Partly a weird remnant of France in the Pacific, partly a distinctive hive of Islander culture, Noumea is both New Caledonia's capital and largest city. It often feels like it's in a timewarp – often dated but never down at heel – but also like a real city rather than somewhere that exists solely for tourists. Expect Bordeaux wines, crepes, a big sailing fraternity and a spectacular mountain backdrop. The best bases are Baie des Citrons and Anse Vata in the south of the city.
Tjibaou cultural cente, Noumea. Photo: New Caledonia Tourism
The Centre Culturel Tjibaou is devoted to the local Kanak culture, with smatterings from other Pacific Islands, too. It traces the attempts to revive and sustain Kanak culture, while exploring beliefs and arts. It's also an absolutely staggering piece of architecture from Renzo Piano, with eye-popping interpretations on 10 "cases" (traditional houses). See adck.nc
Manuia is well hidden behind the shops on Anse Vata's coastal strip – look for the white gate behind the Maison de la Perle jeweller. But it's arguably the best place to eat there, with a Tahitian vibe, gardens seemingly invading the dining area and marvellous seafood. The country-style tuna steak for 2800 francs ($36) is both sizeable and excellent. Call 00 687 23 12 50.
If you're wanting a bit of exercise beyond walking from the beach to the gelato shop, then take on a probably rather sweaty hike up to the Parc Naturel du Ouen-Toro. It's the big hill next to Anse Vata, and from there you can see out over green, mountainous peninsulas and island to the east, plus the lagoon, reef and resort islets to the south.
Amedee Island. Photo: Gill Chabaud
Speaking of those islets, the Mary D day trip out to Amedee is fantastic. It does all the Pacific boat trip staples – coconut-husking demos, traditional dancing, big buffet lunch – but also throws in a glass-bottomed boat trip and sunloungers on the beach. Oh, and you'll probably end up swimming with turtles. See amedeeisland.com
The Ramada at Anse Vata isn't likely to be competing for design awards any time soon, but it offers spacious rooms with kitchenettes, big balconies and a rather lovely freeform pool. It's one of the more reasonably priced options within a short walk of the beach. Rooms from $270. See ramadanoumea.com
Food can be pretty steep in price here, and that particularly bites if you're paying for cafe lunches. Step back away from the beach, however, and you'll find some good bakeries doing sandwiches and cakes on the relative cheap. Atelier Gourmand at 141 Route de I'Anse Vata is a great example.
David Whitley was a guest of New Caledonia Tourism. See newcaledonia.travel
See also: 20 reasons to visit New Caledonia