Grande Terre

Noumea (pop. 70,000), the capital of New Caledonia, lies on a hilly peninsula framed in wonderful sandy bays and with a fine view of small offshore islands. This most modern of all South Sea cities has a cosmopolitan flair, thanks to its large yacht harbor, its variegated crowd of Melanesians, Polynesians, Europeans mixed with tourists, its French restaurants, boutiques, well-supplied supermarkets and – last but not least – very high prices.

A day begins with cafe au fait and croissants or a baguette, before attacking the grid of streets that makes up the inner city. Right a the center of town is the elongated Place des Cocotiers, with its stand of generous royal poinciana (Delonix regia), whose ostentatious scarlet and orange flowers can only be seen in winter, unfortunately.

The 25-foot (8 m) fountain in the middle of the plaza was created by Malhoux in 1893. The gazebo hails back to the days when a French military band used to play here regularly. The Town Hall stands on the western edge, behind the statue of Vice-Admiral Olry, who served as governor from 1878 to 1880. The old Town Hall is a beautiful colonial building dating to 1875 and located on Rue Jean Jaures. At the southern end of Place des Cocotiers, on Rue du Gouverneur Sautot, is the Office du Tourisme, which provides good travel tips.

Elegant shops offering Parisian fashions, perfumes, wine and other French specialties, have established their supremacy over the streets around the plaza, in particular Rue de 1′ Alma. The latter runs into Blvd. Vauban, site of the simple Protestant Church, built in 1893, and its neighbor the Assemblee
Territoriale, the local house of parliament.

The Catholics were less modest. To the south of Blvd. Vauban (named after an architect whose grand opus includes an infamous penitentiary on the Ile de Re in France) is the majestic Cathedrale St. Joseph, built by convicts and inaugurated in 1894. It is the most visible hallmark of Noumea. Especially noteworthy are the stained-glass windows and its 604-pipe organ, the only one to be found in a church in the South Seas.

The Bibliotheque Bernheim on Avenue Marechal Foch has a very complete collection of books and articles published on New Caledonia. Two blocks southward, the Musee Neo-Caledonien documents the country’s history and the culture of the Kanaka, using various finds (e.g., petroglyphs and Lapita ceramics), masks, wood carvings, houses, canoes and an ethno-botanical garden. The itinerary can now continue either up Mont Coffyn to the southeast for a great view, or to the Baie de la Moselle in the west, where peddlers sell fruit, vegetables and fish (daily from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., best to visit weekends in the early hours).

The southern part of the Noumea peninsula is consists of fairly expensive neighborhoods and fine beaches to go along with them. Good hotels also provide tourists with accommodation. It’s a fine place to relax, swim or surf, but not quite the spot to discover the solitude and romance of the South Seas. The quarter is served by a public bus. If coming by car, you must take Rue de Sebastopol southwards and turn right onto Route Jules Gamier at the attractive La Louisiane restaurant on Baie de 1’Orphelinat. You soon arrive at Baie du Pecheur, with a yacht harbor, luxury apartments and an elegant shopping center. The real tourist quarter of Noumea begins in Baie des Citrons, which has a beautiful white sand beach. The spit of land known as Roche a la Voile (with lookout) is where Baie des Citrons becomes the beachlined cove of Anse Vata.

The Noum6a Aquarium is the special highlight here. Over 250,000 gallons (ca 1 million liters) of sea water are pumped into the basin daily. The aquarium offers a unique look into the rich underwater world of New Caledonia, including brightly-colored reef fish, octopi, sea snakes, nautilus snails and phosphorescent corals.

A plethora of hotels, restaurants, snack bars, souvenir shops and tour organizers make Anse Vata the veritable tourist center of Noumea. In the east of the cove stands the headquarters of the Commission du Pacifique Sud, an association of Pacific states founded for the promotion of trade and culture, where local handicrafts are often exhibited. The Club Mediterranee is just a few steps away.

The coastal road winds its way along the foot of Ouen Toro. This 410-ft (128 m) hill can be climbed in 15 minutes for a most rewarding view.

In the north, Noumea shows its industrial face. On the Pointe Doniambo sprawls the gigantic nickel smelter of the Societe Le Nickel.

The zoo and botanical gardens, the Pare Forestier, lies 3.5 miles (5 km) northeast of the center of town at the foot of Mt. Montravel (534 ft/167 m). This nature park is the last parcel of land in the greater Noumea area where the island’s natural vegetation has more or less survived. It includes two lakes and enclosures inhabited by native animals, above all birds such as the kagu and the rare Ouvea parakeet.

To the west of town is the ale Non and the town of Nouville. This erstwhile penal island was attached to the main island by a causeway in 1972. Some of the buildings of the old penitentiary have remained intact.

Kuendu Beach, with the Kuendu Beach Resort, is a very popular place for excursions. Fort Tereka, perched atop 402-foot (726 m) Mt. Tereka, provides a terrific view of the island and the surrounding sea.

Travel agents offer excursions to the offshore islands (regular ferry service), among others Hot Maitre (hotel resort), Hot Signal (ruins of a fort), Ilot La Reigniere (beautiful reef).

The attraction on little Amedee (15 miles/23 km south of Noum6a) is the metal Lighthouse, which was assembled in Paris in 1862, taken apart and then shipped to New Caledonia. It is one of the world’s tallest, standing a proud 179 feet (56 m). However, the lighthouse is no longer in operation, so you cannot enjoy a vigorous climb up 231 steps to the top. The island also has good swimming, snorkeling and diving.

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