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Travel & Holiday

Bask in the South Pacific sun

The laid-back island life in New Caledonia is ideal for relaxing holidays of sun, beach and sea
The Straits Times - January 22, 2012
By: Huang Huifen
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Bask in the South Pacific sun The Tjibaou Cultural Centre. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Being in New Caledonia, a French territory located in the South Pacific, is like living in a postcard.

Surrounded by the largest and arguably most beautiful lagoon in the world and blessed with rich biodiversity, the archipelago is a tropical paradise for Singaporean housewife Patricia Wee-Poux and her French husband, Thierry Poux, both 54.

Mr Poux, a semi-retiree and windsurfing enthusiast, decided to move his family from Singapore to New Caledonia 11 years ago because of the ideal wind conditions there for the sport. The couple have a son, Christian, 15.

For Mrs Wee-Poux, moving there has been a pleasant 360-degree change from Singapore.

'We love the laid-back island lifestyle of New Caledonia, which is a nice change from Singapore's stressful way of life,' she says.

The diverse population of around 256,275 is made up of groups such as the Melanesians, Polynesians, French, Indonesians and Vietnamese.

'Singaporeans will be pleasantly surprised by the friendly nature of the locals, who will greet strangers on the streets,' she says.

BEFORE YOU GO

Tell us a little-known fact about your city.

New Caledonia has extremely rich biodiversity, with 4,300 species of terrestrial animals, 1,000 species of fish and 6,500 marine invertebrates recorded.

Many of them are endemic to the area.

It is an interesting experience to spot wildlife such as the national animal cagou, a bluish-grey bird that barks, and the endearing roussette, a large flying fox that existed in New Caledonia before human civilisation.

It is just as fascinating underwater, with an extensive 23,000 sq km coral reef system that is second only to the Great Barrier Reef and is a Unesco World Heritage site.

Popular dive sites include Jardin d'Eden (the Garden of Eden) in the surrounding island of Ile des Pins.

New Caledonia's soil is also rich in nickel and contains one quarter of the world's nickel resources.

The best time to visit is...

During the cool season from May to August. The temperature ranges from 17 deg C to 22 deg C, and the weather is often sunny.

It is the best time to hire a catamaran from Captain Cheri (tel: +687-77-41-52, www.captainchericroisiere.nc) for 9,000CFP francs (S$123.94) a person, or rent the whole catamaran with a skipper for 69,000CFP francs a day.

You can observe whales in Prony Bay in southern New Caledonia. Do dress in warm clothes as it gets very chilly.

You should never visit during...

December to February, the hottest period of summer. It is either scorching hot or raining heavily. There is also a risk of cyclones at the beginning of the year.

What is one thing you must take along?

A sweater if you are travelling in winter, and swimwear and sunblock in the summer. Bring good walking shoes, sunglasses and camera, no matter what the season.

How do you get from Singapore to New Caledonia?

Fly to Sydney, and catch a three-hour connecting flight to Noumea, the capital city, on Aircalin (www.aircalin.com) or Qantas (www.qantas.com.au).

GETTING AROUND

The best way to get around the city is...

To rent a car. Hertz (tel: +687-26-18-22, www.hertz-nc.com) and Avis (tel: +687-27-54-84) are the more reputable car rental companies that you can find at the airport and in town. Rentals cost around 2,800CFP francs plus mileage, depending on the size of the car. Alternatively, take a bus tour with Noumea Explorer (www.arcenciel.nc, tel: +687-27-19-80) which takes you to major sites such as Tjibaou Cultural Centre, Baie des Citrons for dining and Anse Vata for beach activities. The tour can be arranged at the hotel and costs 1,500CFP francs a person.

What are some places that excite you?

Visit the Aquarium in Noumea (Route de l'Aquarium Baie des Citrons, tel: +687-26-27-31) to see attractions such as a live nautilus, a living fossil that has existed for millions of years, and a unique display of fluorescent corals. Admission costs 1,500CFP francs an adult. To know more about New Caledonian history and its indigenous people, visit museums such as the Tjibaou Cultural Centre (Rue des Accords de Matignon, Tina, BP 378, Noumea tel: +687-41-45-45, admission: 500CFP francs a person), which is designed by designed by renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano, and Musee de Nouvelle-Caledonie (42 ave du Marechal Foch Quartier Latin, Noumea tel: +687-27-23-42, www.museenouvellecaledonie.nc, admission: 200CFP francs a person).

Do you need to know the language to get around?

Just a few simple French words will do, such as bonjour for hello, au revoir for goodbye and merci for thank you. Many people can speak English, so it is easy to communicate with them.

FOOD AND WINE

Do not leave the place without trying...

The food from Au P'tit Cafe (8 avenue des freres Carcopino, Noumea, tel: +687-28-21-89, www.auptitcafe.nc). It offers a different menu of a few dishes every day, depending on what is available at the market. The cuisine is French with a hint of local flavours, such as salmon fillet with quinoa. A dish costs about 2,000CFP francs. Do make reservations. It is open only from Tuesdays to Fridays.

Where are some of the best places to sample all that New Caledonia has to offer?

Head to Baie des Citrons (Lemon Bay) in Noumea for restaurants serving French or Italian food, such as Au Boucher (tel: +687-26-15-85) and Paparazzi (tel: +687-28-33-99). Go to Le Duke's (tel: +687-28-17-47) for burgers.

The average price for a dish at these restaurants is 2,000CFP francs. If you are looking for more upmarket French restaurants, try L'Hippocampe at Le Meridien Noumea hotel (Pointe Magnin, BP1915 Noumea, tel: +687-26-50-00), La Coupole next to Le Surf Hotel (Promenade Roger Laroque, Anse Vata, Noumea, tel: +687-26-44-11) or Le Roof (tel: +687-25-07-00), a restaurant over the water in Anse Vata bay. The price of starters ranges from 1,200 to 2,000CFP francs and mains from 2,000 to 3,500CFP francs.

The coolest places to chill out at are...

At Baie des Citrons for its quality restaurants, laid-back bars and hip clubs. It is a great place to have lunch or chill out at with a refreshing cocktail.

From 8pm onwards, the area becomes a magnet for Noumea's trendy crowd. You will find locals hanging out at the bars dotted along the bay or partying at Jet 7 (Centre Commercial Baie des Citrons), one of Noumea's trendiest night clubs.

Located five minutes away by car is Anse Vata beach, where popular tapas bar La Bodega del Mar (www.bodega.nc), and Poplight nightclub is. There is no cover charge and drinks cost around 1,800 to 2,200CFP francs.

CULTURE

Do not leave without trying...

Some sort of sports. You can either windsurf or kitesurf at Anse Vata beach, a popular place for sea sports. Noumea's pristine waters and coral systems provide great snorkelling and diving experiences.

Two-hour windsurfing lessons cost between 2,000 and 3,000CFP francs from any of the operators along the beach. Kitesurfing costs about 8,900CFP francs an hour from Noumea Kite School (tel: +687-79-07-66, www.noumeakiteschool.com). Diving costs 11,000 to 13,000CFP francs a day from Alize Diving (tel: +687-26-25-85, www.alizedive.com).

If you are more daring, you can try paragliding on Ouen Toro hill, a three-minute drive from Anse Vata, with Ligue de Vol Libre (tel: +687-86-73-88, www.lvlnc.org, price unavailable). It is an exhilarating experience to view Noumea and the surrounding islands from the air.

What is a must-do in your city?

Go hiking in Mount Koghi , a 1,061m-high rainforest where you can discover the flora and fauna of the jungle such as tall tree ferns. It is located in Dumbea, a 20-minute drive from Noumea.

The various trails can take 30 minutes to six hours to complete. Some scenic spots include Koghi Mountains Waterfall and the peak, Pic Malaoui, where you can get a bird's-eye view of Noumea.

After an exhilarating walk, you can relax over lunch at Auberge du Mount Koghi (34 c, route du Mont-Koghi , Dumbea, Noumea, tel: +687-41-29-29), where you can enjoy the lovely view of the city below while savouring specialities such as andouillette (a sausage made out of tripe) and raclette (scraps of melted cheese served with small potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions and dried meat). Dishes cost around 2,000 to 3,000CFP francs each.

SHOPPING

What is one thing worth buying and where is the best place to get it?

Get local handicrafts such as glass paintings, sand art and stone and shell jewellery from night markets held on Wednesdays at Anse Vata and Thursdays at Place des Cocotiers, in Noumea's city centre. The night markets have a very festive atmosphere with bright lights, loud music and stalls which also sell local snacks. Prices cost anywhere between 1,000 and 20,000CFP francs, and bargaining is not allowed.

FESTIVALS

Are there any festivals that travellers should work into their schedule?

Visitors should come in April, when the annual Noumea Carnival takes place. The one-day carnival will see throngs of spectators lining the streets to view the colourful display of floats, dancers dressed in flashy costumes, and fireworks that mark the end of the event.

FURTHER OUT

What is there to see outside the city?

Go on a three-day beach getaway to Ile des Pins, one of the islands located in south-eastern New Caledonia. It is a 25-minute domestic flight onboard Air Caledonie (www.air-caledonie.nc) from Noumea, and costs 15,780 to 16,830CFP francs return.

Besides sunbathing on the idyllic beach, you can take a ride on a pirogue, which is a canoe with a sail, for 3,800CFP frances to explore Upi Bay and the splendid coral systems and turquoise waters. Other popular tourist attractions include the Grotte de la Reine Hortense, a cave with a lush tropical garden at the entrance, and Piscine Naturelle, a lagoon with crystal-clear water for swimming and snorkelling.

A good place to stay at is Le Meridien Ile des Pins hotel (Baie d'Oro, BP 175, Ile des Pins, tel: +687-26-50-00, www.starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien, rates from 21,000CFP francs a night), which has rustic bungalows overlooking the picturesque coastline.

 

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