1. Upmarket shopping at the 'centre ville'
Many suburban shopping malls in Nouméa now house bigger brands but the boutiques of the Centre Ville still draw the smart set to its narrow streets. Centred on the Rue d’Alma, the network of streets around the main square, Place des Cocotiers, has many a surprise. As well as the boutiques, there are a host of New Caledonian shops to look out for too
2. Check out chinatown
Moments away from the dockside is the new Chinatown, or Quartier Asiatique, which opened in October 2013. Around 7% of Nouméa’s population has Asian heritage, mostly drawn from former French colonies such as Vietnam and Cambodia, but also Shanghai, which was French until 1946. A statue here honours the Vietnamese workers who came to New Caledonia to mine for chrome and nickel in the late 19th century. Stop here for delicious nem spring rolls and Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.
3. Have a wander through place des cocotiers
Place des Cocotiers Itself is a metaphor for New Caledonia. This typically French central square is fringed with the South Pacific coconut trees of the same name and now completed with Kanak totems. The square has also been spruced up in recent years and is now the perfect spot to stop and relax, review your purchases and people watch. Young couples stroll together, businessmen march on through, Kanak ladies braid hair and many stop and read Les Nouvelles Caledonians daily newspaper. You can even watch the locals play chess, or if you think you’ve got what it takes, join in.
4. Visit the chocolatiers in the Latin quarter
The undeniable architectural highlight of the city centre is the imposing St. Joseph Cathedral. The cathedral, which calls to mind those found in Latin American countries, was built by convict labour in ten years from 1887. But the highlight of the Latin Quarter remains the chocolatiers, whose use of locally-sourced cacao, vanilla beans and sugar give the products a unique flavour. These incredible purveyors of chocolate and other treats will make even the quickest pitstop an unforgettable experience.
5. Admire colonial architecture at faubourg blanchot
Many of the best examples of French Pacific colonial architecture can be found in Faubourg Blanchot – the earliest bourgeois neighbourhood of the burgeoning colony in the late 19th century. The suburb contains almost 60 colonial homes and four other historical buildings that are all expertly mapped out in English in a new walking trail produced by Nouméa city council. Like Queenslander houses, the properties of Blanchot were built for the conditions. These wooden abodes come complete with verandahs, canopies and metal roofs. Start at the Maison Célières, a grand family home whose porch was once the largest in New Caledonia. Wind your way back to the former city prison at the top of the Latin Quarter
6. Unwind by the water
With a beat throbbing into the bay until early in the morning every weekend, Noumea’s coastal suburbs promise much in the way of nightlife. Several bars, perched atop a pontoon jutting out into Anse Vata, have launched New Caledonian live acts and DJs into the international arena for over a decade. In total there are three venues on the same pier, with an upmarket restaurant to add to the appeal. Anse Vata is one of the prime nightspots of Nouméa after dark, with nightclubs and eateries dotted along the beachfront.
7. Learn about indigenous culture at the Tjibaou cultural center
Designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, the Tjibaou Cultural Centre is a world-class museum, gallery, exhibition and interpretive hub and is a major tourist drawcard for those wanting an insight into New Caledonia’s Melanesian peoples. A visit is a must for anyone interested in New Caledonian culture.
8. Walk from port moselle along the bays
Like Sydney and Auckland, Nouméa is a city of interconnected bays. And with so much of the town’s life taking place on or around the water, it’s not surprising that many want a coastal view for their homes. Also like its antipodean sister cities, Nouméa has some great walks around its most famous bays. The place to start is Port Moselle, home to the inter-island ferries, taxi boat and yacht charters that can sail you to one of Nouméa Bay’s many islands for daytrips.
9. Visit the port moselle market for a tasty treat
Behind the marina is the town’s central market, which is a melting pot of cultures, with enormous yams and taros vying for space with fresh baguettes, French cheeses and local cured meats. Try the venison saussison and wild boar pâté for a taste of New Caledonia or watch the Noumean citizens haggling over kilos of freshly caught prawns. Roll up early on Saturdays and Sundays to ensure you get the best of the locally grown produce and the freshest offerings from the plentiful coastal waters.
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