South Pacific Series - #5 Nouméa, New Caledonia

Dec 23 (Fri) Vanuatu to New Caledonia

The sun was barely up, but the people of Vanuatu were already up and starting their day. At 5:30am, I boarded another propeller plane. Destination – Noumea, New Caledonia. Technically, New Caledonia is still part of French territories, despite the fact that there has been recent attempts to become independent. I wonder if they also get the benefits of EU country citizens. Just being on the flight brought me straight back to modern civilization. I was served a gigantic bluberry muffin, baked to perfection.

The flight was short, just around 1.5hr. Descending into New Caledonia was spectacular. The island has a long range of mountains. It is much larger than Efate in Vanuatu, I would say it probably takes you at least a full 24hrs to circle this island. It was only 8am in Noumea and immigration was pretty empty. The airport was large and modern with glass window panes, you can immediately feel the influence of the French. Everything was new like a tier 1 international city. Signs displayed 3 languages – French, English, and Japanese. There are direct flights from Osaka and Tokyo, I guess that’s why New Caledonia is so popular amongst Japanese tourists.

The currency here is about the same exchange rate as the Vanuatu Vatu (similar to Japanese yen to USD). They don’t use euros, but they actually use Pacific Francs here. The money is just as colorful as the ones in Fiji - bright tropical colors with tropical animals printed on the money. I’m definitely adding this to my collection.

The drive from La’ Tontoula International Airport to Noumea’s south end seaside was a good hour. I was drifting in and out of sleep and just exhausted. But I remember the incredibly scenery of New Caledonia - just mountain after mountain with very distinct ridges along the edges. The road wound along the way against the foot of the mountains. I got slightly car sick, or maybe it’s cabin fever since I’ve been so spoiled with fresh air from the ocean.

Ramada Hotel was just a few minutes’ walk from the beach side. From the hotel room balcony you can see a racecourse for horse racing, thought I don’t think they’re doing any racing over the Christmas holidays. The room itself had a very nice kitchen and bar area, fully inclusive of cooking utensils, a fridge, and microwave. It’s one of the more expensive hotels, but also once of the nicer ones. Wifi here is also much faster than the other 2 islands, though the hotel puts a limit on it. Because I was working on my vlogs and blog, I purchased unlimited internet access for 2100 Pacific Francs.
Shortly after emptying my suitcase, I went for a 2hr exploration around town. First I head down to the beachfront. There were several beaches, all sandy. People were swimming, tanning, and also doing a lot of wind/water sports. It’s really windy here, so kite surfing and wind surfing is really popular in Noumea. You can easily spot at least 20 wind surfers on a single beach here. From the South, I head West and soon hit a small harbor port. There parked sail boats of all sizes, and 2 really big war ships. 

At the port area was also a small mall complex. There were some shops selling clothes, wine, spa/massage products, and a Casino Supermarket. I found everything I needed there! It felt like any supermarket back in the states with groceries and drug store products. My red hair faded to almost an orangey blonde, and thankfully they had red hair dye from a German brand. I also picked up some more sunscreen, aloe gel for sunburn relief, and also got some short bread/dried banana for snacking. New Caledonia law regulates alcohol purchases during public holidays, so all the beer/wine were chained up after 12pm. I guess this is a good thing for restaurants and bars to make more business.

After the supermarket, I walked up a hill that crosses east and west of this area. You can overlook the port and beach from the top. There was also a park nearby where people can relax and enjoy a picnic. At this point it was about 2pm and the sun was blazing down. I made my way back to the hotel, took a quick shower and headed out for an afternoon lunch.

There was a small plaza full of restaurants on the Southwest side just before the sailboat port. American food seems to be popular here, and you’d see bikers, guitars, and even the California and Texas flag. Some also served Spanish, Italian, and French food. I had some oysters and hot dogs (interesting combo right?) along with a Monteith’s Beer from New Zealand.

I spent the rest of evening just relaxing and catching up on sleep. Some more island adventures tomorrow!

Dec 24 (Sat) Ilot Maitre, New Caledonia

I woke up around 8am with a burning sore throat. I think the travel sickness has hit me. Every time I go on a long haul journey, I always get a sore throat/fever for 2-3 days. At least it is in the comfort of New Caledonia.

It’s slightly cloudy, which is perfect for time on a nearby island. People have commented on trip adviser that spending time on an island when it’s sunny and blazing hot in New Caledonia is kind of stupid. The sun is pretty harsh here. Our boat taxi arrived for Maitre island. It was 2800 Pacific Francs per person for around trip, and upon purchase you needed to state when you want to return. Time changes are not accepted. You could also choose to go to duck island for 1200 Pacific Francs, but it’s a much smaller island and more commercial. For Maitre island, almost everyone brought kite-surfing gear. The front of the boat was loaded with surf boards and kites in backpacks. There were also some families that were staying on the resort on that island.

The boat ride was just about 10-15 mnutes, and the water again clear at the shallow end and quickly turns into a deep aqua color. To walk around the island is only about 45 minutes. It’s a long and slender island, and it’s width is only a 2 minute walk. On one side is the boat port and the other is just a sand beach occupied by many many kite-surfers. Because it’s a volcanic island, just before the sandy beach meets the water, there is about a meter of sharp volcanic rock formation. You can also see an abundance of fishes in the water, even a stingray in the shallow areas. 

I had some of the juice and dried fruit then lied down on the beach for a nap. I was just watching the kite surfers and a kid playing nearby. The kid started to approach me but then stopped halfway, he seemed to have spotted something in the sand. So I got up to get a closer look, and turns out it was a snake about a meter long with brown and white stripes. I assume it’s harmless since the parents of the kid weren’t alarmed at all. The snake slithered along and slowly disappeared into the bushes.

At 3:30pm, the return water taxi picked us up. There was this restaurant near the Southeast side plaza that served Flammekuchen (thin pizza like dish), however food wasn’t served until 5pm. This was a perfect opportunity to stock up at the supermarket again, this time with 3 freshly made baguettes. Since tomorrow is the 25th, most stores will be closed. We had made a reservation for dinner at a steak restaurant, but nothing for lunch. I guess lunch will be French sausage with butter on some baguettes! I also got some potato soup and short bread. Hopefully this will help me feel better from my “travel cold”.

Back at the hotel, the sun was setting and the sky was a beautiful orange pink color. It’s time to restore the red in my hair. At this point, the sun and the salty seawater had bleached the color of my hair and now it’s this blondish orange. The hair dye I got was this German brand. You would’ve thought that if it’s French New Caledonia, all the products here would be L’Oreal. The guide on this hair dye also had no English, just German, French, Italian, and Spanish. Good thing I read a little German.

After battling with the hair dye for another hour or so, my hair was finally back to a really nice dark red color. The most challenging thing is to not soak any of the white towels with the shower water or my wet hair. Red color dye continues to wash out for about a week or so since the particles are smaller than the hair follicles it doesn’t stay in as well. I had my dark blue towel from Billabong to prevent the wet red water dripping hair from staining any of the sheets and towels. Ramada charges around 45 Euros for a damaged towel, I might as well buy a new one for myself.

Before bed, I had some baguette with French sausage, some potato soup and short bread. Let’s hope this cold goes away soon.

Dec 25 (Sun) New Caledonia

It’s Christmas! And I’m stuck with a cold. I dragged myself up for some breakfast, but quickly went back to bed to rest. I couldn’t sleep more so I just stayed in bed and continued to work on editing my vlogs. The day goes by really quickly when you edit vlogs, they’re more time consuming then you’d imagine. 

I only left the hotel room around 5pm to head down to the beachfront. I had my reindeer antlers on for some crazy photos. The sun was setting, so all you could see is my silhouette, with the antlers. I looked like I was some village witch, summoning for something, a beautiful sunset perhaps.

 The steak restaurant was packed at just 6:30pm. Almost all tables were reserved! I guess it’s one of the hottest places in town. Here, the steak is cook by yourself. You choose your cut, which is then served on a hot stone. Those blocks were so heavy, when I tried to turn the side, I could only lift it just a few centimeters above the table. Whereas the waiters were zipping around with 2 in their hands. This restaurant was also filled with Japanese tourists, I guess it’s because the menu had Japanese written all over it. When ordering my sides, I was trying to ask for the vegetable of the day. The waitress was French and she couldn’t quite get the word in English. She said “It’s kind of like mashed potato, but not. You know… you have that a lot in Halloween?” ohhh so it’s mashed pumpkin! I love it that here in New Caledonia, the French excuse you for not speaking French and feel bad themselves for not knowing more English. It’s a much less snobbier version of Paris. At first I was going around apologizing that I didn’t speak French! They would just laugh and tell me it’s alright.

The next day is yet another really early flight, headed back to Fiji for a layover, then onto Samoa. 

Dec 26 (Mon) New Caledonia to Fiji

Damn travel cold is still here. And also, our shuttle bus forgot to arrive. Perhaps the driver drank too much yesterday. The hotel gave us the cash back and ordered a cab. It costs around 10,000 Pacific Francs to get to the airport. The shuttle costs only half of that, not sure if the hotel will make up for it? It would be pretty sh*tty if they charged the shuttle cost regardless the fact that the shuttle company made a mistake.

The one-hour drive back to the airport wasn’t as bad as I remembered. I soon fell asleep, and woke up to the rising sun outside of departures, La’ Tontoula International Airport. The departure gates of this airport were set up beautifully. It was this round dome shape with sky bridges leading to the flights. The dome was glass windowpanes all the way from the ground up. In the distance you see the mountain ranges sitting majestically.

This was a pretty large flight, an Airbus A330 I think? 3 rows on each side, bound for Wallis island with a stop over in Nadi. Most travellers were French or Fijian. I had reserved my seats near the front and at the window, but somehow New Calin messed up my seats for my ticket, so now I’m stuck in a middle row on a middle seat. Good thing it’s just a 2hr flight.

We landed in Nadi around 12pm, but couldn’t get off the plane for another 30 minutes while they finished ground paperwork and refueled the plane. Originally we were going to book a car & driver to take us up the mountains to the villages, but there’s not enough time, plus I’m still really ill. Mercure shuttle buses were also nowhere to be found, but information desk helped to call one. This was déjà vu, Fiji all over again. Same immigration, same baggage claim, same customs, and same Rosie Tours, all the same except that the weather is beautiful and the sun was blazing in the sky.

During transfer days on long vacations,  I try to stay near the airport and not go too crazy with the hotel costs. Mercure was about $600 HK a night, and man that place is run down. I guess you get what you pay for, but I was expecting a bit more. The lobby was dark, no one in the restaurants. Most guests were from China or India, and no offense but they were pretty rude. This was a very big contrast from Sofitel down at Denarau pier ($1,500 a night). The room had tiled floors, no towels to be found, no wifi, and the room smelled like weird spices. But whatever, I was too exhausted and too sick. I knocked out for a nap on the bed, with the curtains opened and sun coming into the room.

Most restaurants in town were closed since it’s still a public holiday. I woke up around 5pm and headed to Port Denarau for some delicious Fijian beef soup. Since time wasn’t an issue, we took the public bus to Nadi bus terminal then changed to the dollar bus for Denarau island. The bus was quite new and a pleasant to ride. Drivers and passengers were friendly, and a tropical music was playing, I guess the driver’s favorite.

Port Denarau was packed, and everyone was out for dinner. In the far back corner of the restaurant, just outside on the port deck, there was a local band playing. Funnily they were playing some Fijian music. I was taken back to Southern United States with some country music playing. It was a really interesting mix, as they were offering free Kava. I thought Kava would taste like alcohol, but instead it had this herbal taste. Supposedly it comes from the juice of the roots of some plant and it gives off a numbing effect when drunk. After a cautious sip, I downed the cup, and felt fine the entire night. The beef soup was as good as I remember it. A patch of rain passed by but soon stopped after 5 minutes. A vibrant rainbow appeared across the harbor as the orange sun sets in the background. It was like a scene straight out of a painting.

The following morning, I’ll have to take the hotel shuttle around 5am to catch my flight to Samoa. Somehow I’m managing to function with 4-5hrs sleep, perhaps it’s the anticipation and excitement. 


No comments:

Post a Comment