1. Amadee Island Day Trip
Snorkelling with a green turtle around the watery wonderland of Amedee Island Marine Reserve was voted by my two sons as the best activity they experienced during our seven-night cruise. The tiny coral atoll, located just a 40-minute boat trip away from the port of Noumea, is home to the world's smallest post office. After sending off a few envy-inducing postcards, Fin, aged 14, and Marley, 13, notched up a few more 'wish you were here' moments gliding over the reef in a glass-bottomed boat, slicing through the blue-green water on a standup paddleboard and doing backflips off the pier. A sumptuous buffet lunch is included in this popular full-day shore excursion to Amedee Island, where you can also learn the art of shimmying up a palm tree and give Melanesian dancing a twirl.
2. Turtle Bay and Brush Island Boating Adventure
Family travel changes as your children get older. While the young ones may well prefer staying in the ship's pool during port days, the older children surveyed all got a huge thrill when it came to losing the crowds and feeling like a castaway for a day. The backdrop of sea and sky around Turtle Bay and Brush Island is just beautiful, as the light flickers across the spectrum from ice-blue to turquoise and back again. After zooming around the crystal-clear waters of Turtle Bay on a Zodiac, my two boys loved this shore excursion as it provided another opportunity to jump into the sea and swim with an enormous turtle. We then got the opportunity to kick back on Brush Island, where my husband initiated an impromptu game of beach cricket, with wickets and stumps fashioned from driftwood. Wi-Fi is not an option and happily, none of the children seemed to care.
3. Cultural Immersion in Lifou
New Caledonia best expresses itself through its quiet villages, chilled locals and pace of life. Lifou is the largest island in the archipelago of coral atolls known as the Loyalty Islands. It's not enough to view this island from the top deck of Carnival Spirit with binoculars; it's a place to experience. Children love standing inside the small, picturesque cave with different formations of stalagmites and stalactites on the Forest & Secret Grotto Tour: it's like being inside the mouth of a mystical beast. The tour also includes demonstrations of hunting techniques explained in the local language, which our tour guide Thierry helps to translate, and a close encounter with an enormous coconut crab. The robust culture here -- which combines elements of French and Melanesian culture -- is really interesting and the laidback locals enrich the experience. A shore excursion dubbed the Melanesian Encounter is another popular activity and includes a visit to a local parliament house replete with thatched roof, and a lunch cooked over hot coals by local chief Guillaume, at village restaurant Meli-Melo.
4. Beach Day in Noumea
Anse Vata Beach has a white sandy beach and palm tree-fringed promenade lined with cafes and restaurants. Around the corner is Lemon Bay, where the beachside boulevard has more upmarket dining venues and shops. For snorkelling, the tiny Duck Island is reached via a shore excursion from the cruise terminal or a five-minute water taxi ride from Anse Vata Beach. Duck Island has shaded sunbeds and a straw hut bar serving barbecue food, salads drinks.
5. Exploring Isle of Pines
One of the most popular and beautiful ports in the whole of the South Pacific is Isle of Pines. Most people go snorkelling as the island is surrounded by the New Caledonia Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to the endangered dugong and green sea turtles. The best spot is the protected cove of Oro Bay, known as ‘the natural aquarium’, although this no longer features on many cruise lines’ shore excursions so it may be necessary to take a private tour. Cruise passengers can easily wander two minutes from the tender wharf to the Kuto Bay, set up with stalls selling sarongs, fruit, coconut drinks, shellfish and other local food, or the calm waters of family-friendly Kanumera Bay. For more vigorous activities, take an outrigger canoe ride or do a one-hour hike up N’ga Peak (262 metres), the island’s highest point.
Discovered by the Captain James Cook in 1774 and turned into a penal colony by the Napoleon-led French Government a century later, there is also much history to explore. Ruins of the penal colony, a 150-year-old water tower and a cemetery of graves of political deportees can be found in the village of Ouro, on the western side of the island. Another excursion visits Queen Hortense’s Cave, convict-built churches, Vao village and market stalls, with commentary by local guides about the indigenous Melanesian Kanak customs.