When many think of a South Pacific island holiday, they think of palm trees swaying over white sand beaches and glittering blue waters. This might be idyllic for some, but for those with active kids, it can be hard keeping them occupied!
Introducing: a road trip around New Caledonia! Here’s why it should be on your family holiday bucket list:
- It is less than three hours from Auckland, so a quick trip for restless kids
- Its main island is only about 400kms long, about an 8-hour drive from north to south
- Driving its length reveals lots of places to stop and stay, as well as a range of different landscapes and activities to explore for kids
- Its roads are well-paved and easy-to-drive
Importantly, there are options for any length of trip. Even if you’ve got just a few days or a week, you can hit the road and explore. Here are three ideas:
Photo credit: Road trip © Masaaki Hojo NCTPS
Three days – Noumea > Great South
If a few days is all you’ve got, there are plenty of day-long or overnight road trips you can take from Noumea.
Firstly, a little information on Noumea. Noumea is the capital of New Caledonia, and the international airport is located about 45 minutes’ drive from it.
It is packed with things for families to explore, including the Aquarium of the Lagoons, the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, the Maritime Museum, the Port Moselle Market, the Zoological Forest Park and more. It also has a range of hotels that are great for families: including the Hilton Noumea Promenade La Residences, which features self-contained apartments right by Noumea’s main beach, Anse Vata, and Hotel Gondwana, which has a family playroom and an open courtyard for kids to play, all in downtown Noumea.
From Noumea, it’s easy to access the Great South region, which sits south-east of the city and shows off a unique red-soil desert landscape that is very different to the lagoons and buildings of Noumea. The Great South is a playground for adventurous families, and the Blue River Provincial Park is a must-visit. About a 1.5-hour drive from Noumea, there you can enjoy hiking, biking, swimming in a fresh-water river and kayaking through a drowned forest. If you’d like to stay overnight, there are also options for camping nearby, and it’s possible to hire camping gear in Noumea.
Photo credit: Poule de Hienghene © Eric Aubry NCTPS
Five days – Noumea > Bourail
Bourail is located on New Caledonia’s west coast, about a 2.5-hour drive from Noumea. This region is called New Caledonia’s outback, and it’s easy to see why – as you drive up the coast, the landscape changes to golden plains and farmland.
Stop at Sheraton Deva New Caledonia Golf Resort & Spa, where there’s a great pool for kids and a kids’ club, plus a spa and golf course for mum and dad. It also sits right on Poe Beach, which borders part of New Caledonia’s lagoon that’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed and is a perfect spot for little legs to run around! In terms of family-friendly things to do in the area, the hotel sits within a national reserve called Deva Domain, which has great trails for walking, biking and horse riding. In the area, kids can also enjoy snorkelling, taking a glass bottom boat out on the reef, meeting French cowboys and more.
Photo credit: Blue River Park © Terres de Lumiere NCTPS
Seven days – Noumea > Bourail > Hienghène
If you have a little longer, tack on a visit to Hienghène after Bourail. Located in New Caledonia’s north, on the east coast, it has a different landscape to Bourail and opportunities to connect with New Caledonia’s indigenous Kanak people.
To get to Hienghène from Bourail, you’ll cross the middle of New Caledonia’s main island, and its mountain chain – about a 3-hour drive. Once you arrive in Hienghène, the scenery becomes quite leafy and tropical, and there are magnificent views of the lagoon from the region’s iconic cliffs. It’s a great spot for hiking and kayaking.
There are also quite a few Kanak tribes that live around Hienghène, so for a unique experience, visit a local village. It’s possible to take part in a customary gesture, stay overnight in a traditional hut and try a bougna, which is a dish of yams, meat or fish, banana and taro cooked in the ground. It’s a wonderful experience for kids. Note that booking a guide or through tour company is highly recommended as there are many customs in the Kanak culture that are important for visitors to follow. A local guide or a tour company will help you navigate this – check out New Cal Outdoors or Promenade Tours.
Photo credit: Zoological and Forest Park © Terres de Lumiere NCTPS
It’s also important to mention a few tips for road tripping in New Caledonia:
- New Caledonians drive on the right-hand side of the road. It’s easy to adjust, just give yourself time!
- You can road trip independently, or there are many packages available. Speak to you preferred travel agent for options
- Car hire is easy, and you can pick-up a car from the airport when you arrive. But be sure to book in advance, as the number of automatic gear cars available can be limited
- If staying less than six months, you only need a valid driver’s license from your home country to drive in New Caledonia – no international driver’s license
Written for Kidspot by Gti Tourism, Australia
Feature photo credit: Glass bottom boat © S. Ducandas NCTPS