New Caledonia: Where adrenaline and relaxation unite
One of the charms of growing up in New Zealand is that we have the great outdoors with all its activities at our disposal. From skiing to mountain biking, horse-trekking, four-wheel driving, sailing, sky-diving, fishing and hiking, there is no limit to what we can get up to with a "give it a go" attitude.
So, my dreamy notion of a 9-day sojourn to the tropical paradise of New Caledonia conjured up very contrasting images to the thrill-seeking adventures I can find in my own backyard.
Think fresh fruit and croissants for breakfast, a stroll on the beach, snorkelling, an afternoon with my freshly pedicured feet dipped in a sparkling pool. Think a massage at a beachfront bure and tasting French cheese and wine at sunset from the luxury of a seaside resort.
I certainly hadn't pictured myself screaming louder than a toddler on their first day at daycare as I clung to a rope while taking a leap of faith on one of the longest zipline courses in the Southern Hemisphere. Swinging at 90 metre above ground level is not recommended after a gourmet lunch, I might add!
Nor had I visualised my holiday pictures featuring tan-lines from the wetsuit I peeled on mid-morning for the ride of my life on a jetski travelling at 70kmh around Noumea's usually tranquil lagoon.
Or that my crisp white shoes would return home a deep shade of rouge, naturally dyed by the earth rich in bauxite and sulphur, following a mountain biking adventure over the phenomenal red-rolling hills of the Great South.
As you can probably gather, my tranquil, "put my feet-up" holiday to New Caledonia didn't quite go to plan. Instead, I filled my days as generously as the ham and cheese baguettes for sale at local bakeries – and I loved every moment!
There's just so much to do in New Caledonia, and this, being my second trip to this stunning island paradise, enticed me to step outside my comfort zone and embrace the various activities on offer.
The Great West is a great area to snorkel in the dazzling palettes of blue and turquoise water the world's largest marine park, a humbling 24,000 sq km. New Caledonia's lagoon also offers one of the world's largest barriers reefs, parts of which are listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.
In the Great South region, I kayaked on a river (which doubled as a refreshing swimming spot in the 27-degree heat) through barren landscape, aptly called "the drowned forest". Next time I'll pluck up the courage to do this excursion by moonlight for a more eerie experience.
I even turned my hand to golf, as it was impossible to ignore the world-class 18-hole course at my resort. Located between mountainous hills and pure lagoon, the Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Spa & Golf Resort was home to this year's PGA Tour Australasia. However, I was more captivated by my French golf guide's Kiwi-isms than attempting to perfect my swing – he'd spent his college years at Whangarei High.
After my round of golf, I finally put my well-trodden feet up and enjoyed a piña colada poolside, while keeping an eye out for the Australian Bachelor. Yes, the "Honey Badger" was breaking a few girls' hearts at the resort just a few days prior.
Reality TV shows are helping to put New Caledonia on the map, but in many ways the nation is still vastly unchartered, with many Kiwis only getting as far as Noumea and the nearby islands during their extended weekend travels.
Spend a bit longer in New Caledonia, though, and you'll see much more than a typical Noumea holiday offers – seek out the locals who all sing the same tune about why they cherish their island lifestyle.
New Caledonia is a complementary blend of culture, traditions, flavours, landscape, music, art, sport and mesmerising natural colour scheme. The best thing about this archipelago is that it's only a three-hour flight from Auckland and everything is so accessible once you're there.
You can horse ride over mountainous hills in the morning, stand-up paddleboard while turtle watching in the afternoon, before enjoying an evening cocktail stargazing beyond swaying coconut trees. Now that's my idea of a balanced holiday!
Linda Shackelford was hosted by New Caledonia Tourism, Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Spa & Golf Resort and Aircalin.
Your adventure essentials:
Zip Line Adventures
A 30-minute drive from Nouméa, La Belle Verte Canopy Tours, will take you to 1.2km of zip lines accessible via a 600m forest walk. labelleverte-nc.com
Hike, cycle and kayak
At 9000 hectares, Blue River National Park is the largest park in New Caledonia, and the ideal playground for hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and bird-watching - see if you can spot the native, flightless bird the Cagou. New Cal Outdoors will take care of your excursion. newcaloutdoors.com
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Rent yours from Noumea at Locajet and jet out to Escapade Island before stopping for a picnic on Larégnère Island where you might like to join in a volleyball match with locals. locajet.info
Far West Ranch offers horseback adventures over the vast plains of the Moindou region. Unleash your inner cowgirl/cowboy! facebook.com/farwestranch
New Caledonia has four 18-hole golf courses. Get your swing on at Exclusi Golf Deva (Bourail), Garden Golf (Dumbea), Ouenghi (Boulouparis) or Tina (Noumea). newcaledonia.travel/nz/nature-outdoors/golf
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