With the ‘logistics’ of our cruise covered in my Part 1 post, it’s time to talk about the adventure aspects! For a big selling point of this particular cruise was that it would allow us to explore a new region, without having to take any long-haul flights with two kids in tow.
The Itinerary included 4 islands in New Caledonia – Isle of Pines, Lifou, Noumea and Mare. However, as I mentioned in my earlier post, the visit to Mare was cancelled owing to the presence of cyclone Winston in the area. It was a little disappointing as that was to be another family ‘beach’ day, but we managed to make the most of the ship pool’s instead.
General – tours
Not long after we boarded, a brochure was delivered to our cabin outlining various tours and excursions that we could book for the Island visits. Most tours cost in in excess of $59.99 per person (with some reduced fees for kids) – which did seem excessive (although I appreciate that they support the local economy…)
We were able to book the tours via our television – although I think you could also make bookings in person at the tour desk in the lobby if that was your preference.
*Tip for new cruisers: If you have your heart set on a particular activity, make sure to book early. We left our run a little late – and discovered that some tours had sold out – and we could not get our preferred timeslot for others.
General – Disembarkation
Aside from Noumea where the ship was able to dock at the wharf, it was usually anchored off-shore and “tenders” were used to transfer passengers from the ship to the Island. If you had a pre-booked tour, I think you could jump on any tender. However, if you didn’t have a tour booked, you were allocated a boarding number and had to wait in the lobby until that number was called.
The tenders would then run back and / forth between the islands – carrying passengers to and from the ship. There was no need to book a return trip, it was just a matter of returning to the jetty when you wanted to go back to the ship, and waiting for the next tender to arrive.
Island 1 – Isle of Pines
None of the Isle of Pines tours in the brochure took our fancy, so we decided to just hang out on the Island. And on reflection, this was one of my favourite days.
We headed over mid morning and were greeted by locals selling their wares, drinks and a variety of food from little stalls set up along the beach. I can’t say that they were all that “friendly” (and service speed definitely suggested that “Island-time” is a real thing), but they were pleasant enough given the thousands of tourists that had landed on their doorstep for the day.
We grabbed a bite to eat (chicken kebabs and coconut rice) and watched Charlotte dance along with some of the locals (girl loves to dance!).
But instead of hanging out at the beach near the jetty, we decided to walk a few hundred meters up the road until we found our own little patch of sand.
The weather was not fantastic with some scattered showers throughout the day. But it wasn’t cold, and the showers seemed to move through pretty quickly, so a fun day was had by all as we played in the sand and waded in the water. We opted to stay on the more sheltered side of the Island, although I am told that there were some good snorkelling options on the other side near the rocks?
We also took the pram across, so that Josie could take her lunchtime nap. It was a little tricky getting it on and off the tender, but was handy to have with us (not only to let Josie nap, but to also carry the piles of swim gear, food and towels we inevitably seem to accumulate!) The Island was pram-friendly, with decent paved roads and lots of shelter under the trees when it started to drizzle.
*Tips for new cruisers – All vendors on Isle of Pines (and the other Islands for that matter) accept Australian currency. Although it was recommended that you take smaller notes for purchases (and the Guest services desk on the ship was happy to exchange larger notes if needed).
Island 2 – Lifou
Our second Island was Lifou, although our guide informed us that he did not like that French name (it had connotations of ‘madness’). Instead, the locals preferred “Drehu”.
We signed up for a “Forest and Secret Grotto” Tour (adults $65.99, kids $35.99)- and made sure to leave the pram on the ship and take the Ergo instead, in anticipation of the walk.
We headed over to the Island by tender just before lunch, and wandered along the beach, through the few stalls and watched a local dance performance. Lunch was a rather uninspiring chicken curry, and I couldn’t help but feel it was a shame that no ‘local’ dishes were on offer.
There weren’t too many stalls, but quite a few places to get a massage or your hair braided, if that is your thing.
We met up with our tour group after lunch, and took a short (but steaming hot) bus ride to the start of the walk. Turns out, however, that the ‘walk’ was more of a short nature stroll (only a few hundred meters long), which our guide spread out over a few hours explaining various customs and plants along the way. It was a nice walk, but Charlotte struggled with having to stop and listen every 20 metres or so, as we were shown a new plant.
It was hot and humid under the canopy of the trees, but Josie soon fell asleep in the Ergo. Charlotte too, rather unexpectedly, fell asleep in Mr BBB’s arms along the way (the adventures of the previous few days obviously catching up with her!)
The walk concluded at the “Secret Grotto”, which the brochure had described as “unearthly”. I was perhaps expecting something a little more grand – although it was still nice to get some brief respite from the heat and climb down into the cave (that had been lit with candles) and see all the formations of stalagmites and stalactites.
As for other activities on Lifou, my niece and her husband went snorkelling just off the beach, and reported back that it was rather amazing! Although she commented that there was a lot of sharp coral underfoot, so reef shoes would come in handy.
Actually, snorkelling seems to be the way to go on Lifou (which we unfortunately couldn’t do with the girls). Apparently the best snorkelling can be found at Jinek Bay – a marine conservation area – although only a limited number of passes are available (at $15 each) so you need to book quick. Snorkelling gear is available for hire and purchase through the ship – at a pretty reasonable cost.
So yes, if we had our time on Lifou again – we would definitely bypass the walking tour, and try to go snorkelling instead.
Island 3 – Noumea
Unlike the other two Islands, we docked at the cargo wharf in Noumea – meaning that we could just walk off the ship. We were greeted with the sounds of drums on our arrival, with dancers putting on a local display. We were all feeling the effects of a big few days, so we kept things pretty simple. I had my heart set on heading over to the Amedee Island Marine Reserve (which I’ve heard is amazing), however it was an 8 hour tour (and $189.99 for adults, $129.99 for kids), so we decided to give it a miss until the girls were older.
Instead, we booked ourselves onto a Wine, Cheese & Tchou Tchou Train tour ($89.99 per person) in the afternoon.
We were picked up on the wharf in the ‘train’, and taken for a driving tour of Noumea. It was a little rainy, and oh so windy, and it took a bit of work to get Josie to take a nap.
On that point, I had misunderstood the nature of the ‘train’ and thought it would be pram-friendly. Alas, it was not, and at the last minute we had to rouse a sleeping Josie from the pram and dash back to the room to grab the Ergo instead. Not a great start to the afternoon.
The drive was nice, and the locals would wave at our ‘train’ as we drove past. We wound our way through the city, and headed along the coastal road – stopping at Lemon Bay and the Ouen Toro lookout.
We then headed to a seaside restaurant – where a French wine & cheese tasting had been set up.
It was an informative experience as our host talked us through the various wine flavours – and certainly more ‘structured and formal’ than I had been expecting. Both kids, again, struggled with having to sit still – but that was probably an error on my part in not finding out beforehand just how formal the afternoon would be.
Overall, Noumea was not my favourite day, and I think if we were to visit again I’d try to head out on a tour to Duck Island or Amedee Island instead (although this would largely depend on how old the kids are, costs etc…)
- We loved having a beach day on Isle of Pines, and would do the same next time!
- On Lifou, we’d try to get a pass to Jinek Bay Marine Resort and do some snorkelling.
- We’d use Noumea as a base to visit one of the nearby Islands – preferably Amedee Island.
Stay tuned for Part 3 – the Highlights of our holiday!