New Caledonia

The South Pacific is littered with paradise islands. Palm trees and squeaky white beaches, turquoise water, feasts of seafood – the only real difference between one or the other is where you’ve actually been, and the experience you’ve had. I spent a week in New Caledonia, which is governed out of Paris as a department of France, and is therefore uniquely French. Something about coupling freshly baked baguettes and Bordeaux wine (cheap, given the transport costs) with reggae-inspired views and tropical island beauty made me wonder: If you can live in paradise (where everything works), earn a strong currency pegged to the euro (for freedom to travel), and live a lifestyle pegged to Robinson Crusoe (because we all need 18 hours of sleep a day), isn’t that epitome of island life?

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Length of Trip : 7 days

Cost :
Since the local currency (the French Pacific franc, or CFP) is pegged to the euro, New Caledonia a pricey compared to say, Thailand, but cheaper than say, Australia.

Best time to go : August to October. Cyclone season in November to March.

Wheelchair friendly : Yes

Family friendly : Yes

Where to eat :
If you can catch it, you can eat it. Turtle meat, fruit bats, giant lobsters, parrotfish, deer meat, octopus, prawn sashimi - it's all on the menu and touched up with unmistakable French panache. The indigenous population can treat you to a bougna - starch (sweet potato, manioc, tarot) with meat and coconut milk, cooked in an earth over for a couple hours. Local tour operators can arrange this. Pastries on the island are straight out of the Paris (croissant heaven), and in the stores you can get gourmet mustard and French wine probably cheaper than anywhere else in the southern hemisphere. Hundreds of cheeses to try, and lets not forget fois de gras.

Official Site :
Visit New Caledonia

Where to Stay :
Hotel Le Lagon, Noumea.
Le Meridien Noumea

Getting There :
There are regular flights into New Caledonia from Paris, Sydney, Auckland, Tokyo, and various Pacific nations. Visitors from the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand do not require visas for stays under 90 days. Technically you're in France, so EU passport holders are welcome. Car hire is recommended. To get to the Iles des Pins, you can either take a fast ferry, short flight, or boat tour with a local tour operator.

Note from Robin :
On the Iles des Pins, a short ferry from the capital of Noumea, you will find the freak phenomenon locals call a “natural aquarium”. Thousands of tropical fish wash over a protective reef with the waves into a shallow rock pool. Grab some bread, stand waist high with a dive mask, and hand feed them. Pure goose bumps, without a diving certificate.

Does New Caledonia belong on the Global Bucket List?

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There are stinky cheeses, and there are stinky cheeses. My friends on New Caledonia challenged me to take on the stinkiest of them all. What can I say? It was a journey I'll never forget. cheese

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It’s a rare occasion when the name of a car aligns so perfectly with what I’ve used it for. Whether rocketing along the notorious Trans-Labrador Highway, or cruising among the mountainous candy of one of the world’s most beautiful drives, the Ford Escape has indeed lived up to its name. It has stood up to some pretty epic challenges, and that includes taking a 6-month baby on a 30-day cross-country book tour. Compact yet spacious, powerful yet fuel efficient, and loaded with features you’ll soon wonder how you did without, the Ford Escape more than lives up to its moniker. – Robin Esrock

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