On the morning we arrived in Noumea, there was an audible excitement around the cruise. We were arriving somewhere with people, with buildings and with a lot of history. The possibilities of a great day was endless.
Due to mum’s mobility restrictions, there were not a lot she could do on the sandy beaches of Isle of Pines and Mystery Island. Being somewhere that had roads and transport clearer pleased her and for her benefit, we decided to sign up for the ‘Tchoo Tchoo Train’ tour, a two hour drive around day tour in a little train-like vehicle. From its carriages, we passed the city centre, through the glamorous stretch of Port of Morselle and Orphelinat, sandy beaches of Lemon Bay, up the hill to Canons du Ouen Toro for a panoramic view of this most modern city of the South Pacific.
Throughout the tour, we passed colonial housing that still line the streets of Noumea, creating an European atmosphere with a distinct Islander feel.
After the tour, we sat down for lunch and I had the opportunity to practice my French and enjoy the sounds of the European tongue that I feel so comfortable with. Then, we took the rest of the afternoon to stroll the streets of Latin Quarter, having coffee and pastries and watched youth practice hip hop in the park.
On first impression, Noumea was a little bizarre. I was clearly in the South Pacific, where a few islands along would be locals in grass skirts around open pits of earth oven feasting on the most basic root plants and fish from the sea. Here, in Noumea, it was France. Yes, I am well aware that New Caledonia is a French Territory, however, having seen rural island life it was hard not to make the comparison.
Noumea had everything. Grand colonial estates, French style traffic lights, bakeries and patisseries that sold the most crispy of croissants and Cafe-au-Lait and it was french and french everywhere. French expats played Boules in the park while the Islanders sat and gossiped while sharing their food.
It is a place I could really embrace.
I had liked Noumea, and was sad to leave it. I wished I had more time to get to know it a bit more, get under its skin and understand its people. Alas, a cruise vacation did not allow these extra times to be had, as the 5pm curfew to be back on the ship limited our exploring opportunities. It isn’t all doomed however, as it gave me a small glimpse of life on Noumea, to prepare me for bigger adventures later.
Perhaps I might spend a few weeks here to perfect my French next year? Who knows!