A French Par­adise

Let's Travel - - FRONT PAGE - By Carla Gros­setti

1 Prox­im­ity:

The fact that the pretty is­lands of New Cale­do­nia are ac­ces­si­ble with­out a long-haul flight makes the French ter­ri­tory even more at­trac­tive as a des­ti­na­tion. Those with an itch to travel will be sat­is­fied in just over 2.5 hours - which is the flight time to get to New Cale­do­nia from Auck­land. The archipelago in­cludes the main is­land of Grande Terre, The Loy­alty Is­lands, The Ch­ester­field Is­lands, The Belep archipelago and the Isle of Pines as well as a few more se­cluded islets. Bon­jour Nou­velle Cale­donie!

2 Prac­tice your French:

While there are 28 Kanak lan­guages spo­ken in New Cale­do­nia, French is the of­fi­cial lan­guage and it is spo­ken even in the most re­mote vil­lages. Prac­tice la langue Fran­caise as you hag­gle for hand­i­crafts at the stalls that fringe the main Noumea Mar­ket, where the fu­sion of French and Me­lane­sian flavours is every­where. De­spite be­ing 16,136 km east of met­ro­pol­i­tan France, you will still find stalls de­voted to sell­ing but­tery crois­sants and killer Croque mon­sieurs. The tra­di­tional part of the mar­ket is where you will find freshly baked bread, fruit and veg­eta­bles, meat and fish. Oh, and there’s free WiFi. Noumea Mar­ket, Port Moselle Ma­rina. Open daily 5am to 11am.

3 Scuba dive in wa­ters off the Iles de Pins:

Home to tur­tles, fish of ev­ery stripe and colour­ful reefs, snorkelling and div­ing in the warm wa­ters off the Isle of Pines is hard to beat. Make a bee­line for Bay de Ouameo, which is like a gi­ant un­der­wa­ter aquar­ium with 21 dive spots that in­clude dra­matic drop-offs, passes, walls and caves. More ex­pe­ri­enced divers can up the adren­a­line with a night dive or fresh­wa­ter cav­ing ad­ven­ture. Ouameo Bay is lo­cated at the north­west end of the Isle of Pines and is home to the Gadji Tribe. Ku­nie Scuba Cen­tre also wel­comes non-divers to ogle the reef with gog­gles, fins and snorkel.

4 Mau­rice Bay, on the Isle of Pines:

Nowhere is that jux­ta­po­si­tion of cul­tures on the Isle of Pines more ev­i­dent than at the Statue of St Mau­rice, which com­mem­o­rates the first Catholic ser­vice ever to take place on the is­land on Au­gust 15 1848, fol­low­ing the ar­rival of the first mis­sion­ar­ies. The statue is guarded by a fence of hand-carved totems made by all the clans on the Isle of Pines. There are more totems down by the wa­ter, which when grouped to­gether, form a won­der­fully weath­ered sculp­tural bar­ri­cade. Mau­rice Bay is one of the stop-offs on an is­land minibus tour driven by lo­cals who only speak a smat­ter­ing of English.

5 For a taste of cui­sine Cale­doni­enne:

Join hun­gry hordes of lo­cals at Perle Deram in Noumea for a serv­ing of bougna. The word for the tra­di­tional feast dish of the Kanak peo­ple means ‘bun­dle’ and the aro­matic ba­nana-leaf pack­age com­bines chicken, lob­ster or fish with yams, ba­nanas and sweet pota­toes cooked in co­conut milk in an earth oven. For those af­ter French cui­sine, try Chez Toto in the Latin Quar­ter where you can sam­ple sig­na­tures such as ter­rine of foie gras and calf’s head with sauce gribiche. Aux Delices de Noumea is worth a visit for its range of freshly baked breads, rain­bow of mac­arons, crois­sants and whim­si­cal cakes.

6 Kayak be­low lime­stone rocks:

Lo­cated on the east coast of Grande Terre, the Lin­der­alique Rocks are loveli­est at dusk when pink light paints the sky. Keen kayak­ers can slice through the turquoise seas to the Grotte de Lin­der­alique, a large cav­ern in one of the rocks. The jagged struc­ture rises up to 60m out of the sea in the na­ture park, which starts east of Hienghene and con­tin­ues to the Bay of Hienghene. Don’t miss the Poule Cou­veuse - or the Brood­ing Hen - the most fa­mous of the dra­matic rock for­ma­tions.

7 Re­flect on New Cal’s past:

The spec­tac­u­lar Tjibaou Cul­tural Cen­tre (Rue des Ac­cords de Matignon) de­signed by renowned Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Renzo Pi­ano is

worth a visit in its own right. While the Mu­seum of New Cale­do­nia presents the colo­nial history of the archipelago, this new con­tem­po­rary cul­tural institution is more fo­cused on hon­our­ing the in­dige­nous per­spec­tive and cel­e­brat­ing the Kanak iden­tity.

8 Enjoy a day trip to Amadee Is­land:

This small but per­fectly formed speck of an is­land is lo­cated just off the south west coast of Noumea and is part of the New Cale­do­nia Bar­rier Reef - the world’s largest la­goon. A day trip to this UNESCO her­itage site - voted the No.1 at­trac­tion in New Cale­do­nia - presents an op­por­tu­nity for ev­ery­thing from beach­comb­ing un­der blue skies to glass-bot­tomed boat rides, snorkelling tours and a sump­tu­ous buf­fet lunch. Yes in­deed it is a post­card-wor­thy lo­ca­tion - es­pe­cially when you can send your hand-writ­ten mes­sage from the small­est post of­fice in the world.

9 Take a stroll around Mare:

Mare is the sec­ond largest of the four Loy­alty Is­lands and it has a wild un­tamed beauty about it. A pop­u­lar port of call with the Car­ni­val Cruise Lines and P&O Cruise ships, the rus­tic love­li­ness of Yed­jele Beach is just a 15-minute bus ride from the main vil­lage. There are thatched huts that line the beach where you can buy a beer or have your hair braided. Join the lo­cals walk­ing up the beach at an un­hur­ried pace and marvel at the 50 shades of aqua­ma­rine.

10 Tread lightly through Grande Terre:

The more in­trepid should tackle the Grande Ran­don­nee trail, which snakes some 100km through an un­du­lat­ing land­scape that starts in Prony and heads north to Dum­bea. While the stupidly fit might enjoy set­ting off on the trail in its en­tirety, you can also di­vide the walk into eight con­nect­ing hikes, which can be walked over sev­eral days. While the trails start out at the so-called turquoise coast, it con­tin­ues along a shrub-dom­i­nated habi­tat be­fore wind­ing into an­cient wood­lands. Ornothol­o­gists take note: keep your peep­ers peeled for the Cagou, the en­dan­gered bird that is also the em­blem of New Cale­do­nia. Horse-rid­ing en­thu­si­asts can also clip-clop along this great hik­ing trail.

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