By June RamliTweet
It has been more than a week since my inaugural trip to New Caledonia. My stay on this paradise island was rather short but sweet.
I spent a total of five days from Dec 14 till Dec 19, 2022. I didn’t visit any of the islands nor Isle of the Pines since all local tours were fully booked. I commensurated that by exploring their capital city Noumea and chilled at the Le Meridien Hotel.
New Caledonia, was my fifth overseas trip within four months, and I was exhausted with all my back to back travelling.
I managed to get some discounted tickets to go to New Caledonia via AirCalin.
The flight there was a codeshare flight with Qantas, whereby I flew there on Qantas and returned via AirCalin.
There is a disembarkation card you need to fill on arrival in New Caledonia. They are as paranoid as the Australians and New Zealanders about bringing in food.
There is no such paranoia for Tahiti. They allow you to enter the country without having to fill out any disembarkation card.
Despite not bringing any outside food into New Caledonia, we still got flagged by the immigration and had our bags checked further for outside food.
But my overall general perception of what I thought of New Caledonia is that it is similar to Tahiti in many ways.
Their airport is slightly more developed than Tahiti’s and their control or immigration police officers wore the same uniforms as the Tahitian and French police.
First thing first, the island is very similar to Tahiti. In fact, New Caledonia would be what Tahiti would look like if it was slightly more developed.
You can find a lot of Tahitian made stuff in New Caledonia such as the Tahitian pearls and the Tahitian Ukulele (with the back opening) and best of all both countries use the same currency.
The best way to do New Caledonia is to pre-book everything before setting foot in the country itself.
I thought I could book an excursion to the islands but by the time I got there, everything was fully booked including the 30 minute aeroplane rides to Isle of Pines.
I could have visited the Isle of the Pines by ferry on Sunday but somehow I wasn’t game since it would have cost me at least six hours to get there and back to the mainland.
Also, after visiting Bora Bora earlier in the year there wasn’t much of a draw for me to go and visit Isles the Pines
For those interested in doing Isle of Pines the plane is three times a week, Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday.
As for the local travel sim card, I didn’t get any since I was only five days in the island.
Just so you know Optus’ roaming pass does not work in New Caledonia and Tahiti.
As for transportation, New Caledonia has its own Uber service known as PickMe.NC but I could not download the app.
The taxi services are equally as expensive as Tahiti so I didn’t take any rides except at the end of the trip to head to the airport.
For the first time I visited a casino in New Caledonia which is operated by the Le Meridien Hotel. I was given free entrance as a guest of the hotel. Since I had no idea how to gamble, I only stayed 20 minutes to just look around. Lots of old rich ladies were happily losing their husband’s hard earned money!
This is a small island so I decided to check out their bus service which was quite easy to navigate. Their bus system can be pretty expensive if you don’t have the day pass. If you rent a car, just remember that they drive on the left side of the road and the deposit is Euro 2,000 out of your credit card!
Anyone who gets on the bus without a day pass would have to pay AUD7 per stop, meaning if you take the bus and get off at the next stop it is AUD 7. Each time you get on the bus you have to buy the bus card for AUD7! The bus driver sells tickets on the bus itself, but these red passes are only applicable for a one ride.
You cannot reuse the ticket.
I did not visit the Kanak Cultural Centre because the bus to that area had gone on strike.
I visited their morning market in the city centre, and Carrefour to buy some instant noodles which to my surprise hailed from Malaysia.
I chilled in my beautiful hotel Le Meridien and swam on their beach with some room service thrown in between.
If you have never swam on the beaches of South Pacific, I’d like to warn that it is extremely salty, more salty than the beaches in South East Asia and Australia.
You can see lots of fishes at the shore itself and the water is crystal clear so if you have a snorkelling gear don’t forget to bring it along.
I honestly felt I wasn’t missing much since I had just spent 12 days in glorious Tahiti.
As for language, if your French is limited don’t fret, as most New Caledonians do converse in English.
You will find a mixture of Melanesian people and French people from France so you will be fine.
Most menus are written in English but if it is written in French, no worries as most servers are able to translate the menu.
As for cash, I tried to use my Commonwealth Bank card to take local currency but my card went missing for some time before it was spat out. No money came out. If I remember correctly the name of the bank is BCI.
This was a far cry from Tahiti, where I used the same card to withdraw money in their local currency via the Bank of Tahiti.
As for the locals, some can be overly friendly, up to the point they were quite touchy–feely.
Consider yourself warned.
I also met a Singaporean couple at the market and we spoke for a bit. They had spent 12 days on the island and when I met them they were on the way to the airport for their return flight. They told me that AirCalin now flies directly from Singapore to New Caledonia. Flight time is about nine hours from New Caledonia to Singapore.
They told me that there were only four Asians while the rest were all French coming to check the island.
That is how much of an unknown destination New Caledonia is among the South East Asians.
New Caledonia is also no Paris, it is a country that is super chill with no fancy stuff to buy. Don’t expect to get your Louis Vuittons fix there but there will be some pieces of LongChamps bags at the airport and that is about it.
Go to New Caledonia if you miss eating some nice authentic French food, want to practise speaking French with the locals or just want to chill in a nice South Pacific Island.
Most of New Caledonia is only open to business five days a week and probably half day on Saturday. Most businesses are shut on Sundays except for a select few. This is the same case as Tahiti.
My overall verdict of New Caledonia is that it is similar to Tahiti and it is worth a visit if you haven’t done Tahiti yet.
About the author: June Ramli is the editor of DailyStraits.com. This is an opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this publication.
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June Ramli is the editor of DailyStraits.com. To stay in touch with June, look her up on Twitter @junesairaramli