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"]
Thanks for the heads up. Friends invited us to join them on a South Pacific cruise later this year, but we decided on a guided bus tour in China instead. Good decision 🙂
Actually, I loved the cruise to bits & the Isle of Pines was lovely, just wet. Noumea was the only disappointment.
Lizzy (Good Things)
Hi Amanda… travelling on cruise ships isn’t something I’m keen on, but I have always wanted to visit Noumea… my older sister travelled there in the 1970s and came back with glowing reports (and lovely black and white photos!). From what you’ve written here, the place is now crumbling. What a great pity that it hasn’t been maintained! For the most part, your photographs depict a pleasant looking place. I’d still like to visit someday, perhaps.
What a shame about the Isle of Pines because we were there on a beautiful day and it was absolutely stunning and one of our most favourite destinations on our cruise. Like you, I was just so underwhelmed with Noumea. There was a cyclone coming in on the day we were there so we couldn’t do the day trip we’d planned that would have taken us away from the city. Instead we did a tour of the city and found the city to be class-segregated, full of homeless, dirty streets and very few attractions. We did go to Lemon Tree Bay which is more upmarket and has some beautiful shops and restaurants but that small strip of ‘a little bit of nice’ doesn’t warrant large cruise ships docking there for a day. I think Noumea must do a deal with the cruise ships saying if they want to stop at the Isle of Pines they also have to stop at Noumea because you can’t do a South-Pacific cruise without having to stop in Noumea and no one wants to go there xx
Anna @ shenANNAgans
Totes agree about Noumea, tried visiting a couple of times thinking I had just caught it on an off week. Nope! I just didnt dig it. Disappointing both times I cruised the South Pacific. Even tho it was overcast, it still looks pretty.
Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
It’s always hard to know whether to go for the excursions or to go wandering by yourself. Mostly we liked wandering around ourselves but for areas where you had to travel a distance to see something, a tour is probably good.
I have been underwhelmed on both my trips to Noumea – no particular wow factor to be found sadly !!
What a shame about Noumea, we’re stopping by there briefly later in the year so definitely won’t get too excited 🙂 xo