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Like anybody else, hard-working journalists need time away – time out – from the daily grind. Ideally, that means clocking off for a week or even two, but sometimes the most you can carve out of your schedule is a long weekend.
That means keeping your travels short in order to maximise your downtime, and so for something a bit different – and admittedly sparked by a Qantas sale – I drew a line through my diary and booked two nights in Noumea, which lies barely two hours from Sydney.
As the capital of New Caledonia, a far-flung tropical outpost of France, Noumea is a unique melange of French/European and native Kanak influences in food, culture and the way of life.
I’d never been to Noumea and have rarely travelled to any relaxing island destinations for that matter – I prefer the buzz of a big city to your typical ‘flop and drop’ destination.
Happily, Noumea doesn’t have to be that – unless you want it to. But it’s definitely a place to throttle back, leave work behind and enjoy the simple delights of beachside strolls and a good book.
Qantas flies from Sydney to Noumea three days a week (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) on a Boeing 737, and codeshares with Aircalin's Airbus A330 service on Tuesday through Friday.
I flew Qantas business class, heading out on QF91 at 7.40am on a Saturday and arriving into Noumea at 11.30, and returned on Monday’s QF92 (a 12.30pm departure which landed in Sydney at 2.50pm).
The Arc en Ciel shuttle bus takes you from Noumea's La Tontouta airport to the city and all major hotels for 3,000 South Pacific Francs (abbreviated XPF or CFP; 100XPF = A$1.35) per person, although you'll have to wait until all the passengers from your flight have boarded the bus. A faster way is to book a driver in advance for around 12,000 Francs.
Where to stay
I decided to book two nights at the Le Mériden Resort & Spa, which is located at the southern tip of Noumea on Anse Vata Bay and surrounded by lush landscaped gardens.
My Voyageur suite was not only spacious but smartly designed and finished, with a long verandah overlooking the pool and through to the ocean.
The Classic rooms are of course smaller but still well-designed, and also include a verandah with a view over the gardens or across the lagoon.
Deckchairs and cabanas flank the pool, with the open-air Le Fare restaurant - ideal for a light lunch – positioned between the pool and the beach.
After an exceptionally busy week, stretching out on a deckchair with a book and sometimes just tuning out with the help of some Spotify playlists (the hotel’s free WiFi reaches all the way to the beach) proved the perfect antidote.
Where to eat
One of the reasons I chose the Le Mériden was its location, which put Lemon Bay a 30 minute stroll away.
This long sweeping bay is home to scores of great cafes, restaurants and bars, and many people delight in buying take-away and sit on the beach or at tables on the grassy verge.
On my first night I enjoyed dinner at La Fiesta – a Spanish restaurant at the far end of Lemon Bay's Promenade Roger Laroque and clearly favoured by locals – tucking into fried whitebait, paella and sangria.
If you’re strolling around Lemon Bay of a daytime or early evening, the Amorino gelateria (27 Promenade Roger Laroque) makes some of the most naturally flavoursome gelato you’ll ever taste.
Noumea boasts plenty of fine-dining restaurants from Lemon Bay through to the township itself, including Marmite et Tire-Bouchon (on the waterfront at Rue Jules Garnier, halfway to 'downtown' Noumea) and Chez Toto, in the Latin Quarter (at 13 Rue Auguste Brun) – although don't overlook the nearby Boop's Café for brunch, lunch or a relaxed dinner.
What to do: Catching up on sleep and enjoying leisurely breakfasts were both high on my to-do list, and the Le Mériden was the ideal place for both.
Head into the town for the markets at Port Moselle – just don't expect too much – and then stroll around the town a little bit.
The Aquarium of the Lagoons is ideal for spending another hour playing tourist, followed by lunch or more gelato at nearby Lemon Bay or Anse Vata Bay, with sunsets atop Quen Toro Hill – 15 minutes’ walk from the Le Mériden – letting you share the atmosphere with locals and tourists alike.
Add some pooltime and/or beachtime, and that’s your long weekend in Noumea pretty much sorted and your psychological batteries recharged.
David Flynn travelled at his own expense.