Australians love to travel, but one of the problems we experience is our geographic location where we are so far away from the history and culture of Europe. Unless you have at least three weeks for a holiday, it’s hardly worth sitting on a plane for almost 23 hours to travel half way round the world.
Closer to home, if you want to experience a touch of the French lifestyle, New Caledonia is only 2½ hours flying time from Sydney.
Aircalin offers daily flights to Noumea, leaving Sydney early afternoon, giving you plenty of time to pack in the morning then travel to the airport, without having to set the alarm clock for a pre-dawn wake up. Their Airbus A330-200 offers the latest in comfort. On a recent flight I decided to begin the holiday in style and travel Business Class, or Hibiscus Class as it is known on Aircalin.
The French experience began the minute I boarded the plane, being welcomed by the charming crew whose English came with a tinge of their French accents, making you want to listen to every word they spoke. Once seated I was offered a glass (or two) of champagne, which really put me in the holiday mood.
After departure, it wasn’t long before I was served my three course meal, which was actually delicious, accompanied by a choice of red or white wines and served with all the flair of a fine dining establishment. No problems about airline food on Aircalin. After finishing my coffee, I thought I’d get in a short snooze so I pressed a few buttons on the arm rest and my seat turned into a lie flat bed. Such comfort, I was sorry the flight was not longer.
Arriving early evening at Noumea’s modern La Tontouta International Airport, we moved quickly through customs and immigration procedures, collected the luggage and went outside the terminal to meet the Arc en Ciel transportation service that was to drive us to the hotel. We had booked and paid for this service on line, prior to leaving Sydney, which streamlined the procedure. We shared the spacious mini-van with others from the plane, but if desired, a private transportation could be booked for a higher fee. The airport is 45kms from the city, so it’s a shame the flight arrives after dark, as you cannot see the beautiful scenery on the way into town. However, I did enjoy the scenic trip on the return journey to the airport.
We stayed at the newly opened Chateau Royal Hotel, located on the beach at Anse Vata, set amidst tropical gardens and lawns. Our room, which was actually a two room suite, had a full length balcony that could be accessed from both rooms, and the sweeping views across the bay could be seen from almost every part of the room. There was also a fully equipped kitchen, perfect for those wanting to try their hand at cooking some of the local produce.
Although the hotel is right on Anse Vata beach, there’s also a large swimming pool, surrounded by palm trees, ideal for relaxing in the sun. The hotel is also famous for their spa, providing massages and every sort of beauty treatment one would expect. With several restaurants and bars, the hotel offers everything for a perfect stay.
Sandra Tiltman PHOTOS: John Pond