Bára & Kuba on the road

New Caledonia: vanilla from Lifou and vibrant Noumea

New Caledonia: vanilla from Lifou and vibrant Noumea

When we’d been planning our trip to Caledonia we’d decided that it would be worth including a visit of one of those tiny little islands near Grande Terre. After looking at our options and trying to find the best fit for our schedule we picked Lifou, one of Loyalty Islands.

View of Lifou from the plane on the way to Noumea
View of Lifou from the plane on the way to Noumea

From Great South we headed early in the morning straight to the Magenta airport in Noumea. The flight with Air Caledonia to Lifou was definitely not the cheapest transport option we could have chosen ($450 NZD return for 2 people) but given that we didn’t have too much time it was better than spending hours on a ferry. Moreover, I liked the idea that we were going to have a view of islands from the bird perspective.

Coast of Lifou
Coast of Lifou

The flight was smooth and we had a really good view of the mountain range on Grand Terre as well as island’s coastlines. Shades of blue between deep and shallow spots in the ocean were amazing.

Blue sky and crystal clear water of Lifou
Blue sky and crystal clear water of Lifou

To travel easily around Lifou we’d booked a car. After arrival, we managed to find our rental but a guy who ran the place obviously didn’t know much about our booking. Still, during a few minutes, he got a car with a full tank from somewhere. When we asked him about lit warning signs on the car’s dashboard which were indicating that something is not quite right he just said: “No problem”. Well, in the end, he was right, we wouldn’t have any car related issues on the way, but at that moment it made us a bit nervous.

Colonial architecture
Colonial architecture

From the airport, we drove to a vanilla house near Hnathalo. The minute we arrived we knew it’s a trap. A tourist trap. As a large group of tourists from a nearby cruise ship queued for snack. Jakub queued as well and got a free biscuit. We had a quick look at the gift shop and decided that it’s not for us and we rather move on without a tour around a plantation.

An old well no longer in use
An old well no longer in use

We headed down to the south until we reached the coast. As well as on the mainland it surprised us how many wreckages we passed. Most of them were old busses.

Bus wrecks were all around the island
Bus wrecks were all around the island

Along the coast, we stopped at a couple of beautiful white sand beaches. We chose one of them and went snorkeling. The water was crystal clear but pretty chilly. We definitely expected it to be a bit warmer. But fish and coral were beautiful.

Ready for snorkeling
Ready for snorkeling

We spend a night at Chez Waka. The place was lovely. It had all we needed – a clean bathroom, an equipped kitchen, a beach just a couple of meters away. We stayed in our tent but the place also offered an accommodation in tribal style houses. The only con was that Jakub wanted to try a local specialty – le crabe cocotier – which I’d asked for when booking but a lady who owned the place had probably forgotten. Une catastrophe grande!

Sunset on the beach at Chez Waka
Sunset on the beach at Chez Waka

On the other hand, the next day she organized a private tour to a small vanilla house just a few minutes away. In the morning, a woman welcomed us to her house and guided us through her plantation. A conversation was a bit tough as she only spoke French but with a help of Google translator we managed to ask questions and learned some interesting facts about vanilla. In the end, we didn’t avoid being offered some souvenirs to buy but it was much nicer than the vanilla house we had seen the previous day.

On vanilla plantation
On vanilla plantation

When we finished the tour we still had a couple of hours before taking a flight back to the main island. So, we visited a few interesting spots around the island, had lunch on the beach and a short dip in the cool water before we headed to the airport.

Bara attempting pollination
Bara attempting pollination

In Noumea, we booked an accommodation through Airbnb. The place was very basic but it had all we needed and not too far from city center. After checking in, we drove through the city to Baie des Citrons. It is an easily accessible, sheltered beach and as it was weekend there was a plenty of people enjoying nice weather, jumping in the water or just sitting on the sand and eating an ice-cream.

We grabbed our snorkeling gear and jumped into the water. Corrals were a bit further from the coast but we saw different species of fish and Jakub spotted a turtle. He didn’t talk about anything else for rest of the day. In fact, he still talks about the turtle from time to time.

Traditional Kanak houses
Traditional Kanak houses

Later in the afternoon, we decided to visit the Tjibaou Cultural Centre. The centre itself is located aside from the city and it is a combination of a museum, performance space and park. The Mwakaa area was an interesting insight into Kanak architecture. It displays different types of Kanak tradition houses as their design differs depending on the region.

Tjibaou Cultural Centre
Tjibaou Cultural Centre

Back to the car, we walked via Kanak Pathway which winded through the park. It was designed to create an educational journey of native flora and its importance in Kanak culture. Definitely a nice stroll. I liked the design of the main cultural center building which supposed to blend Kanak tradition and contemporary art but unfortunately, we found most of the exhibitions inside quite boring. So, not really sure if the visit was worth the money.

Last dinner in Noumea
Last dinner in Noumea

We wrapped up our trip with an amazing dinner in one of the restaurants located along the promenade at Baie des Citrons before heading back to our accommodation.

See you next time New Caledonia
See you next time New Caledonia

Next day we had time only for a quick coffee at L’Annexe at Coconut Palm Square but then we had to go straight to the airport to catch a plane back to New Zealand.

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