Wend your way around Noumea’s popular bays and you’ll notice a common thread; that is, the number of people exercising. Most are jogging along idyllic waterfront – at all hours – but there are even workout stations planted at various points along the runs that are being used. And this isn’t to mention the basketball and tennis, watersports like kiteboarding and other outdoor activities happening around town. So this is how you still look good after devouring those delicious French New Caledonian cheeses…
But there are better ways travellers can combine exercise and sightseeing here. Today, I’m taking up one such option with Toutazimut, an adventure tour company that runs 4wd trips to some of southern New Cal’s prettiest spots, where guests can trek or swim to their heart’s content (and health).
The first stop on our tour is just 40kms from Noumea, high in the Koghis Mountains. It’s a windy drive up, but the lookout affords the best views of the city and its surrounds, our driver guide and Toutazimut founder Axelle Battie says.
Just a little further up the hill, we pull into a lovely French-style chalet, to which Toutazimut has exclusive access, and proceed on foot.
Axelle offers hiking tours that range from easy to exhausting, the latter of which even involves some ‘climbing’. But what they share is beautiful scenery, through rainforest familiar yet foreign to this Aussie. I recognise the soil, rich red earth common in parts of Australia. But there are trees unique to New Caledonia, such as the trunk-less Caledonian Royal fern, and the world’s tallest fern, which grows to some 30 metres.
If you’re lucky, you may even spot New Cal’s national bird, the flightless Cagou, the New Caledonian parakeet, or the world’s largest pigeon, Le Notou.
Though we don’t make it as far as some of the apparently amazing waterfalls, the trek is still a memorable one.
Back down the mountain, we stop by Le Faré Gourmand in nearby Koe for lunch. Swede Louise, and local Alex, host an annual Tough Mudder-style obstacle event here called GI Joe Race as well as a Vertical Kilometre race, so they’re used to visitors, but they now hope to set up a tourist attraction around the vestiges of a US WW2 hospital that resided on their property. Little remains of that 1,000 bed facility, but if their hospitality and food is anything to go by – a delicious bbq lunch under a beautiful ‘flame’ tree, and excellent drinks to boot – this could be a space to watch.
After this, we take a short ride to a river park, where Axelle leads hikes centered on the stunning Dumbéa tributary. Located between mountains covered in greenery (and that red soil), and bordered by boulders, the river evokes images of Australia’s Northern Territory – except here, Axelle reminds us, there aren’t crocodiles, or any harmful wildlife for that matter. The crystal clear water in Dumbéa River is so clean, it’s good enough to consume, and after today’s (gentle) exertions, I drink it in whilst enjoying one of the nicest swims I’ve had anywhere.
Though there’s hardly a soul here today, Axelle says locals sometimes flock here, so she’ll often take visitors further up the river, where even quieter waters await. It’s a little more walking, but in New Caledonia, it seems nobody minds the exercise.
The writer was a guest of New Caledonia Tourism.
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