We've been to New Caledonia a few times but never ventured outside the capital, which all the guide books castigate us for. So this time we head out to Lifou, the largest of the Loyalty Islands. We catch the 7am ferry. Here's a photo just to prove to our mums that we were up before sunrise. Told ya.
The ferry takes around seven hours. We thought we'd prop ourselves at the bar for the trip but it's a dry ship. The ship is so dry that all carry-on luggage is searched for booze, so pack your bottles in your main checked luggage. Our booze was confiscated, then returned at the end of the trip, easier said then done when you barely speak a word of French. While there was no booze on board, the snack bar made a mean, cheesy panini.
We stationed ourselves in a beachside cabin in Hotel Drehu Village. Nice spot, though we stupidly chose to do a beach holiday in winter. The weather was shabby and the water was too cold for swimming, but we didn't mind a few days of nothing all the same. It's pretty hard to recommend visiting in winter, unless you just want to read books or watch all three episodes of 'The Godfather' trilogy. But in summer this must be a pretty special spot.
For a short while we had a resident doggie who was a sweet companion and liked nothing better than a good chew on a sea blown coconut. Then she was gone. Dog of the holiday.
We're not very good at resort holidays, we hate getting 'trapped' in a resort with nowhere else to go or eat. First world problems. So we stayed at Drehu Village because town is just a couple of hundred meters away.
Drehu village is a small town, to put it mildly.
Here's the other half of town...
Lifou is interesting in that it retains much of the Pacific way of life, but with well developed infrastructure. There's ceremonial thatched huts along well maintained roads, expensive new four wheel drive utes parked outside tin shacks. And it's all so tidy. And so quiet. Where does all the money come from?
We thought we'd try something different and eat at our hotel during our stay. But a sinking Aussie dollar meant we'd be spending extortionate amounts of money on food every day. We had dinner at the hotel on our first night, the food was pretty good, a homely mix of French and Pacific flavours, but hard to justify blowing a hundred bucks on. The other guests happily ate three meals a day in the hotel restaurant, we wonder if they scored good package deals.
Shame the light was so bad, the food did look good, this would leap off the plate in good light. This entree was tuna served a few ways, the popular Tahitian style (raw in coconut milk) and a rillette.
Local venison served with a baked taro quiche and a good pile of cassava leaves.
Tuna steak with the same sides.
Baked apple tart with passionfruit icecream.
Screw hotel food, we're keen to check out where the locals eat. This joint in Drehu Village is a little restaurant by day and a pizza bar by night.
It's cheery inside.
Folks love a good splash of colour around here, we dig.
The fancy pants menu.
The sandwich and burger menu.
The fish burger is fine, a nice big crunchy fried fillet on a fresh roll. Simple and good.
The prawn panani is a surprise bit of magic. They have wisely put in just enough prawns for the juices to find their way through the melted cheese so you get a lovely light prawny cheesey flavour throughout. We will be trying this one at home.
We try their night-time pizza bar. It's super popular, there's loads of folks pulling up in shiny SUVs getting takeaway. The pizza was ok, the asparagus a curiosity. For some reason asparagus and prawn was the 'New Caledonian' special.
There's a bunch of little restos\takeaways along the main road. Snack Makanu wisely positioned itself outside the only supermarket in Drehu Village (a pretty good supermarket by the way).
We order from the bainmarie of love...
Roast beef and rice - it's awesome. Or was it pork - can't remember - but it was fantastic, simple and homely but very good. Big slices of flesh wisely kept nice and moist with a good splash of gravy. Served with rice and a couple of optional yet mandatory fried samosas on the side. Cost around $AUD10.
Merguez sausages and beans with rice, and a splash of gravy for good measure. Snack Makanu also has a roast chicken stall, get yourself a cooked chook for about ten bucks.
Random roadside resto sign.
La Kaz a Jo is a tin shack of a restaurant painted all bright and cheery.
Groovy looking pizza shack.
Another joint we wish we had time to visit.
We went for a wander up the main road and found Snack Wenehoua a kilometre or two from Drehu Village centre.
Simple salad entree. Bread is gratis of course.
Alison goes for sausage again, this time a Toulouse sausage.
Shawn tries to order something different and random that he'd never heard of on the menu. Turns out to be sausages...
Random roadside menu.
Looks like there's a restaurant down the end of somebody's driveway, we kinda feel like trespassers when we check it out.
Off to the side of the driveway there's a restaurant hidden in the bushes.
Not a bad place to hang, eh?
Why are menus a hundred times more interesting simply for being in French?
A nice light sashimi salad for starters.
The grilled fish is pretty good but it's the local Pacific style veggie dishes that blow our minds.
Shawn orders curry lamb because sometimes you just have to order something you normally wouldn't. That's food nerdism. Once again the curried lamb chops are good but man, those local veggie dishes.
We particularly liked Melimala because they had a real emphasis on local food, see them here - http://www.iles-loyaute.com/en/Prestataire/Fiche/1597/melimala
We get the plane back to Noumea at the Mike Brady designed airport.
There's so little going on around town that we are quite surprised to see the airport so busy.
Shawn is a paranoid flyer but he'd seen Air Caledonie's nice new looking planes on previous trips. Still, he's anxious about the flight all day, until the pilot drops the clutch and the plane takes off like a V8 doing a quarter mile, these little planes have huge balls. Flying over New Caledonia's mountainous main island is spectacular. It's all done in 45 minutes. The domestic airport is in Magenta, Noumea, just a quick bus ride to the city. Unlike the international airport which is an hour out of town.
Next time we go to Lifou will skip the ferry and just get the plane: 7 compared to 45 minutes for not much more money. And we'll go in summer.