A long day--flying to New Caledonia from Sydney, then getting to the hotel took up most of the day.
Early wakeup--6am. Got dressed, put the stuff in bags in the car (parked in an underground car park at the Stamford Plaza Airport), then a quick breakfast. Looking out the window, we could see the airport covered in fog, but we didn't worry.
Hopped on the 8am shuttle to the international terminal--which took forever as we also stopped by the Ibis and the Holiday Inn. Arrived at the airport at 8:45 and checked in for our 10:25 flight. The fog was lifting, which meant airplanes were landing.
Did some quick duty free shopping; I looked for the Canon PowerShot G2 (my current geeklust). Chris compared prices on wine... surprise surprise, the Penfold's Great Grandfather Port was at $399 at the duty free shop. This compares to the $299 at the non-duty-free shop at Melbourne airport. Other prices were similarly inflated... must be some hidden Sydney-only 20% tax. Or, of course, those are the prices for foreign tourists...
Flight was about 2 hours 40 minutes, we were served a light lunch of meat cuts and rolls--better than expected, to be honest. As we started to descend to the airport, the most amazing sight appeared out the window: a very vibrant aqua coral reef, stretching to the horizon, with a stretch of water (a lagoon that large?) between it and the mainland. It took a good five minutes or so before we came over a set of small hilly islands scattered in the lagoon... then the plane banked and we landed at the small airport, next to some huge steep mountains.
We walked down the stairs, across the ramp, and into the terminal, where we were greeted by a Melanesian band, the women in mission dresses and the men in shorts, singing 'local' songs. I say 'local' because I think I recognized a couple of them. Luggage came out, we found the bus... which was packed... and we waited. And waited. 30 minutes later, we were wondering what was going on. A woman with a "Thrifty Rental Car" clipboard said "Sorry--there is a strike with the bus", and left. After a few more minutes, we left, and the driver did his best to grind into third gear whenever he could.
It was a slow 45 minutes to Nouméa. Surprisingly, there wasn't much to see. There were a few hills to crest, but generally it was flat. There were some melaleuca trees that were recognizable, but otherwise it looked somewhat dry-tropical. There weren't' many buildings at all, though, and very few people on the road. [Curiously, I later found out that the species of melaleuca, or tea tree, that grows in scattered woodlands on New Caledonia is a serious weed tree in South Florida. It's full name is Melaleuca quinquenervia, this URL has more info on its affect on the Everglades and sawgrass plains: http://aquat1.ifas.ufl.edu/melainv.html.]
Once in Nouméa, we passed the huge Carrefour hypermarket on the outskirts, then threaded our way through the center of town to our hotel. Nouméa's modern in that tropical concrete sort of way... things just look a bit clunky, though kept up, to my eyes. The hotel, Le Surf Novotel, is at the tip of a peninsula, with two bays on either side. I walked around a bit before dinner, and saw a huge 15 story concrete apartment block, uncompleted, with an abandoned building crane, just behind the beach at Baie des Citrons, and parking lots blocked off with huge boulders with broken beer bottles and dumped furniture. I thought it felt quite a bit like a scruffy part of Mexico.
I almost got caught out during my walk out--the sun set promptly at 5:30, and I scurried back to the hotel in the near-dark with no streetlights. We then just relaxed in the room, and read, before tottering off to sleep.
G'day guys, just thought I should add a note here, I've been to some those small hilly islands (in Baie de St Vincent) that you flew over as your plane approached Tontouta International Airport. They are outcrops of fossiliferous Triassic & Jurassic rocks and I spent about a week in total on 7 of them. Were great places to visit, very isolated and dry. The reefs around were fantastic to snorkel in during our lunch time siesta. Lots of sea snakes too!