Noumea is a capital of New Caledonia, located to the east of Australia in the South Pacific. The country is officially a French territory, and the French influence can be vividly traced in the architectural style of the city, in particular in the exteriors and interiors of the buildings. Naturally, French is the official and most spoken language in the country even though other regional indigenous languages are recognized. Most of the tour guides and tourist industry employees who directly involved in the customer services speak good English.
Noumea is a popular destination for the cruise ships. For example, such companies as Princess Cruises and P&O Australia launch regular South Pacific cruises with a port of Noumea been declared as a highlight of a cruise. Depending on the cruise length and itinerary, the ships stop in port for half or full-day, which gives tourists enough time to look around New Caledonian capital and visit at least one of the main attractions. Cruise terminals are located close to the city centre and offer an easy access to the local infrastructure, shops, and restaurants. The visitor centre provides money exchange and information services, but also a good choice of tours and excursions. Thus, if you did not get a chance to book a shore excursion while aboard the cruise ship, you can still purchase it on land. Interestingly, the land prices in many cases are more attractive comparing to the ones on the ship.
Getting around Noumea: Hop On Hop Off or Beach Express?
Getting a Hop On Hop Off bus pass for a day is a popular way to get around in the new place. The one in Noumea costs 24 AUS and includes the stops at the Morning market, city beach, shopping mall, museum, and aquarium. Beach Express is a cheaper and faster alternative to Hop On Hop Off bus. The pass costs 10 AUS dollars and features much shorter queue of people comparing to the Hop On bus. The only difference is that its route has fewer stops and goes directly to the city beach. For few extra dollars, the pass will include the water taxi to the Duck Island.
Duck Island is vigorously promoted as a must-see due to its unique flora and fauna. The island is officially recognized as a marine reserve and a part of the natural conservation area due to the rare coral species and a population of birds nesting in the middle of the island. However, the site turned out to be rather a tourist trap than a natural wonder or a beach paradise. Firstly, the promotional pictures of Duck Island do not correspond to the harsh reality. The lavish greenery on the pictures of the Island turned out to be the dry brownish trees and dry grass, covering most of the island.
Moreover, a substantial part of the island is dedicated to nesting birds and, thus, has a restricted access for tourists. The island is very small and most of the territory is built-up with the cafes, restaurants and other basic wooden constructions. The narrow string of beach from one side is packed with sunbeds, which are also for a pricey rent (up to 50 euros for two beds!). The entry to the sea is pretty rough due to the sharp shells and stones, and quite slippery because of the sandbags, which are located along the beach to prevent erosion. The place might be nice for snorkelling, but not for swimming and diving.
From the other side of the island, there is a sandy beach without sunbeds. It is normally less busy and had more space for the tourists who prefer to use their own beach towels and mats instead of renting the sunbeds. At the end of the day, coming back from Duck Island to the mainland might be challenging due to long queues of tourists. People with the tickets for Beach Express have more chances to leave faster than people who came on the Hop On Hop buses and purchased the individual return tickets for a water taxi.
Parc Zoologique & Forestier
Parc Zoologique, combining features of a zoo and a lush garden, is a real highlight of Noumea. The park features a great collection of birds from all around the world. In particular, there is a good collection of colourful parrots, some of which are on the edge of extinction. According to the brief descriptions, provided on the cages in French and English, many of the birds form a pair for life. While watching them, you can see some romantic parrot couples tenderly stroking and feeding each other.
Parrots are extremely cute to watch and are very friendly with visitors. Quite often, they come to the edge of their cage to have a closer look at tourists. It is strictly forbidden to feed the animals and birds for their own safety. Parrots get easily attracted to shiny things such as gold jewellery or elements on clothes and shoes. Thus, if you get close enough to the cage, they will definitely try to grab a shiny treasure.
The multiple colourful peacocks, including the rare white ones, are the highlights of the Parc Zoologique. The birds are strolling around the whole park without restraint, and do not look bothered with the park visitors. Moreover, peacocks are in a bad habit of making the territorial claim by stopping in the middle of the walking routes for tourists.
Tchoo Tchoo Discovery Train
If you are yearning for a comfortable and lazy way of sightseeing, the Tchoo Tchoo train can be a good option. The open-air train moves slowly around the city, while the guide is pointing at the attractions and sharing some fun facts about New Caledonia, locals, and their lifestyle. Even though the trip is quite pricey (40 AUD) for the relatively short duration (1,5 hours), the trip does feature the awe-inspiring views from the Ouen Toro Canons.
Hints from a frequent cruiser to the fellow cruise passengers
Overall, Noumea is deservedly called the highlight of the South Pacific cruises as it is a great destination for a holiday or a shorter getaway. Both the ship tour office and the local visitor centre offer quite a few good options of where to go while on land. However, I would recommend going on a tour to explore the wealth of local nature, for example, to the rainforest or Parc Zoologique, or embrace the local cultural heritage.
To be honest, the city does not boast the best sand beaches like other Caledonian Islands such as Ile de Pines and Lifou. However, the city does offer excellent cultural experience due to the fact that Noumea is a unique mix of local culture and European, particularly, French influence. Therefore, just wandering around and observing the local architecture can be a pleasant way to pass your time in the city.
Finally, it should be noted that Monday is a weekend in New Caledonia; thus, everything is closed. With most of the local shops, cafes and restaurants shut down, Noumea looks rather like a ghost city than a bustling touristic destination. Moreover, the tourist attractions will be closed as well on Mondays and some holidays such as Christmas Day and New Year. Before booking a cruise, check the itinerary to make sure the ship does not dock on Monday in Noumea.