further you get from Noumea.

Costs:

Well, it’s a French island. It’s on the pricey side. We spent about $50/night for a long term apartment and $80/night for a reasonable but not fancy hotel room.

Visas:

United States citizens can stay for a month without a visa, but you must have proof of onward travel.

Getting around:

You will simply have to rent a car. There’s no other way to see the island. And it will probably be manual not standard. We rented from a tiny one man shop down the road from our hotel (Parc Nouvata) and it cost $700. They included a baby seat for free.

car seat feet

Tourist factor:

New Caledonia, and the South Pacific in general, is one of the least visited areas of the world.  One source put it at only 99,000 tourists per year.

Accommodation:

We unfortunately moved places about five times while in New Caledonia. This was due to a lack of planning and something in the back of my mind thinking that we would be crashing with friends. Crashing with friends is overrated when you have a baby and an internet business that both need nurturing. We found apartments through Home Away and this website: http://www.gites.hnahlapa.com/

We also stayed at Parc Nouvata the first night we arrived, which was kindly arranged by someone working in the airport store who Jacob knew from his mission.

Internet:

Reasonably fast if arranged in advance with your accommodation.

Best gym:

gym babysitter

Ryder’s babysitter at the gym

The gym in Ouemo, called Fitness Gym, was the best gym Jacob found, and it had a FREE BABYSITTER. And he went twice a day. And took Ryder both times. It was bliss. To have some free time to myself, and to know he was having a fun time with other kids at a public space, was very nice for me.

new cal gym

Food:

Large French-style grocery stores available.

leaderprice

Leader Price has the cheapest, but crummiest brands. Ryder doesn’t mind though

Restaurants can be pricy, but there are also vans in a parking lot called roulottes that serve a budget eating out option.

kanak food

L’assiette du Cagou in the Latin Quarter offers a very fine variation on Kanak cuisine

Shopping:

There is a lovely secondhand shop in the main drag that sells designer clothing with a lot of offbeat choices and jewelry selections. I was handling a necklace just as the owner was cooing “I made that” when I broke it and it scattered into pieces onto the floor, which was awkward—other than that it was a really fantastic little shop. Fashion choices are fun here—this is a little France, after all.

Hastle and annoyance factor:

There’s a surprising amount of shady looking street people here, but though they might ask for money they won’t hurt you.

Weather:

New Caledonia has really lovely weather for an island. It’s not nearly so hot and muggy as some of the other islands we’ve been to. It has a rainy season and a dry one—no winter of course. I did not have any problems with allergies here, unlike Tahiti and Vanuatu. Our coughs, which we had all developed as a family in Tahiti, disappeared immediately upon arrival in Noumea. The weather quite agreed with Ryder.

ryder smile noumea

What to see/do:

Tjibaou Cultural Center has a reenactment of a Caldoche spiritual legend. It didn’t have a whole lot of explaining what was going on, but it made for a great photo opp:

tibajou center

I liked the national museum downtown better to see artifacts and learn the history of the place.

Get out:

Take a road trip to Point-Dimie up north. It’s much more rural up there, isolated and beautiful. You’ll see a different side to New Caledonia than the French upscale-ness. And if you are lucky, you might find someone who will take you out to the tribes to see one of their traditional buildings. Jacob happened to help build the one below:

traditional hut

 

Summary: New Caledonia is a fine destination for a nomadic family. Apparently there are a lot of nomadic families who live off of ships and dock here. If you’re looking for a ritzier sort of Pacific island experience, this would be it.

family new cal

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 361 awesome articles for us.

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