How to enjoy a week in a South Pacific paradise
In July, we flew from Australia to New Caledonia to escape - for a brief week - the cold Canberra winter.
New Caledonia is an archipelago in the South Pacific. The capital, Noumea, has a population of about 60,000 people. The main island is surrounded by smaller islands, accessible by sea and air. New Caledonia is a popular port on the cruise ship route.
East of Australia and two hours' flying time out of Brisbane, New Caledonia has an average July high of 23 degrees and a low of 17 degrees. It is a French territory so expect to eat croissants and baguettes for breakfast. And everyone speaks French, which is a good opportunity to brush up your language skills.
In Noumea, we stayed at Le Meridien resort, an easy hour's drive from the airport. We took up the resort's offer of a courtesy bus, both in Noumea and Ile des Pins. The hotel is set on a small peninsula, well away from the street noise, but close enough to a beachside strip of shops and restaurants to provide additional entertainment. It's an easy and pleasant walk in the evening to watch the boule players, stroll the promenade and eat at one of many good restaurants.
Our well-appointed hotel room had a balcony overlooking the sea. The hotel has three dining areas, gracious lounges and bars, a superb garden and an even better pool and play area. The staff were warm, welcoming and friendly, fulfilling every little need we might have.
In Noumea, we spent most of our time lounging at the poolside, getting up occasionally to slip into the swimming pool, or to have lunch at Fare, the poolside restaurant.
In the evenings we strolled along the beach to the shopping precinct. One night we enjoyed a Mexican dinner, the other a pizza - not what you'd expect in the South Pacific - but for dinner at the hotel we had a splendid seafood buffet that included local snapper, oysters, prawns and anything else you might care to eat.
My best meals were breakfast, which was an extremely generous buffet. I couldn't go past the croissants, cold meats and cheeses but I believe that the mushroom omelettes were excellent.
Ile des Pins
After four relaxing days in Noumea, we boarded an early morning ferry to Ile des Pins, a two-and-a-half hour cruise away. The boat trip was easy, comfortable, and for most of the journey we enjoyed a view of the main island. Docking at Ile des Pins, we crossed a small jetty over turquoise waters, just the colour you would expect in the Southern Pacific.
Le Meridien Ile des Pins is about 20 minutes drive along a picturesque road through green, verdant country, dotted with small buildings - I saw a church and local food suppliers.
At the hotel, the staff welcomed us with chilled tea as they ran us through the facilities and activities. For the adventurous there is snorkelling, kayaking and walking. In the evenings you can challenge a friend to backgammon, draughts, chess or snooker. We preferred to sit in front of the fire - yes, it did get a little fresh when the sun went down - after dinner al fresco.
The hotel was celebrating it's 20th anniversary and has weathered the years well. The traditional island style buildings and accommodation are set in a gorgeous garden and the hotel is right on the beach. Our room was lovely: spacious, comfortably furnished with an enormous bed overhung with a white muslin cloth tied back during the day and draping the bed at night. The bathroom was equally well appointed and our balcony was above beautiful gardens.
The bar, lounges and dining room overlook the pool and beach where you can see the tide coming in going out across the encircling reef. All in all, a perfect paradise.
Our welcoming staffer advised me that the water in the rooms was good to drink, but I should avoid drinking anything beyond the hotel as, in her words it is 'the jungle'!
Ile des Pins - or Isle of Pines - is named after the tall, thin pines that grip the volcanic soil on the edges of the island. At low tide, we could look up at their roots - and wonder how these elegant trees could sustain themselves - but the vegetation is thick, green and full of colourful plants.
We spent our three days at Ile des Pins much as we had spent our time at Noumea - lounging at the pool. We did do a five kilometre walk to a natural pool where it's possible to snorkel. We also paddled a kayak on the incoming tide across the little bay. But in the main we rested and relaxed, drinking in the glorious views, colours and climate.
As extreme light travellers, we only packed carry on bags, which meant getting through the airport, in and out of the ferry and onto the small plane back to Noumea from Ile des Pins were as easy as a breeze blowing from the Pacific.
If you're looking for a short, winter break, you might consider a few other destinations in the vicinity - Fiji, Vanuatu, Norfolk and Lord Howe Island come to mind. We liked the New Caledonian French style - food, people and language - and also the warm and welcoming Le Meriden staff. I highly recommend Noumea and Ile des Pins for a relaxing, entertaining and delightful holiday.
About the author
I'm Slobodanka Graham, digital publisher, content entrepreneur, extreme light traveller and digital sketcher aka Antipodigital.
I drew one or more sketches every day in New Caledonia - some of which I've used in this post. I hope you like my holiday drawings.