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Victor's and Barbara's Travel Diaries

New Caledonia 2014
In December 2014 we took a 2-hour flight from Brisbane to Noumea, in New Caledonia, for a one-week holiday. Our flight was due to depart at 8:45 pm, but was delayed 1.5 hours, so we arrived at Tontouta Airport around 1:30 a.m. the next morning. We picked up our hired car, a Toyota Yaris, and drove towards Noumea. We got horribly lost on the way, going round in circles in a dreadful slummy area of concrete apartments, not a blade of grass, heaps of litter everywhere, and mad dogs roaming the streets. We became very frightened! Fortunately we eventually found the only road out of this trap, and reached our hotel "Château Royale" at about 3:45 am. Our room was a luxurious suite with a balcony view of the lagoon.

Chateau Royale Hotel Noumea Boats by Anse Vata Beach, Noumea
Château Royale Hotel Noumea Boats by Anse Vata Beach, Noumea
We enjoyed a beautiful buffet breakfast on a terrace overlooking the beach and the pool. We swam, walked on the beach and explored the hotel surrounds. Later we explored the Anse Vata promenade. which is a pretty palm-lined grassy sea-front curving around the bay. Sadly, when seen close up, the promenade is somewhat littered and has tired, cracked concrete revealing civic neglect. We bought some supplies, including French wine, at a local shop, having decided to cook our own evening meal in our de-luxe suite.
Fort Teremba and the guillotine. La Roche pierce, near Poe Beach.
Fort Teremba and the guillotine La Roche Piercé, near Poe Beach.
After 2 nights in Noumea we drove north along the west coast. We discovered Fort Teremba, a historical monument which had interesting exhibits inside the old block-house, and a grisly guillotine in the yard.  It had served as a military fort, a prison, and a refuge for settlers when threatened by Kanak insurgency. We learned about the history of settlement and rebellion from 1855 to recent times. We then drove up to Bourraille and Poé  Beach. We saw the leaning rock and Turtle Bay. We had a picnic lunch in a pleasant wooded area by the beach, from which we could see the reef with the surf surrounding it. New Caledonia is encircled by a coral lagoon, the 2nd largest in the world.

From Poe Beach the reef is just visible There is a ranch at Koulnoue Hotel, with horses for hire.
From Poé Beach the reef is just visible There is a ranch at Koulnoué, Hotel, with horses for hire.

We left Bouraille driving east across the mountains. The scenery quickly became much lusher and greener, with steep valleys and rapid rivers. When we descended the slopes to the eastern coast we arrived in a different world of lush jungle and narrow windy roads lined with Kanak stalls selling their own agricultural produce. At Houailou we took a wrong turn which eventually reached the coast, but the sea was on our left, so we realized we were driving south.  We discovered that road signposting in New Caledonia is poor at its best, and totally absent in many places! We did a U-turn and headed north towards Hienghène where we had a hotel booked for 2 nights. We struggled with fatigue and fading daylight, as the journey was long and tortuous, the roads narrow and without white lines marking the edges or the centre.  We eventually arrived at our Koulnoué Hotel at around 7:15 pm.
Koulnoue Hotel near Hienghene, used to be a Club Med 20 years ago. Amazing coastal scenery at Hienghene, but spoilt by torrential rain.
Koulnoué, Hotel near Hienghène, used to be a Club Med 20 years ago. Amazing coastal scenery at Hienghène, but spoilt by torrential rain.

We woke on the morning of 14th December, Barbara's birthday, under a dark and foreboding sky. The sea was only a few yards from our hut door, and there were impressive high mountains in unusual shapes to landward. We drove into Hienghène where it started to rain. We stopped at a viewpoint from where we saw huge rocky mountains emerging sheer from the sea, wrapped in misty grey clouds. In the afternoon we read our e-books inside our room. In the evening we celebrated Barbara's birthday with a full-on multi-course buffet meal in the hotel dining area, washed down with some excellent Bordeaux.
This classical melanesian Kanak hut was in the cultural centre near Kone. Typical town high street, in Bouraille
This classical melanesian Kanak hut was in the cultural centre near Koné. Typical town high street, in Bouraille

During our 2nd night at Koulnoué, it rained very heavily with constant thunder and lightening. We were lying awake fearing we'd get flooded out, or that our road back across the mountains to the west coast would be blocked by storm damage. However, in the morning the road was OK, though it continued to rain heavily during the first half of our crossing. This road from Tiwaka to Koné is declared to be the most beautiful in the country. Sadly, the rain at first, then the narrow road with nowhere to stop or to do U-turns, and no advance warning of the few stopping places with viewpoints, caused us to miss out on all this reputed splendour, especially the "Rivière Koné". We arrived at our next hotel, "Koniambo" in Koné at about 4pm. We were very upset that the pool was closed for works, and we discovered that Koné is an ugly, dirty, and boring town, a real dump!  The hotels are obviously well-patronized by the wealthy mine workers and contractors at the nearby nickel mines, and not at all oriented to tourists. However, at the Hotel-de-Ville we met a very helpful gentleman who gave us information about local attractions, in particular, the 'Cultural Centre'. The next day we went there, and saw modern art works and sculptures by Kanak artists, and we snapped a Kanak thatched hut in the centre's grounds. The rest of the day we drove north to Voh and saw the beach there (no photos, not worthy), then south to Pouembout and saw a tiny old colonial stone house built around 1890. We took no photos at all in Koné, as there was nothing worth snapping! In the evening we enjoyed a "Pizza au feu de bois" at a very rustic restaurant near our hotel, run by a charismatic Sicilian man from Messina, who proclaimed his love for opera, especially Puccini.
In Foa we found a park with lovely melanesian wood sculptures. Suspension bridge in Foa
In Foa we found a park with lovely melanesian wood sculptures. Suspension bridge in Foa

We left Koné and headed south towards Noumea, passing through Bouraille and Foa. There was an old suspension bridge which the guide book said was designed by Gustav Eiffel, famed for his tower in Paris. However, we could not see any reference to Monsieur Eiffel on the plaques near the bridge itself. At about 3:30 pm we arrived in Noumea at our hotel, once again the 'Château Royale',  for our last night in New Caledonia.
This view of the Chateau Royale is from the top of Ouen Toro Hill. Lush forested hills near Mont Dore.
View of the Château Royale from the top of Ouen Toro Hill. Lush forested hills near Mont Doré.

On our last day, we drove up to the top of Ouen Toro Hill from where we obtained magnificent views all around the many bays and islands of Noumea. We then drove south past the fringes of Noumea towards Mont Doré. We discovered an old pretty mission church at 'Mission St.Louis', where there are still 12 sisters and 2 brothers running the mission. The cemetery there was quite interesting.  We drove around a very pleasant residential district in Mont Doré, with clean, tidy detached houses surrounded by spacious tropical gardens. This must be Noumea's middle/upper class area! Finally, very tired of driving and ready to go home, we went past the back of Noumea city, to Tontouta Airport, from where we boarded our plane bound for Brisbane at about 5:15 pm.

In summary, it was a mildly interesting holiday, we learned a lot, saw some nice scenery, but felt disappointed overall.  We certainly won't go there again, nor would we recommend New Caledonia to anyone else!