Lost in Noumea: 6 Best Things to Do in New Caledonia’s Capital
No other place on earth has a more tantalizing combination of South Pacific hospitality and European elegance than New Caledonia’s capital, Noumea. The city sits on a hilly peninsula surrounded by New Caledonia’s renowned UNESCO-listed lagoon, the largest natural lagoon in the world protected by a barrier reef that extends over 1600 kilometres. Needless to say, the iconic lagoon is home to exceptionally rich marine life and Noumea has several dive centres and sites from which you can access the territory’s underwater paradise. The charm doesn’t end there though. Look past the mesmerizing waters for a while, explore inland and Noumea will continue to take your breath away with remarkable sights, sounds and flavours in its bustling markets, impressive museums and ever-busy local shops and restaurants.
From stunning white sandy beaches to well-preserved historic buildings with a beautiful European feel, Noumea offers a cavalcade of exciting things to see and do that give travellers a seductive taste of what New Caledonia as a whole has to offer. Day trips and tours are wonderful opportunities to kill time in the city. For first-timers who have totally no idea what Noumea is all about, there are guided city tours that provide travellers an overview of the touristic and cultural aspects of the city, as well as advice and tips to make the most of your stay in Noumea.
Or you can just skip that orientation tour all together—here’s our list of top things to do in and around Noumea so all you have to do is take your pick!
Discover New Caledonia’s cultural side!
Noumea is home to a vibrant multi-ethnic community so a day spent exploring the local culture, history and heritage is bound to be a memorable and enriching experience. Explore the surroundings of Noumea and discover the distinct Melanesian culture. The Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre, named after the pro-independence Kanak leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou who was assassinated in 1989, houses paintings, sculptures and photographs celebrating the vernacular Kanak culture. The centre is a marvellous sight in itself, with its main buildings rising as tall, curved wooden structures towering over the trees. Another stop common among cultural tours is the Church of Immaculate Conception, locally referred to as the “Miracle Church” because of the numerous small marble plaques that line its walls, left by petitioners thankful for some ‘miracle’ or ‘luck’. There’s also the “Plum Spring” or “Plum Fountain”, a freshwater spring at the top of a mountain in Mont-Dore city and the source of New Caledonia’s own mineral water.
Go on a Deep South adventure!
If you somehow get tired of New Caledonia’s vivid shades of blue, go south! At the southern end of the main island, the oxidized metal rich soils of the Deep South change the colour palette to red. The red earth contrasts strongly with the blue skies and green forests, creating landscapes any Jurassic Park fan would love. The South’s pristine and unspoiled landscape is perfect if you want to walk on the wild side and experience New Caledonia sans the crowds. Hike at Blue River Park, and cross Yate Lake and let the drowned forest ensnare you with the strange, sombre sight of hundreds of bleached logs at the bottom of the artificial lake. Go deeper into the park and the imposing 1,000-year old great kaori tree is sure to greet you, and there’s no way you’ll miss seeing a cagou, New Caledonia’s iconic bird, since around 600 of them are scattered in the park.
Eat, eat, eat!
Food is the best way to truly know a country or city, especially in New Caledonia where food plays a central role in day-to-day life. Visit local markets and enjoy the different sights and smells. Let the exotic fruits and vegetables displayed on the stalls give you a taste of the Pacific cuisine’s diversity, then walk to the famous “Latin Quarter” lined with shops and restaurants where you’ll probably find some Isle of Pines Snails, a must-eat for anyone visiting New Caledonia. The snails are endemic to the beautiful Isle of Pines and are often cooked in traditional French fashion. Venison sausages are also common. If there’s one dish you MUST try though, it is bougna which is kind of like New Caledonia’s national dish (if there’s such a thing). The dish is the most traditional of all Melanesian dishes and is a bundle of taro, banana, yam, sweet potato and pieces of chicken, crabs or lobster (or all three) steamed for a couple hours in a traditional ground oven.
Head to THE Aquarium!
The Aquarium des Lagons is not your average aquarium. Its huge tanks hold aquatic treasures found throughout New Caledonia, from the freshwater streams to the depths of the ocean. It’s like a condensed version of the lagoon itself and you’ll find pretty much all the species found in the lagoon, including turtles, sharks, stingrays, sea snakes, stone fish and nautilus, all presented in their natural habitat thanks to an impressive circuit that takes water directly from Lemon Bay. Fresh water organisms inhabiting New Caledonia’s rivers and lakes are also housed in the aquarium, and there are even mangroves!
Swim and snorkel at Duck Island!
Duck Island is where you’ll want to go if you want a more upclose and personal encounter with New Caledonia’s aquatic citizens! This tiny paradise is just a stone’s throw away from Anse Vata Beach and can be reached in about five minutes on a taxi boat. Don’t forget to bring your mask and snorkelling gear! Duck Island is a snorkeler’s paradise with its abundant underwater flora and fauna. There’s even an underwater trail for snorkelers, divided into six zones featuring buoys with explanatory signs. The entire trail takes about 45 minutes to complete and is a perfect playground for beginners.
Climb to the top of Amedee Lighthouse!
Located 24 kilometres southwest of Noumea in the largest lagoon in the world, the Amedee Lighthouse Island is something you would not want to miss not because of the sparkling beach that surrounds it or the colourful marine life in its waters, but because of the slender iron lighthouse rising at its centre from which it got its name. The lighthouse gleaming white against the blue sky boasts a remarkable history as France’s first metal lighthouse, built in 1861 in Paris. The 56-metre structure towered over Paris for two years until it was dismantled into 1,265 pieces and transported piece by piece to New Caledonia. Military personnel then laboured for ten months to erect it on Amedee Island, and on the 15th of November 1865, it was finally illuminated, lighting the way for ships to the entrance of Boulari passage, one of the three natural passages through the coral reef that surrounds New Caledonia. A superb cast iron staircase will bring you to the top of the lighthouse, that is, if you can climb all 247 steps. It’s all worth the effort—the breathtaking panoramic views from the top are sure to send your heart aflutter!
For more information on Noumea and other islands in New Caledonia, enquire or call us at 1300 108 625. Our team of New Caledonia travel professionals is brimming with suggestions to create a memorable itinerary for you.