Pelotons of lycra-wearing men riding their $5000 road bikes down the main drag in Noumea at 6:30 am was not what I expected from a South Pacific island. It turns out you can’t keep the French from enjoying a good cycle, even if you plop them in South Pacific. We saw over 100 riders, some solo, some in groups of 15+, on a random Tuesday morning while we were waiting for the bus. New Caledonia is weird.
Unfortunately, our second full day did not bring great weather, even though my parents in Fiji had good weather. We started with an AM snorkel. Since it is winter in New Caledonia, the water is cold. With my wetsuit shirt, I lasted about 30 minutes, and Katy lasted a little longer in her summer wetsuit. The clouds were still there after we finished our snorkel, and we decided to go for a walk. The town was a lot more alive than the day before, a rainy Sunday. We ended up at the same supermarket, Casino, as the first day and restocked on some staples (including a selection of local beers). Just in case anyone cares about my opinion, Casino is a stupid name for a supermarket, especially in a city that actually has casinos.
Since we are experts, we grabbed another bus back to our hotel. There are taxis in Noumea but very few of them. It is next to impossible to just flag one down on the route. Uber has not yet reached most of the Pacific islands, including New Caledonia.
We ate a mixture of olives, cheese, cured meats, and baguettes for a late lunch. The weather was still not very nice, but we were determined to be outside, so we hung out on the beach chairs and read our books. The towels ended up migrating to on top of us since it was a tad chilly. We then cleaned up and went out for some beverages. Food and beverage in New Caledonia are not cheap. I would put prices a little higher than Hawaii. A beer pint of beer costs $9-12. We first went to the local brewery, 3 Brasseurs, and got a beer. We then migrated next door to another drinking establishment and got another round of beers. It was one of those places that calls itself a brewery but doesn’t actually brew any beer.
We ordered an appetizer plate, which ended up being enough food for dinner for the two of us, and they provided such an excess of cured meats that I probably took 1/3 of a pound home. It cost ~$75 for four drinks and the appetizer. We had an early night since we had early diving plans the following morning.
Booking a diving excursion was like pulling teeth. First, we tried calling all of the dive shops, and they would not answer their phones. Then we attempted to ask the concierge for help arranging diving, and no one was there the three times we inquired. The next day we found the concierge, and he turned out to not be helpful. We then walked to a booking office for one of the operators, and they were closed (even though the hours said they should be open). Then the next day I tried calling again, and one place said no dives until the weekend, and finally, one place said they were going the next day and to meet at the boat dock at 7 am, she even took my first name as a reservation.
We took the 6:27 am bus, which disgorged us a few minutes early, and so we had time to explore the local market. Eventually, the operator arrived a bit after 7 am, and we processed through. We then had to wait because the cook didn’t know we were going out that morning. Eventually, we headed out to Amadee Island, which is an island with a lighthouse built in France in ~1850 on Napoleon’s orders and shipped to New Caledonia in pieces, then assembled on the island. We went for two dives and explored the island. Luckily the sun came out for parts. Lunch was a very French experience. We were told that lunch was going to be fish. I immediately thought it was going to be an overcooked white fish. It turned out to be marlin cooked medium rare with a French Rochefort sauce.
We were pretty hungry by the time we got back to the port, and we decided to head back to the hotel for some more cheese and baguette, albeit with a fresh baguette.
I had forgotten to rent a car the previous night for the last day, and we were unable to do it that close to the rental time when we got in. The last day we did a combination of riding bikes, snorkeling, walking into town, and hanging out at the beach. It was a windy day with windsurfers and kiteboarders out in force, but a little sun did pop through which was welcomed.
We grabbed an airport shuttle at 8:30 am our last day which got us to the airport excessively early. We arrived well before check-in for our flight even opened. The Noumea International Airport was not a hopping place. Two early morning flights had already departed, our flight to Vanuatu and an Auckland flight we’re departing around noon, and a Tokyo flight left at midnight (it turns out New Caledonia is rather popular with Japanese tourists, but not Chinese tourists). Luckily we got near the front of the line for security when it opened, and it was a slow process. I got selected for explosives screening, which added five minutes to the process. We then made it through immigration and were on our way to Port Vila, Vanuatu after a short delay.