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Five little things to love in the French tropics

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When I commenced my life as an expat in New Caledonia, I spent my first weeks finding the gaps which were missing from home. But when holidaying in Australia 6 months later, I discover I’m missing parts of my new life in New Caledonia!

The brilliant sky glistens all the way from Noumea to Pouembout, New Caledonia. There are four of us crammed into our car, squeezed in with suitcases and prams. My exhausted children sleep, my road-weary husband drives, and I gaze out the windows, a seascape hinting at my left, surging mountains at my right. As we approach our home we see how overgrown our garden has become in five weeks – all that hard work!

Yet, as I unpack and begin to attack the dust and spider webs which have sought to occupy every corner and flat surface, I couldn’t be happier to be back in our adopted country, New Caledonia!

It was lovely to return to Australia. I had missed family and friends, the dry summer, the shopping and even the Australian accents. But restocking our pantry, I recall some of the things I missed about New Caledonia in recent weeks:

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1. Baguettes In New Caledonia, as in France, the baguette is the accompaniment to every meal. Rarely do we pay more than 100cpf, or about $1 Australian, whether from the supermarché or the better-quality boulangerie.

It is not unusual to see people buy five or six baguettes at a time. My latest baguette incarnation is chèvre with cornichons – sour upon sour within delicious baguette!

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2. Crêpes Although crêpes are not easy to come by in restaurants or cafés in Province Nord, they are common in Nouméa. The splendid sight, aroma, and awesome flavour of a salted caramel crêpe, with true vanilla ice-cream lurking beneath, cannot be described. You have to try one yourself!

3. Friendliness – Despite being an expat in our tiny, rural town, it’s usual to be greeted by locals as we go about the mundane tasks of life, such as grocery shopping in town. Exchanging a smile and a polite “bonjour” as we pass in the street or supermarket is a happy habit which I have fallen into easily.

4. Nouméan beaches The beaches of the Baie de l’Anse Vata, and Baie des Citrons are narrow and shady and the water is warm and clear. Anse Vata is a favourite of wind and kite surfers, while the more protected Baie des Citrons is ideal for families. Intrepid snorkelers share the bays with turtles and sea snakes while streams of people enjoy the promenade. Just sitting in the shade and people-watching is a favourite past-time in Noumea!

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5. Tuna Thon is très populaire in this French territory. It is found on nearly every menu – grillé, sashimi, salade tahitienne au thon, à la brochette – the list goes on.

At the poissonnerie or supermarket you may choose thon blanc, or the slightly more expensive thon jaune. Tuna is now one of our favourites and our kids enjoy it.

I’m now vacuuming the house, clearing dark spaces of countless bugs which have had the misfortune to expire during our holiday absence. I think of other things I’ve missed about New Caledonia. My time here will be short compared to that I’ve had in Australia, so there is no time to lose in discovering new ‘likes’ in this French-New Caledonian culture – perhaps I’ll share more of them – next time!

Image credits:
All images by Rachelle Burgoyne.
1.     Baguette display at our local supermarket.
2.     Salted caramel crêpe & vanilla ice-cream at a Nouméan crêperie.
3.     View of the popular Baie des Citrons from a Nouméan restaurant.
4.     Fish display at a local supermarket where tuna makes up over half of the fish on offer.


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2 Comments




  1. Elise Mellor
    7 years ago

    Everyone should visit New Cal! It’s beautiful, warm and everyone is so friendly.
    Three pieces of advice though:
    1. If you take the ferry to the Isle of Pines, take a seasickness pill before you go. Just trust me.
    2. Eat ALL of the food, ESPECIALLY venison carpaccio. Superb.
    3. Also never rely on the public transport there. Our plans were foiled more than once by a spontaneous public transport ‘half day’.


  2. Rachelle Burgoyne
    7 years ago

    Hi Elise, great recommendations. I actually head to Isle of Pines in a couple of weeks, flying as we heard the boat can be rough. Also I have tried the venison (‘cerf’) carpaccio a couple of times, much prefer to the cooked cerf options, just as good as beef. As for the public transport, we tend to drive most places as we live here, but the local public options to seem fairly infrequent…..! Hiring a car or even a private tour guide/navette might be cost and time efficient around Noumea.