A Rendez-vous in New Caledonia
New Caledonia, a French territory comprising dozens of islands in the South Pacific, is known for its palm-lined beaches and marine-life-rich lagoon, which, at 24,000-sq.-km, is among the world’s largest. A massive barrier reef surrounds the archipelago’s main island, Grand Terre, a major scuba-diving destination. Also on Grand Terre is the capital, Nouméa, with French-influenced cuisine and luxury boutiques selling Parisian fashions.
Currency: CFP franc
Population: 262,000 (2013) World Bank
Official language: French
Day 1: Rendez-vous in New Caledonia
The Qantas (codeshare with Aircalin) flight from Sydney to La Tontouta International Airport in Noumea, New Caledonia was comfortable and quick, at less than three hours flight time. After a two-hour bus ride heading north along the island, we reached the Sheraton Deva Golf Resort and Spa in Bourail. The resort opened in August last year and is located on the 8,000 hectare Deva domain; the hotel itself spans 7 hectares. On the premises is an 18-hole golf course designed by world-renowned golf course design company Dye Designs.
The property boasts 180 rooms, suites and bungalows, as well as meeting and function rooms, a restaurant, bar and day spa. The resort is the perfect getaway for families with a kids club, baby-sitting services and a 900 square-metre swimming pool, the largest in New Caledonia. Despite the location being a bit further than the usual tourist spots, like Noumea, the resort itself offers plenty to keep guests occupied including 18-kilometres of white sand beach lining the property. But if you are an adventure seeker, the surrounding mountain ranges are the perfect spot for hiking or mountain bike riding.
We finished the day with a French dinner at the resort’s restaurant, which also serves a buffet breakfast for guests every morning. Overall, the accommodation was luxurious and modern but maintained a sense of New Caledonia’s culture with wooden furnishings and local artworks throughout the resort. While New Caledonia’s national language is French, majority of the staff were fluent in English, which was extremely helpful.
Day 2: Rendez-vous in New Caledonia
After a delicious breakfast at the Sheraton Deva Golf Resort and Spa, we travelled about 4 hours northeast to the Northern Province of New Caledonia. The bus trip went fairly quickly, with a few stops along the way to visit local shops and fruit stalls. There was so much to take in along the way; breathtaking ocean views on one side and lush green mountains on the other.
We then arrived at the Napoemien tribe in Poindimie where we met Kanak guide Jehudit Pwija. During our visit he and his family prepared and cooked a traditional Kanak meal, called a Bougna. The meal consists of root vegetables, like taro and pumpkin; meat, we had chicken and prawn; onions and coconut milk all wrapped up in banana leaves and cooked underground for several hours. The ingredients were all locally sourced, including the vegetables Jehudit grows on his own property. It was a great way to learn more about the traditions and culture of the Kanak people, New Caledonia’s indigenous people.
Shortly after, the team from Aqualagoon took us snorkelling near a small island off the Poindimie shoreline. It was nice spot to explore and the staff members were all very friendly and helpful. After a short boat ride back into shore we settled into our accommodation for the night at Tieti Hotel. The hotel rooms were spacious and fit-out with exotic-style furnishings and we were spoilt with ocean views from our bungalows. We finished the evening with a delicious three-course dinner at the hotel restaurant, which serves a variety of French meals and local produce.
Day 3: Rendez-vous in New Caledonia
We kicked off day three with breakfast at Tieti Hotel and a tour of the property. The hotel consists of 50 guest rooms with three accommodation options: beachfront bungalow suites, garden bungalows with a terrace and standard rooms with a terrace or balcony. The beachside hotel exudes a tropical feel in both its accommodation and facilities. Overall it was a very pleasant stay in a spacious bungalow right on the water’s edge.
We then headed further north and stopped at Hotel Koulnoué Village in Hienghéne along the way. The former Club Med site is now one of seven Grands Hotels properties in New Caledonia. Since flights stopped operating at the nearby airport, the hotel has seen visitor numbers fall in recent years. Now the hotel is undergoing renovations to give it a new look and help draw travellers back to the once booming site.
While in the tranquil town of Hienghéne, we met Christoph from Nord Adventure who took us kayaking on the river and around the iconic cliff “Brooding Hen”. Our kayak was followed by a three-course lunch at Ka Waboana Lodge overlooking the river. The lodge’s cabins are perched on the mountain between lush foliage and fruit trees. The wooden exterior of each cabin is contrasted with the modern-style interior. The lodge oozes a peaceful and calm atmosphere; the ideal location for a relaxing getaway.
A further three hours travelling northwest, we arrived at Malabou Beach Hotel, also a Grands Hotel, and were greeted by the friendly staff. The hotel is also undergoing renovations, due for completion in September, and so far the changes are looking very promising. The hotel is made up of 19 beachfront rooms and 17 standard rooms. The restaurant and bar area has a very lively atmosphere and the staff members were all exceptionally accommodating. We finished the evening with a seafood buffet dinner accompanied by live music throughout the night.
Day 4: Rendez-vous in New Caledonia
After breakfast and a friendly farewell from the Malabou Beach Hotel staff, we set off for Noumea. On the way we stopped to visit Tiebaghi, an ancient mining village. The chromite mine was in operation from 1901 to 1964 and now offers tours of the ancient site. Abandoned buildings, including a hospital, club and general store have now been transformed into a tourist attraction. It was an informative tour and a great insight into the mining history of New Caledonia.
After the tour we headed south for about five hours en route to Noumea. Domestic flights are available between the Northern Province and Noumea if the bus trip is not your preferred method of travel. However, driving allows you to stop and explore the countless villages and markets along the way.
When we arrived in Noumea we checked in at the Château Royal Beach Resort and Spa before heading out for dinner. We took the ferry across to L’Escapade Island for a buffet dinner at the resort. The resort is one of New Caledonia’s hidden gems and with overwater bungalows dotted along island it is a tropical getaway only 20 minutes away from Noumea. Garden bungalows are also available on the island, surrounding a lively restaurant, bar and pool area. After a fun night on the island we took the ferry back to Noumea and settled in to our rooms for the night.
Day 5: Rendez-vous in New Caledonia
Today began with breakfast and a hotel inspection at Hilton Noumea La Promenade Residences. The hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Noumea’s tourist district and retail shops span the ground level. Each room has a full kitchen, large living area and balcony with views of the lagoon. Next we went on a tour of Le Lagon Hotel, a family owned hotel that has been owned by the same family for 45 years. Guests can choose between a studio or one-bedroom room or, alternatively, they can book both together and use the connecting doors to accommodate up to six people.
We then inspected the nearby Beaurivage Hotel, another Grands Hotels property. The hotel is situated in the popular Baie des Citrons and has 59 rooms. The rooms are quite small but have clean, modern interiors after the hotel was renovated in 2013. Next we hopped on an Arc en Ciel bus and headed to Le Stanley Hotel for our last inspection for the trip. The hotel is located in the Bay of Sainte-Marie, about a ten minute drive from Noumea’s city centre, which is perfect for those seeking a quiet and relaxing holiday. Each of the hotel’s suites has a terrace and amazing view of the ocean. Guests will also enjoy the views from the hotel pool and pontoon.
After our final hotel inspection we headed to the Tjibaou Cultural Center for the inaugural Rendez-vous in New Caledonia Workshop. The workshop was an opportunity to introduce new products to industry wholesalers and media from Australia and New Zealand. After a special welcome performance by Kanak people, a customary gesture was done on behalf of the workshop participants followed by a tour of the Cultural Center. We attended the workshop for the rest of the day, making connections with representatives from the accommodation, activity and tourism office sectors of New Caledonia. After the workshop we enjoyed drinks and food at the centre while watching live performances by local talent.
Overall, the first Rendez-vous in New Caledonia event was a success and key relationships were formed between New Caledonia suppliers and Australia/New Zealand wholesalers and media. It was a privilege to be able to explore the Northern Province of New Caledonia and learn more about the rich culture and history of such a unique destination.