June 20th, 2022Resorts with Narelle Groenhout
IT’S no secret that Aussies love a resort holiday. Thousands of us flock to tropical destinations like Fiji and Bali for family-friendly, cheap and cheerful holidays. Well, before Covid anyway. But as life and international borders start looking like pre-Covid days we start dreaming and planning our escapes.
As a family we’ve done the Bali adventure and it was great. But the crowds and the commercial touristy feel pushed us to look somewhere else for the tropical feel without the hype.
A few years ago we were encouraged by a travel agent to consider New Caledonia for our next family trip. Surprisingly it’s only a four-hour flight from Melbourne, on French Polynesia’s own Aircalin, so no jetlag or sleepless, uncomfortable red-eye experience either. In fact, the capital, Nouméa is closer to Brisbane than Melbourne is.
One bite and we were hooked. Nouméa is the capital of the South Pacific archipelago and overseas French territory, New Caledonia. Situated on the main island, Grand Terre, it’s known for beaches and its blend of French and native Kanak influences. It naturally weaves the breathtaking beauty of the South Pacific with the elegance of Europe. And with a tropical savanna climate, the weather is glorious year-round.
While thousands get a glimpse of its culture when cruise ships dock for the day, it certainly isn’t enough to comprehend the region’s exquisite beauty and Kanak heritage.
When we’ve been able to escape to Nouméa we’ve stayed at Le Meridien Resort, one of a number located directly on Anse Vata Bay. It’s a short walk into the township of Anse Vata and a short bus trip into the city centre of Nouméa itself, where the island’s Melanesian and colonial influences are on full display alongside a decidedly Paris chic.
The rooms at Le Meredien are huge, with adjoining rooms for kids so there’s space to move around. But if you decide to move one of the signature egg chairs into the kids’ room – don’t. A broken toe on the first day is no fun at all.
New Caledonia is the place the French go for their summer escape. Despite Nouméa’s relatively large population (about twice the size of Ballarat), there’s no crowds, no jostling for a beach bed or a poolside spot. Even at its busiest, there’s a sense of calm – and no Bintang singlets in sight.
With the beach and the beachside pool at the secluded resort, it’s hard to prise the kids away from swimming, snorkelling, paddle-boarding and kayaking. However, a six kilometre walk along the beachfront, with maybe a stop at the local aquarium, brings you to Baie des Citrons.
This pretty little beachside suburb is nestled on the stunning bay and hosts a wide array of eateries which really showcase New Caledonia’s fascinating ethnic diversity, from French-style bistros serving flammekueche to terrific Vietnamese cuisine. And you can finish it up with a stroll along the promenade and melt in the mouth, tropical-style frozen yoghurt.
Parents become pretty savvy when it comes to food. And you need to be in Nouméa. Most of the food is imported from France and eating there is certainly a bit more expensive than in Australia. But if you plan ahead and stash a jar of Vegemite away and a few non-perishable items then it eases the pain.
Or head to one of the local French-style grocery stores and pick up some baguettes, ham, cheese and tomatoes (and perhaps some Tim Tams, because they are one of the few non-French delicacies available) and do a picnic on the beach.
Then it’s just a matter of choosing one of the many fabulous restaurants when you do decide to eat out, or maybe you can opt for a beach-side cocktail at Le Meridien’s own bars and restaurants.
It’s a beautiful part of the world to visit and to appreciate the French-Melanesian hybrid lifestyle, right in our own little corner of the South Pacific. It’s perfect for a tropical island holiday with a touch of European elan.
Closer to home
It’s been at least 20 years since I last visited Port Fairy but an overnight trip there recently reminded me how beautifully preserved this small coastal town is. The drive from Daylesford transports you through a beautiful, ever-changing landscape, from farmland, to forests, beach scenes and small townships dotted throughout the trip.
The drive itself was effortless. For a small town, Port Fairy has a great choice of food options, a surprisingly large number of clothes shops catering for the tourism market and some fabulous op shops open on the weekend. It’s a short drive to Warrnambool where the Maritime Museum is a must for adults and kids alike.