Travel is a funny thing. I am sitting here, our last morning in Nouméa, at the Babar Cafe while ‘The Greatest Love of All,’ plays in the background. Yep, that Babar. The cute and curious elephant from French children’s books. The ocean quiet in front of me as it too wakes up for the day. I may be in New Caledonia, a place I learned about roughly 3 months ago but it feels oddly familiar. That is until I am brought back to reality when the server asks me what I want in mumbled French.
A group of water aerobic participants start their morning jog in the shallow ocean. Small water bottles used as weights as they pump their arms back and forth. It’s cold so I can only imagine the chill of the water. This happens every morning minus weekends. Next, they’ll pull out pool noodles as they work their way through the routine. Swimmers lap back and forth just beyond this enthusiastic group.
We have been on the road for two months now. The last two weeks in New Cal. Todd is enjoying his last happy hour with his team. Now mind you it is 7am here as he enjoys a libation in celebration. It is well deserved no matter the time.
Nouméa is interesting especially at Baie des Citrons (Lemon Bay) where we are staying. Super modern. Full of Australian and French tourists. The Lemon Bay Cafe quickly became our favorite locale. I blame the pain au chocolat which is hand down the best I have ever eaten. That’s saying a lot after living in France.
Beach side Nouméa is mostly void of any signs of the indigenous population or culture. You could pick it up and transport it to the beaches of Hawaii or along the Carolina coast. After experiencing Tahiti which was abundant with cultural references and identity, the beach front of Nouméa, while lovely, feels a bit sterile.
In an attempt to learn more about the island we spent some time at the Second World War Museum which was fascinating. In a short time, over 70,000 US troops arrived on the shores of the island. It became a critical base for the US and its allies. The island served as a storage base for all the essentials needed for warfare as well as home base for Pacific training and deployment. Much of the infrastructure you see in New Caledonia today harks back to the strong US presence during WWII.
For a taste of culture, we took the bus out to the Tjibaou Cultural Centre. Roughly 8km north of the city center, the bus took about an hour. The Centre provides an introduction to the art and history of the local Kanak people. The museum, designed by Renzo Piano, architect of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, is breathtakingly unique. It is a stunning display of the merger between culture and architecture. While the round trip journey was long, a trip to the Tjibaou Centre is a must for those visiting Nouméa.
And on the completely opposite front, we decided to spend three nights in an over water bungalow. Bora Bora made the over water bungalow famous and we had been thinking of indulging in this luxurious experience since we landed in Tahiti. Plus, we were celebrating our 15 year anniversary.
But whoa, unsurprisingly, they are super expensive. Insert Todd’s genius idea to look into the options for over water bungalow in New Caledonia. And viola, at a quarter of the cost of those in French Polynesia, we booked ourselves a bit of luxury at The Doubletree Hilton Nouméa Ilot Maitre’s. This is not our typical M.O. but damn, I loved it!
We were able to descend the stairs from our bungalow and dip directly into the lagoon. We snorkeled with no less than 25 sea turtles. There were squid sightings at night and even a no-swim day when there was a tiger shark sighting. And when it rained, we drank wine (pro tip: bring rations with you as it is insanely expensive to drink at the resort), read and indulged in a couple episodes of Chicago Fire. Yep, we are still working our way through this 2016 drama. Highly recommend the entire over water bungalow experience.
We also discover that salsa is super popular in Nouméa. Super slow salsa but salsa none the less. We actual had a difficult time dancing to the slow beat. Music in general is abundant. All of the restaurants, each covered in tightly draped canvas coverings for the mostly outdoor seating, are lined up one next to the other in a long row almost like fancy little cubicles. Each offers a unique cuisine and environment. Uncle Ho’s Vietnamese was an instant favorite.
Every night music blares from the various bars and restaurants. Oddly, the sounds don’t compete against each other as much as one would think. Actually, the first evening we were in Nouméa, we danced all night long to the live band at La Guinche. I forgot how much I miss live music.
New Caledonia has been interesting but I am ready to move onto the next adventure.