Noumea is the capital of New Caledonia – it's the economic heart of this splash of French history and culture in the Pacific Ocean. It's casual and classy, with pretty bays, beaches and one of the largest lagoons on the globe. From altogether different beginnings as a French penal colony in 1853, today direct flights to Noumea originate in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, giving it a broader gateway to the rest of the world than its isolation may suggest. Brush up on your schoolyard French, pack your joie de vivre and come on over to explore.
There are several attractions in Noumea beyond the bays and amid the hibiscus and the bougainvillea. Learn about Noumea's history at the City Museum (Musée de la ville) and Museum of Maritime History (Musée de l’Histoire Maritime) and enjoy one of the most remarkable collections of Pacific artefacts in the Museum of New Caledonia. Just out of town is the Tjibaou Cultural Centre too, featuring the iconic wooden round houses of the region, an Oceanic cultures library and traditional dancing and music at select times. Snorkelling is popular in Baie des Citrons (Lemon Bay) and wind/kite surfers take advantage of the breezes of Anse Vata in the afternoons.
French, Asian, Italian and Pacific cuisine are among the offerings of Noumea's restaurants – but you'll find mainly French. Served on white linen table cloths, to take away, and all options in between. From wines and cheeses to baguettes at the boulangeries, crepes from the creperies and fresh food at the markets, this is also a top spot for seafood and tropical fruits. The resulting gastronomic creations can be quite incredible. Some of Noumea's best-known restaurants are in the attractive tourist area of Anse Vata. The city's main square, Place des Cocotiers, is also flanked by a variety of cafes and restaurants. And to drink? Try the kava while you're in town – it's a memory you'll not quickly forget.
Where to Stay
Noumea accommodation comprises offerings to sate the hostel budget and the top end of town splurge. Whether you're bunking down in a dorm or sipping cocktails on your balcony while enjoying the sea view, you'll find the local hospitality equally welcoming. Auberge De Juenesse has garnered good reviews as a squeaky clean backpackers with views over the city center to the sea. A popular mid-range property is Le Parc – it's handy to the beach, harbour, cathedral and central square and its lagoon pool is perennially inviting. The 5-star stable includes fine beachfront comforts at Le Meridien Noumea.
Most visitors aren't really concerned with Noumea's shopping opportunities – there are other attractions upon which to spend one's time. If you're itching to open your wallet, you'll find a colourful collection of islandwear, books, guides, crafts and CDs of local musicians. Market fans may appreciate a wander through the stalls gathered just off Rue Clemenceau, south of the town centre. Cheap food, arts and crafts are on sale daily from about 5–10am.
Noumea like a Local
There are 5 major groups comprising the locals of New Caledonia – all of which can be found in Noumea. These are Kanaks; descendants of North African and European prisoners; French nationals; Polynesian, Indonesian and Vietnamese immigrants. This creates a colourful fusion of culture and food. Noumea is the only city of reasonable size in New Caledonia and it's an ideal jump off point for further exploration of the mountainous interior or the surrounding reefs, lagoons and islets.