Noumea plays little tricks on your mind. It looks just like a tropical island in the South Pacific but sounds and smells like a town in rural France.
Noumea is the capital city of the French territory of New Caledonia and is one of the largest ports in the South Pacific. It’s one of the most Westernised cities in the Pacific Islands (there are hotel chains and fast food outlets here, whereas we saw few hotels and only pop-up market stalls in Maré and Lifou) but tourism is still relatively contained. It’s a popular stop for cruise ships in the South Pacific though and even with just 1 day to explore you can get a good taste of the island, its people and its history.
Top 7 Things To Do In Noumea
Ouen Toro Look Out
A great place to start a day in Noumea is at the Ouen Toro Look Out. As the name suggests, this 128-metre high elevation offers panoramic views of the bays, islands and reefs surrounding Noumea and is a picturesque spot to stop for photos. History buffs will enjoy getting up close to the two cannons perched at the top of the hill that were installed by the Australian army in 1940.
The 3-hour Noumea Discovery tour we booked through our cruise ship (priced $64.99 per adult) took us to Ouen Toro but it can also be reached via the Tchou Tchou Train which circles the city. (Tickets cost $62.99 per adult for a 2 hour train ride.)
Museum Of New Caledonia
The Museum Of New Caledonia offers insights into arts, crafts, culture and traditions of the Oceanian and Melanesian people. Cabinets displaying clothing and household items from past and present offer a great insight into the Kanak culture. Only some descriptions are translated from the French though so you’ll have to use your imagination if your language skills are not quite up to scratch. Tickets to the museum cost just 200 francs and include entrance to the traditional thatched hut found in the gardens.
Asne Vata Beach
A short drive from the city centre is the long, golden sweep of Anse Vata Beach. There are a collection of shops, cafes and hotels along this tourist-friendly beach front, including Hilton Noumea La Promenade Residences and Le Méridien Nouméa Resort & Spa. During our visit on a Sunday there were local families enjoying picnics along the grass banks and sportier kinds renting wind-surfing and stand up paddle boards from vans parked up just behind the beach. We took our guide’s very good advice and headed to the Au Pain d’Antan Boulangerie for fresh baguettes and croissants, which tasted just as good as you would expect from a French territory.
There’s also a tourist information centre on the beach road with very helpful staff who can provide you with maps and further tips for day trips.
La Place Des Cocotiers
In the heart of the city, La Place Des Cocotiers is a European-style park and bandstand where people love to stroll and gather. On the Sunday morning of our visit there was a flea market in action throughout the gardens, with locals selling antiques, artwork and second-hard curiosities. There is also free wi-fi throughout the gardens, which comes in very handy if you have been feeling a bit disconnected on your cruise ship!
In between La Place Des Cocotiers and the cruise terminal there are a number of car parks and side alleys that have been given an artfy make over. We were so surprised to stumble across lots of Melbourne-style murals on this South Pacific Island but it really made my day to wander around and soak it all in.
Early in the morning a cluster of blue-roofed buildings near the marina are bustling with vendors selling meat, fish, arts and crafts. Of a weekend you may be lucky to spot local musicians playing ukuleles and other string instruments. Everything closes in the afternoon so be sure to head there first if you want to do some shopping.
(Note: there is also a small tourist market near the port but the quality of the items is fairly low and the price of snacks is high – we paid $10 for 2 cans of coke!)
Amedee Island Marine Reserve
Although not technically in Noumea town centre, a day trip to the Amadee Island Marine Reserve is one of the most popular excursions available at this port. Amadee Island is a tiny coral atoll located just 18 kms south of Noumea, where the water is so crystal clear you can see right through it. If you’ll lucky you might spot one of the large sea turtles that like to swim in this area. (The 8-hour Amadee Island Shore Excursion costs $185.99 per adult with Carnival Cruises and includes a buffet lunch and drinks.)