New Caledonia - Attractions
Since the bombs and riots of the 1980s, Noumea has begun a swag of new developments unparalleled since the heady days of the nickel boom. Political rallies today are more likely to be protesting forced redundancies and cuts to services than demanding an end to French rule. From Anse Vata in the south, Noumea's most prestigious beach, to the northern suburbs of Koutiou and Yahoue, the town measures little more than 15km (9.3mi).The city centre spreads along Baie de la Moselle to the west, a fine harbour with good shelter for cruise liners, fishing boats and a fleet of private yachts. Further west lies Nouville, site of the colony's first penal settlement, and now connected to the mainland by fill from the nickel smelters. Immediately north of central Noumea the land is mainly industrial, with uninteresting residential and industrial suburbs beyond. On the eastern edge of the peninsula lie the well-to-do waterside suburbs of Ste Marie and Ouemo.
The Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre is Noumea's newest and most exciting development, about 10km (6mi) from downtown. Designed to reflect the Kanaks' integral ties to the land, it successfully blends contemporary architectural style and indigenous cultural beliefs, and displays items of Kanak heritage and the cultures of Oceania. The colonial-style Bibliothèque Bernheim is Noumea's main library and a great place to browse. It's pleasant and quiet despite nearby traffic. But to really escape the cars, go to the Noumea Aquarium at Anse Vata. It contains rare and unusual marine life, from sponges and coral through to the big fish with sharp teeth.
Just east of the city centre is the Vallée des Colons, a lively suburb that is today home to many of the town's Kanaks and Polynesian immigrants. Nouville is worth a visit for its convict ruins and the secluded Kuendu Bay, an ideal spot for swimming and, around the headland, for snorkelling. If you want to walk the seamier side in Noumea, try the Quartier Latin, with a hint of its famous Parisian counterpart, near Port Moselle south of the city centre. And for the downright filthy you can't go past (and you can hardly miss) the Doniambo Nickel Smelter, the 'furnace of Doniambo', a multi-chimney eyesore north of the city centre.
Anse Vata offers the pick of the top-end accommodation, although there are a few budget places in with the four- and five-star hotels. The HI Hostel in the city centre has the cheapest accommodation in town as well as great views of the Baie de la Moselle, but there is a wide range of accommodation (from the Spartan to the luxurious) around town and at Baie des Citrons. Check out the Quartier Latin and Baie des Citrons for cheap eateries, although the centre of town has plenty of snack bars (snacks) and even the opportunity for a Mcfeast.
With a population of only 4350, Bourail is a lively colonial-era settlement and New Caledonia's second largest town. It does get a little more lively than the Arab Cemetery and New Zealand Pacific War Cemetery. Huntin' and fishin' are the main pastimes among the local Caldoche community, and an unusual rock formation, La Roche Percée, is the most famous landmark in the area. Locals say it's shaped like a face (if you've had a few drinks or are blessed with a good imagination), and you can clamber all over it at low tide. Early risers can see the turtles nearby at Baie des Tortues. The best beach in the area is the Plage de Poé, with fine, white sand, colourful shells and good snorkelling. The RT1 is a good sealed road that skirts the mountains to Bourail, about 150km (93mi) northwest of Noumea, and you can get there by bus or car.
Hienghène has two main drawcards: it's the site of the massacre of 10 indépendantistes in 1984 and also the Lindéralique Cliffs - dramatic, black limestone cliffs, rising in some places to 60m (197ft) above the sea. They are topped by razor-sharp pinnacles, and the many caves among them are inhabited by swallows and flying foxes. A Club Med south of Hienghène offers luxury accommodation and a cutesy imitation Melanesian village. The Goa Ma Bwarhat Cultural Centre contains a small museum and a performance room, where there are occasional theatrical, musical and legend-telling performances. You can hike the Chemin des Arabes across Grande Terre's central mountains to the west coast, a trip of three days with water en route. Hienghène is on the northeast coast of Grande Terre, via a paved road that crosses the mountains and then hugs the coast through a spectacular coastal landscape. A bus from Noumea is the best way to get there.
Parc Territorial de la Rivière Bleue
Although many Noumeans escape to this park during holidays and weekends, if you manage to get there during the week you could have it all to yourself. A great place for nature lovers and hikers, the park has virgin forests of araucaria and kauri pine (including the giant Grand Kaori, estimated to be around 1000 years old), swimming holes and abundant walking tracks. The park's rich bird life includes the red-crowned parakeet, the black honeyeater and the cagou, New Caledonia's national bird. Once threatened with extinction, the cagou is making something of a comeback in the park, thanks to a captive breeding and reintroduction program. The Blue River Park is 43km (27mi) inland from Noumea along the paved RT2, and you reach it via the bus to Yaté - but there's no public transport inside the park boundaries.