If you are embarking on your seaborne adventure to the south pacific islands you can expect to visit Lifou and Noumea in French-pacific New Caledonia and Port Vila, part of Vanuatu. In this instalment of my Cruise Guide, I’m going to discuss what I liked and didn’t like, what I learnt and what I knew before getting off the cruise ship.

Your cruise card acts as your ID to get on and off the ship so there’s no need to bring your passport offboard but you might find it necessary to bring a copy of your passport details in case you miss the final call to board the ship. While it’s very unlikely you will miss the ship – there’s a horn calling back all tourists and you will be informed leaving the ship when you are expected to return – some people find it necessary to be prepared for the worst.

Island stop 1: Noumea, New Caledonia.

Population: 93,060 (2006 census)
Language: French and Kanak dialects
Type of government: French overseas territory and local government
Currency: French Pacific Franc
Climate: Tropical climate. Warm and dry most of the year with afternoon trade winds helping to keep humidity low.
What to wear: Comfortable flat soled shoes, lightweight clothing and a sun protecting hat. During the cooler months bring a jacket and always bring sunscreen and bottled water.

Heading towards Noumea, I was annoyed every time someone said they weren’t getting off the ship to explore the island nation. I wanted  to shake them and yell, “why on earth would you travel all this way to stay on the boat?” We’d already been on the ship for a few days and it seemed crazy to miss out on the opportunity of exploring a new country so I did get off the boat, but would I if I went again? Probably not.

If this is your first time please do get off and have a look around even just as a point of reference but I want to make it known that Noumea is the first stop for the ship to get fuel and supplies, so while stopping there necessary, it doesn’t seem to be a favourite of cruise-goers. The island itself is hard to get around as taxis’ are limited, so the best way to see the island is by bus or the “Tchou Tchou Train” which is a tourist road train that takes you to all of Noumea’s best attractions. In hindsight, I wish I went on the Tchou Tchou Train (you can organise this tour onboard) but instead our party caught one of the buses which cost us $10pp. This was a great way to see Noumea as you get to experience the little things like driving on the opposite side of the road, local life and you still get to see key tourist spots like Lemon Bay and Anse Vata beach.

Because the Pacific Dawn docked at Gare Maritime Terminal late in the afternoon it left little time for activities and things like the Aquarium des Lagons which we were excited to see was closed during our visit. The great thing about the bus tour though was that we were able to have a look around then make it back to the boat at it started to get dark with plenty of time to board and go through maritime customs.

Island stop 2: Lifou, New Caledonia.

Population: 10,320 (2004 census)
Language: French and Kanak dialects
Type of government: French overseas territory and local government
Currency: French Pacific Franc
Climate: Tropical climate.
What to wear: Comfortable flat soled shoes, lightweight clothing and a sun protecting hat. During the cooler months bring a jacket and always bring sunscreen, insect repellent and bottled water. If you’re visiting during the wet season, bring an umbrella or waterproof jacket. Be sure to cover up when walking around the island or village and nude or topless bathing is not permitted on any beaches.

Lifou was my absolute favourite place during the cruise because it was everything I looked for in an island visit: beautiful beaches, sunny days, blue water, coral and sunbathing on white sand. Instead of pulling up at a big, industrial like port, the ship stops in the bay and from there you are taken on a lifeboat to the beaches pier.

Travelling uphill you are first greeted with a local market selling local goods and crafts, you can get your passport stamped if you brought it with you or get your hair braided from one of the indigenous peoples. If you keep travelling north you get to a sign that directs you left towards Jinek bay where you can snorkel – snorkelling gear can be hired onboard or at the village, and snorkelling passes for Jinek Bay must be bought prior to leaving the ship, this money goes towards preserving the bay and coral. Further past Jinek Bay, you can travel uphill through tropical forest to Notre Dame de Lourdes (church of our Lady of Lourdes). The walk there is pathed with tropical flowers and huge butterflies, but be sure to bring good walking shoes as this venture can get very steep and the path very rocky. Once you reach the top you are greeted with a great view of the bay and the ship in the water as well as a visit to the quaint island chapel. If you choose to go right you can explore some caves, however after visitng to church our party returned to the beach for swimming.

If you’re swimming in any of Lifou’s beaches I’m going to suggest you bring some of those incredibly daggy surf shoes as you don’t want to risk cutting yourself on some of the coral – I didn’t, but this would of made sense to have with me. Also be wary of sea snakes, they apparently don’t like biting people (because their mouth is too small) but they are poisonous and I did get chased by one so keep this in mind if you’re exploring the water.

Island stop 3: Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Population: 44,000 (2009 census)
Language: English, Bislama and French.
Type of government: Parliamentary republic
Currency: Vatu
Climate: Tropical with average midday temperatures of 29 degrees in summer and 25 degrees in winter. It can be very humid at times and it’s important to stay hydrated and sheltered from the sun.
What to wear: Comfortable flat soled shoes, lightweight clothing and a sun protecting hat. During the cooler months bring a jacket and always bring sunscreen and bottled water and for the wet seasons (December to March) bring an umbrella. The Ni-Vanuatu people are quite conservative so dress modestly and avoid wearing swimwear downtown.

The Pacific Dawn docked at Port Vila’s commercial pier, roughly 5 kilometres from the centre of town. Once offboard you’re greeted with a huge local market, but please be sensible and don’t go crazy buying spears, wooden objects or archery sets (you won’t get them back in the country, and yes people actually did this). Beyond the market, there is a line of taxis and water taxis to help you get into town where the duty-free stores are most popular (for being the best price unlike those in New Caledonia). Before going anywhere note that taxis are not metered and you have to agree on a price with the driver and make sure you are clear on if that includes a trip back to the ship. Taxi vans should cost roughly $3AUD pp and cabs about $15AUD.

Our party caught a taxi van downtown where are driver pointed out local markets, government buildings and tourists attractions to us. Once we reached the duty-free store he was happy to wait outside for us to return and boarding off the van a local let me pet an iguana – keep in mind if you find yourself in this situation and want a photo with reptile you will have to arrange a price, it cost us $5 for one photo.

Downtown Port Vila is a colourful, vibrant and busy place and I thought the place was lovely and bought a necklace and a gorgeous summer dress from the market which cost $20AUD. From the port market too, you can get your passport stamped, hair braided and find lots of other great souveneirs.

Final tips:

  1. You keep track the time so you don’t miss the boat.
  2. When accepting services – especially taxi services and the like – you organise where you’re going, how much it will cost and if that includes a trip back.
  3. If you bring your passport offboard take precautions to make sure it isn’t stolen, lost or damaged.
  4. Bring water, sunscreen, insect repellant and a sun protecting hat with you.
  5. There are lots of shoretours you can participate in, these are organised and paid for onboard at the ships reception level.
  6. If you do choose to stay on the boat, you’ll find that it’s the most quiet and relaxing time to be had on the boat.
  7. Changing your currency when leaving the ship is not necessary, but be sure if you haven’t that you are carrying small Australia notes or coins as you wont get change back and you don’t want to flaunt your money.
 

Published by Deanne Elizabeth