The New Caledonia capital of Nouméa is the embodiment of the wider territory’s mix of influences, from the architecture to the bakeries that boast both European and Melanesian flair. It’s this mix, as well as its orientation on a glittering lagoon – one of the world’s largest marine reserves – that gives the city its South Pacific charm. You’re never far from a palm tree, a café au lait or a friendly local, so treat the capital like the water and dive right in.
Early risers should head straight to Le Marché de la Moselle (Port Moselle Market), a marketplace that spruiks everything from locally grown tropical fruit and freshly caught fish to handmade jewellery, from 5am every day (except Monday). In an irresistible example of the French fusion cuisine of the region, you’ll find pastries stuffed with tropical fruit jams. On the weekends, live music adds to the atmosphere.
In Faubourg Blanchot, the city’s oldest neighbourhood, the hallmarks of the territory’s colonial past are evident in the wooden cottages and grand houses, fronted by palm-shaded balconies. Pick up a snack at Le Paradis Gourmand; is there ever a bad time for an eclair?
Resisting a swim in the lagoon is near impossible. Anse Vata Bay is a popular choice for sunbathers and windsurfers – the curve of the bay receives prevailing winds and the adjoining promenade makes for excellent people watching.
End the day at Le Roof, an eatery situated on the lagoon itself, where tables overlook the pristine waters and dolphins often leap around. Seafood is the house speciality and there’s a sizable wine list; mostly French drops, naturally.
The Indigenous Kanak community is the largest cultural group in New Caledonia, representing over 40 per cent of the territory’s total population. The Tjibaou Cultural Centre is a great place to start your education; there’s a museum and art centre and the site expertly fuses traditional and contemporary architecture against a backdrop of lush mangroves and woodlands.
Refuel with something from one of four L’Atelier Gourmand outposts, the city’s version of a French-style patisserie. The baguettes are crusty, the sandwiches tasty and the pastries would make a Parisian proud.
Ouen Toro, or ‘the southern hill’, provides a great view over the city below. The peak is capped by a 60-hectare park of hiking trails and lookout spots, one of which has views of the Amédée Island lighthouse across the lagoon. There are multiple starting points on Promenade Pierre Vernier, and trails with varying degrees of difficulty, but the easy route will take you to the top in under an hour.
Lively tapas-style eatery Le 12 Glasser assembles elaborate cocktails and dishes so you never know what the menu might deliver. They also do themed evenings like traditional raclette and Cannes Film Festival night, always with the same attention to detail and convivial atmosphere.
The furrowed green ridge of Mont-Dore ripples down the eastern shoulder of greater Nouméa, its 800-metre summit peaking at the city’s south. Avid hikers can conquer the stair-heavy cliff trail in about four hours bottom to top, with the crest delivering an incredible outlook over the south of the lagoon and the entire island of Grande Terra.
The city’s wine bars unsurprisingly favour French tipples and it seems only fitting to end the day with a glass or two. Trust the resident sommelier at Chai de L’Hippodrome and match the selection with a charcuterie plate.
Amédée Island, a coral islet some 20-odd kilometres south of the city, makes an ideal day trip. Ferry services leave for the island five to six days a week and the passage takes 45 minutes. Ringed by impossibly white sand and the aquamarine lagoon, Amédée is incredibly beautiful. Snorkelling in these shallow waters can deliver encounters with turtles, swathes of coral reefs and schools of colourful fish.
Make a trip to Géant supermarket in Sainte-Marie for evening picnic supplies; the humble supermarket hides an incredible array of French cheeses, sometimes by the wheel. The fromage is staggering in its variety and freshness, some arriving on the island from France on the very day you’ve popped it into your basket. Baie des Citrons beach is an excellent picnic spot (but the strip and its surrounding bars get a little loud once the sun goes down).