Lifestyle / Travel

French Riviera With A Pacific Touch

The palm and pine-fringed Pacific islands of New Caledonia, a French outpost since 1853, face a long-proposed independence referendum next November. Marine tourism, from windsurfing worlds and sailing regattas to superyacht visits and charters, is helping the economy, but likely outcome of the vote remains unclear. Read more.

Feb 28, 2018 | By Yacht Style

Amédée Lighthouse, erected in 1865, marks an entrance channel to Noumea, and was one of our calls aboard the superyacht Masteka 2

French Riviera With A Pacific Touch

Lush vegetation adorns the wet windward side, while the West Coast is drier, like most Pacific isles. Oahu in Hawaii has a similar mountain range, and Nouméa does look in parts like downtown Honolulu. New Caledonia Tourism calls it “the French Riviera with a Pacific touch.”

Located at 22°16’S 166°27’E, Nouméa lies just inside the Tropic of Capricorn. It is about 780nm off Australia’s NE Coast, less than a two-hour flight, and roughly the same distance again to Fiji in the East. Auckland in New Zealand, one gateway for American visitors, is a slightly further 930nm SSE. US access is possible via French Polynesia or Japan as well.

European travellers can fly to Tokyo or Osaka, from which New Caledonia’s international airline Aircalin has direct services to Nouméa, or go through the Middle East to Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne, where Aircalin and code partners have numerous Nouméa-bound flights.

Using the Australian route is best from other Asian cities, and in February the first Chinese charter flight to New Caledonia is to take place from Hangzhou, organised by the tour operator Caissa.

In an interview with Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes late November, Caissa’s Dan Luo said that Chinese tourism is steadily expanding in the Pacific, and more charters may follow, but these islands are not really set up for large-scale groups.

Aircalin lands at the international Tontouta Airport, which is 50 km from town, but Air Calédonie is based at the domestic Magenta Airport in Nouméa, and offers short flights to the Isle of Pines, and to the Loyalty Islands. There are also ex-Nouméa ferries to the Isle of Pines, taking two and a half hours.

In a 10-min drive south from Port Moselle, there are no fewer than three large public marinas and a private one, from Baie de L’Orphelinat to Baie des Citrons to Baie de L’Anse Vata, and this is where most of the mid-range to very upmarket hotels are located.

We stayed initially at French colonial-style Le Meridien at L’Anse Vata’s Pointe Magnin, which has a sister property on the Isle of Pines, and as part of the Marriott Group, promotes the relatively new Sheraton at Bourail, 90 minutes drive north of the international airport. This has the latest of the island’s two golf courses, and is part of an evolving attempt to decentralise high-end tourism.

Two low-rise residential arms of Le Meridien Nouméa, with shuttered balconies, extend toward the sea and frame a large tropical garden that has matured well in the 25 years of its tenure. Suddenly mahi mahi is back on the menu, and ahi or yellowfin tuna, that prolific fish of the Pacific, can be grilled with egg for breakfast, slightly seared for lunch, and fried again with hot green wasabi and soy sauce as sashimi, or as marinated poisson cru, for dinner.

Literally next door, the equally upmarket and higher-rise Chateau Royal, offering sweeping views of Anse Vata Beach, was our long weekend abode to look at ongoing plans by agents Ocean Alliance and owners of the 37m superyacht Masteka 2 to run superyacht charters in New Caledonia during the May to November 2018 season. More about that in the following feature.

Yellow helicopters pottered into and out of Pointe Magnin, but taking taxis was easy enough to commute into town to meet friends at exotic French bistros such as Zanzibar and Au P’tit Café, whose chef Gabriel Levionnois looked after the galley aboard the 113m Le Grand Bleu when Roman Abromovich bought the vessel from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

This story is a republished version taken from Issue 41 of Yacht Style. Read the full version of the story on page 90.

Words by Bruce Maxwell | Images courtesy of New Caledonia Tourism and Dr Richard Chesher

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