I guess most of the point of going on a cruise is enjoying the ship-board life, and while on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas we certainly did that, but the cruise we took stopped off at two points – the Isle of Pines and Noumea – so we were keen to check out both places. The Isle of Pines is part of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France, and lies about 100 kms south east of Noumea. It is very small and renowned as a tropical paradise, being hugely popular for snorkeling and scuba diving in its clear, translucent waters. Sadly for us, the day we landed was dreary, grey and wet, with almost constant rain. We had a brief wander around, but it wasn’t long before the comfort and dryness of the ship’s bar beckoned us back aboard.
Our next port of call was the city of Noumea, the capital city of New Caledonia. I awoke as we were docking and, keen to get my first glimpse of the city, headed out on to our balcony to be met with the imposing and unlovely sight of the large nickel smelter which sits on the edge of Noumea’s harbour. Apparently New Caledonia is the repository of about 25% of the world’s nickel deposits – who knew?
The Bloke and I decided against taking one of the many day trips offered on board and chose instead to wander around the city, discovering it for ourselves. Perhaps this was a mistake which possibly caused us to miss out on hidden spots of beauty, because what we found was somewhat underwhelming. New Caledonia was “settled” by the French in the mid 19th century, initially being used as a penal colony by them until the happy discovery of nickel in the late 1860’s. It is one of the largest economies in the South Pacific, a situation which is not reflected in the city as far as we could see.
I was keen to check out the local fresh food market, which is easily found very near the docks. We arrived a little late in the morning, so some of the stallholders had already packed up for the day, but there was still a reasonable selection of local fresh seafood and produce available, along with a range of stalls selling the usual souvenir trinkets. There was a notable absence of any street food stalls, which was disappointing.
The city itself is very shabby, with poorly maintained roads and footpaths and with no sense of civic pride visible even in the main square, the Place des Cocotiers. This is dominated by the Celeste Fountain which, when we saw it, was dry, crumbling and had weeds growing through the cracks in the statue. There is a modern tourist information centre in the square, staffed with cheerful, friendly, but not particularly helpful staff who will point you vaguely in the general direction of places of interest, but who were quite uncertain when we asked them for dining suggestions.
Without their help, we found a small cafe where we had a beautiful, inexpensive lunch of fresh local fish prepared with a heavy french influence before wandering around checking out the desirable, but hideously expensive, black Tahitian pearl jewellery which features in stores all over the city. There are many stores offering duty-free shopping, selling designer clothing and perfumes if a bit of retail therapy is what floats your boat. I also popped into one or two small supermarkets and was interested to find them bristling with religious statuary – the locals are obviously very devout.
The cost of living here is high and it doesn’t look as though too much of that is flowing down to the locals or being used in municipal projects. I find it hard to believe there is not much cash being injected into the economy of New Caledonia, given the fact that they have enormous cruise ships docking there daily, disgorging thousands of tourists onto the streets at a time. Or perhaps the price of nickel isn’t what it was, although the fancy marina glittering with expensive boats suggests that someone has money there.
Later in the afternoon, once we were back relaxing on our own expensive boat, we saw a helicopter fly into the city. “Perhaps it’s the management coming in to pick up the day’s takings” suggested The Bloke cynically.
While holidaying on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas, Lambs’ Ears and Honey was a guest of Choose Your Cruise.[mc4wp_form id="16750"]