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We sent Explorer Jeremy Drake on a myth-busting mission, to prove that New Cal is packed to the brim with unique adventures that won’t break the bank.
$1000 is one of those ubiquitous numbers that’s thrown around very casually these days.
Last week I paid $1045 for my new comfy-as-hell sofa. My last car service, of four new tyres and a wheel balance, cost me a cool $980.
At the pub the other night, my mate said to me ‘It’s only about $1K!’ Casually throwing in the word ‘about’ as if it made the ‘K’ invisible.
It seems like everything in life costs ‘about’ $1000 these days. So when We Are Explorers loaded me up with the challenge to travel for four nights and five days in New Caledonia with only $1000, at first I didn’t even flinch.
Exploring New Caledonia For 5 Days With Only $1000!PLAY VIDEO
How hard could it be?! In my early 20s I once lived in Barcelona for a week on about 17 Euro and a box of Sangria.
‘I’ve totally got this,’ I thought to myself as I reached into the deepest recess of my backpacker brain.
A little online research about the tiny South Pacific French territory – about a 3-hour direct flight from Sydney – quickly made me think that $1000 actually might only get me a handful of croissants on my first morning there.
However, despite visions of me living on a beach for 5-days like Tom Hanks in Castaway, I was determined to give this challenge a good crack. But first, a few ground rules from We Are Explorers and the guys at New Caledonia Tourism:
Flights were not included in that budget. The good folk from Aircalin sorted out my direct flights from Sydney. Aircalin conveniently has direct flights to Noumea from all three major East Coast capitals which, if you book in advance, might only set you back about $500.
But somehow the budget needed to cover all my accommodation, travel, food, activities and fun. I’ve had fun before, but usually it involves a wad of cash and someone else paying for my hotel room, so I needed to get creative.
AU$1000 is about 74,000 South Pacific Francs (XPF) and as I exchanged my cash at Sydney airport (and was no doubt ripped off in the process) I held my new XPF bills tightly, said a prayer and stepped onto my flight.
I blew 25% of my budget on car hire within the first 10 minutes of being in the country.
Not a great start.
Whilst it was unavoidable, it didn’t fill me with a great deal of confidence about the remaining five days. The route I‘d chosen had me spending a couple nights in the capital, Noumea, before making a beeline for the North-West coast. On reflection, about 500kms of travel for AU$229 is a pretty good deal.
Much to my surprise, the drive from La Tontouta Airport to Noumea City was easy. In fact, the entire driving experience while in the country was an absolute breeze. Even parking just outside the CBD was simple and free. It felt more like I was driving on a road in southern Europe than on a South Pacific island.
Granted my choice of car (i.e the largest automobile I could afford) was a two-door red Peugeot with the engine capacity of a go-cart, petrol was very comparative to Australian prices (about AU$1.80/L)
I knew this was going to be difficult in Noumea. As I’d done many times in my early travel days, I made a booking at Noumea City Hostel for only AU$30 per night.
I was fully expecting to be sleeping in the same room as some snoring German backpackers.
Much to my surprise, my private room was clean, the staff were friendly and the view over the city’s main cathedral and harbour made for a breathtaking afternoon sunset, whilst drinking a beer with a few new French photographer friends.
My recommendation, however, is to get out of Noumea and head straight for the coast. As you get out of the city, there are ample private beach bungalow options, synonymous with that true South Pacific beach vibe. You just need to look a little harder.
I opted for a family-run surf and fish camp called ‘Nekweta’ for only AU$60 per night on the country’s best surf break, La Roche Percée.
While you’re in Noumea City stick mostly to the free stuff because you’ll need your cash for food. We caught sunrise from the city’s highest peak, Ouen Toro, before taking a morning stroll around the main market Port Moselle and bartering for cheap bananas with friendly traders.
A short 60km drive from Noumea City is the breathtaking Blue River National Park. For only AU$80 plus car entry, you can rent both a bike and kayak here for up to eight hours. A paddle through the drowned forest is a highlight and a full day adventure, so well worth the splurge.
But outdoor activities in New Caledonia really come into their own once you get into the Northern Provinces. The country has its fair share of lagoons and swimming holes that literally teem with sea life.
I opted to see it from the sky in a motor paraglide, sailing for 15 minutes over Poé Lagoon for a very reasonable $75. That same afternoon I grabbed a AU$40 private boat tour to Green Island with my accommodation host, which included a snorkel alongside dozens of Eagle Rays and turtles.
If you choose to base yourself in La Roche Percée, you’ve got to visit the Three Bays Trail at sunset. On Turtle Bay, watch the sandstone literally change colour as the sun descends behind the beach.
It’s hardly a holiday if you have to spend the majority of your mealtimes at a supermarket, but in its defence, Casino Port Plaisance in Noumea is not your average supermarket.
I stocked up here twice with baguettes, camembert and even a fresh deli slice of Foie Gras to get me through a couple of budget lunches. And that’s probably the last time I’ll ever use ‘Foie Gras’ and ‘budget’ in the same sentence.
I was recommended to try Creperie Le Rocher which commands some incredible views over Noumea’s Lemon Bay. Creperie Le Rocher is a bit like that country pub you might stumble across that has 80 different types of chicken parmas. For only AU$30 you can let your wildest crepe combo imaginations run wild.
Back at La Tontouta Airport and waiting for my flight home, I stared at my remaining handful of South Pacific Francs on the table in front of me.
I was genuinely surprised.
But the fact that I’d reached this point with about AU$50 in change was not through a miracle, but rather a reflection on the variety of options available to travellers in New Caledonia.
Sure you could skip the hostel or add a few more restaurants into the mix, but I certainly didn’t feel like I lived like a backpacker or needed to scream for ‘Wilson!’ at any point during my visit.
If New Caledonia is not already at the top of your South Pacific bucket list, put it there now, you won’t be disappointed.