✦ A jewel of the Pacific Ocean, New Caledonia’s immense encircling World Heritage-listed lagoon hosts the world’s second biggest coral reef and some 1600 species of tropical fish.
As two years of Covid-confinement begin to fade into the past, tourists everywhere are eagerly reviving their travelling ambitions. And so the time’s right to re-set our horizons, too: the destinations we most desire to visit.
Now, “same old, same old” is too repetitive, too tired.
Let's head to paradise: Nouvelle-Caledonie
Envisage a tropical climate where the weather’s not only for relaxing in the outdoors but ideal for a range of sports and adventure pursuits. Imagine consistently reliable temperatures and the certainty the sun will shine daily (barring fewer than 20 times a year). Enjoy that this paradise is reached in just two to two and a half hours’ flying time from Australia’s east coast - less than half to a third the six-hour trek to Bali.
New Caledonia - Nouvelle-Caledonie as this French territory is also known - has long been popular with niche travellers. But post-pandemic, it’s more easily accessible than ever, on at least seven return services weekly from Sydney and some four times a week out of Brisbane. Flights are provided by New Caledonia’s international airline Aircalin in codeshare with Qantas; other airlines, of course, offer domestic sectors to depart ex Sydney or Brisbane. Brisbane departures offer a shorter flying time, as little as two hours; Sydney is promoted as a 2.5-hour trip.
Few places around the globe with such a small population - fewer than 300,000 - offer visitors as much variety on land, in and on the sea, and above it as this blended nation of French descendants, indigenous Kanak people and several other smaller cultures who make up the New Caledonian community.
Take to the air in an ultralight flight ... fly through the skies on a paraglider … ride the wind with a billowing sail. Snorkel, dive, swim and fish in glorious translucent-to-azure waters. Cycle or go horse riding amid beautiful green hills and streams or use your own horsepower trekking along countless trails that stimulate the senses with their splendour. Then, camp where you will in the pure environment and peaceful surrounds of nature.
And, naturellement, this French-flavoured enclave is a foodie delight with a range of cuisines and fusion cuisine to suit all tastes. From fine dining to casual café experiences … in locations from waterside to aboard-boat to the golden sands of peaceful outer islands … to open-air market selections, patisseries and ice-creameries.
Then, too, nothing compares to French wine. Every imaginable choice, from the finest Champagnes, fragrant vintage reds and the most fashionable of white wines to spirits and liqueurs awaits in well-stocked cellars and bars for selection with dinner, on a picnic, at cocktail hour. There are tasting experiences to please the true connoisseur, right along to casual drinks to spice up the day and night.
Plus: there’s music, music, music. The organ-like yet lively notes of traditional, uniquely-French accordion melodies transported me on my last visit in Noumea right back to the pavements of Paris. It’s here too that I discovered popular French icon Michel Sardou, adding his charming, often “adventurous”, love songs to those of other famous chanteurs - Serge Gainsbourg, for example. Equally, tourists enjoy perhaps most of all thrilling Melanesian harmonies reminiscent of many Pacific territories, matched with upbeat rhythmic original compositions on guitar and other strings that lure everyone to their feet, dancing and toe-tapping to joyous French-Kanak chants.
One other aspect of New Caledonia that grabs attention is the surprisingly modest cost of flight-hotel packages for an exotic international destination – and that many are on offer for booking until March 31, 2023! Just one example is at the hotel Le Lagon, near to lovely Anse Vata beach at the centre of the capital, Noumea, with return flights ex Sydney and Brisbane, plus seven nights’ accommodation and all (French-style, of course!) buffet breakfasts for $1740 per person twin-share.
Bonuses include free hotel gym, jacuzzi, pool, sauna, Pilates lessons, aqua-gym lessons, yoga and stretching classes plus 1-hour of tennis or beach tennis per room daily as well as a return island trip and 250Mb internet use/24 hours plus 15 per cent discount off massage and treatments at Le Spa Institut Le Lagon. For more, visit ncvoyages.com.au/packages-from-australia-all (Le Lagon has some “accessible room” availability; inquire directly with the hotel if required).