One of the closest overseas destination to Australia, New Caledonia is an ideal destination for Australians looking for a Pacific holiday with a difference, as its resident’s converse in French, whilst the island offers that tropical paradise experience synonyms with the Pacific Islands.
It was in 1774 that British explorer Captain James Cook discovered the island, naming it after his father’s native Scotland, but he never went on to claim it, and so the French took formal possession of the country in 1853 as a penal colony. Today however, it is a thriving tricolour-waving, Brie-eating French overseas territory and it is this that gives the country its charm.
Australians can experience the Pacific, only 2.5 hours from Sydney, 2 hours from Brisbane and less than 4 hours from Melbourne, but with a very distinct taste of France. It is a country where Melanesian tradition blends with French sophistication, a mix of the chic yet casual, très French but with laid-back island lifestyles and flavours, sifted together in the cosmopolitan capital of Noumea and providing some of the best dining in the region.
Noumea is a bustling capital with fine dining and fantastic shopping, from Chinatown’s colourful shops to the expensively elegant, air-conditioned boutiques on Rue de Sébastopol, selling French designer labels. Outside of the capital, New Caledonia’s landscape is a haven for naturalists, photographers, adventurers and those that just generally enjoy stunning scenery, from the rolling plains of la brousse (the bush), lush river valleys, the white sandy beaches of Isle of Pines, steep mountains coursed by tumbling waterfalls, cool rainforests, wild coastlines and the world’s largest coral lagoon.
The lagoon which surrounds New Caledonia is a place where marine treasures of all shapes and sizes lay waiting to be discovered – canyons and caves, exquisite coral, the smallest of tropical fish, turtles, sea snakes and sharks, while the ocean reflects every shade of blue you can imagine.
This year New Caledonia will be even more accessible to Australians waiting to discover its treasures, with Aircalin launching twice weekly direct flights from Melbourne to Noumea in June, increasing to three times a week in October. The recent addition of the Hilton brand and the development of the Sheraton Deva Resort and Spa, set to open later in 2014, means that New Caledonia can now offer even more great quality accommodation to Australians. It will be a busy year for New Caledonia and the locals are ready and waiting to welcome the visitors.
While Paris is home to some of the world’s best restaurants, Noumea is definitely the haute cuisine hub of the Pacific with over 150 restaurants catering to all tastes and budgets. Thanks to the luxuriant nature of traditional French food and the freshness of the local Melanesian fare, Noumea’s innovative chefs fuse contemporary tastes to perfection, marrying these unique cuisines in a seamless fusion of flavours.
Being an island in the Pacific, it will come as no surprise that seafood features on so many restaurants’ menus with freshly-caught prawns of every denomination, lobsters, oysters, marlin, mackerel, crab and mussels for delectable bowls of moules marinières. The market at Port Moselle in Noumea is one of the best places to pick up fresh seafood, caught only a few hours earlier by the local fishermen.
Local delicacies include Bougna, which is the traditional Melanesian dish. Bougna is a combination of chicken, lobster or fish with yams, bananas, sweet potatoes and coconut milk wrapped in banana leaves. The food is then steamed in an earth oven heated by hot stones. Bougna is served with a variety of other dishes, including seafood, coconut milk and tropical fruit.
An interesting specialty dish is Civet de Rousette or bat stew, a favourite with the locals. Other delicacies include small mangrove oysters (huitres de paletuviers) and a pastry filled with seafood and cream sauce (vol-au-vent de fruits de mer).
For a dining experience that’s a little different, try ‘table d’hotes’. Here, guests are welcomed into the homes of locals who serve meals of venison, wild pig, coconut crab and fish. This gives visitors the chance to sample some truly authentic food while you experience a taste of the local lifestyle and hospitality. The most popular ‘table d’hotes’ is at Mamie Fogliani, in Farino.
- Au P’tit Café: According to locals this restaurant is “one of the best in town”, the menu changes regularly but serves traditional French cuisine
- Restaurant Le 1881: A beach-side restaurant that enjoys a rich history, as it is located in the grounds of the former penal settlement dating back to the late 19th century. It is one of Noumea’s most exciting restaurants with a Sydney-trained mixologist behind the bar and a former Michelin-starred chef in the kitchen. The restaurant serves modern French-Pacific cuisine and has an extensive wine list
- Chocolats Morand: Located in the Latin Quarter of Noumea, Chocolats Morand is owned and operated by Patrick Morand, a chocolatier who trained in France and Switzerland. This is a traditional chocolate shop which produces hand-made, high quality chocolates in the true French tradition. Visitors can watch the chocolates being made at their shop in downtown Noumea
- Port Moselle Markets: are on daily, except for Mondays, you can take a bus each morning and arrive to find Kanak women selling fresh papaya, pineapple and passion fruit, while the French serve up amazing buttery croissants and steaming coffees. The seafood stalls sell freshly caught fish of all kinds.
- Comtesse Du Barry: This is a gourmet store in France that has opened an outlet in downtown Noumea, where you can stock up on a range of pâtes, terrines, foie gras, prepared duck cassoulets and desserts including soufflé, poached fruits and jellies. Comtesse du Barry also stocks an excellent selection of spirits and wines from its cellar
To find out more about New Caledonia, visit www.haveitall.com.au