Noumea – impressions

Perhaps it’s a little presumptuous to start commenting too much about Noumea after only a day or so, but in spite of that, here goes.

Yes, the tourist precinct where we are is pleasant enough.  Although French is the primary language, anyone who has more than passing contact with tourists can get by in English.   However, there always seems to be genuine pleasure if you “practice” your French (C is here to study the language and S is Canadian so, although rusty, speaks it to some extent).

That said,  the place is far from overrun by tourists.   Our hotel seems very quiet.  Perhaps it’s because there’s no overwhelming reason for tourists to come here:   yes, there’s a nice lagoon and I’m told the watersports and diving are very good, and perhaps people come to Noumea (and where we are, Anse Vata) as a jumping-off place for other destinations in New Caledonia.   However, if you just want to sit by a resort pool, there are lots of other places in the world where the prices are “better value” and perhaps the weather is warmer.

So I’ve mentioned weather:   it’s mild and sunny (low 20s?), but right now there’s a fairly consistent breeze.  And prices:   everything you’ve heard about things being expensive is true!    We paid the equivalent of over $6 for a coffee, and restaurant main courses are often up around the $A50 equivalent mark (sometimes more in up-market places).    Perhaps it’s all about the exchange rate, because the higher prices (for us) appear to apply to just about everything.  Of course, we’re still making sure that we get out and about and, if I may say so, these prices do mean that, at least from what we can see, the tourists that do get here aren’t overly concerned with life on a budget!

After meeting up with C and S we had a nice seafood lunch overlooking Baie des Citrons, following which we took advantage of the fact that C had a hire car to do a decent shop at the supermarket.  I was struck by the fact that there appear to be no parking time limits (apart from “no standing” areas).   It seems that parking is provided for all!

Baie des Citrons
Nice lunch!
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Noumea – getting there

The flight to Noumea was fine – an adequate meal and acceptable seating pitch on the direct flight (less than 4 hours) on Air Calin.    Arrival formalities at Noumea’s international airport were fine, too.  However, the pre-booked transfer into town was a bit of a drag.    The international airport is 45 kms out of town, and on the other side of the city to our accommodation, so the transfer took over an hour (and that was with only one “drop off” before ours).  It was totally dark at the time of the trip, which accentuated the distance.  It’s too early to say yet, but I gained the impression that there are some fairly “industrial” parts of town, perhaps understandable in view of the fact that the local economy relies on a big nickel mine.

However the accommodation is nice:  a 1-bedroom unit with the bedroom separate from the kitchen/living area.  We found out this morning that we have a side-on view of the sea.  No surprises there;   that’s what we paid for and in fact is a little better than I dared to hope for.   We’re on the 6th floor, which again is exactly in line with our request.

We checked out the resort’s restaurant looking for a fairly “basic” meal, but they were very open with us:   we wouldn’t be getting value for money in the “fine dining” restaurant, so why not order some take away?    That’s exactly what we did.  We waited in the bar over a drink while our burger and lasagna were prepared,  then brought the food up to our room where we washed it down with red wine!   After a fairly tiring day, it was just right!!

Bear Brass

I don’t post as many restaurant reviews these days.  We still eat out regularly, but often it’s at restaurants we’ve been to before.

However, before going to the play recently, we had a drink and something to eat at Bear Brass at  Southgate, on the ground level.   Fortune smiled on us, and we scored a nice table on the terrace.    It was a cold night, so there was a glass screen between us and the footpath, but we were right next to the glass, just right for people-watching!   And there was an effective heater overhead, too!   The service was good but the food was less than inspiring, “bar food” perhaps:  the calamari was dry and shrivelled, and my burger was “ordinary” (but the chips were great).

Seemingly our experience was in line with at least some of the reviews.

In short, great location (especially if you get a view), very attentive staff, drinks fine, prices OK, but food a little hit-and-miss.

Eating at Torquay

I guess we’ve never really checked out the “food scene” at Torquay, but on our most recent visit, we tried a few places.     The Thai place in the main shopping area looked very “suburban”, being quite a bland shop, but the food was really good (and good value, too).  In fact, it seems it’s name is “Real Thai Cafe” and it’s described as a “bright hangout for classic dishes”.   Yes, I’d agree with that description, assuming that “bright” equates to “bland”!

Growlers apparently regards itself as a Torquay icon, and lunch there was fine.  The menu isn’t exactly innovative, but the open chicken sandwich on rye and the kale and quinoa salad were both generous in quantity and very acceptable in quality.

And if you’re lucky, as we were, at Growlers you can score an indoor table with a view over the foreshore and out to sea.    Of course, in warmer weather there’s lots of outdoor seating too, which I imagine would be very popular.

For dinner, we ventured back to The Esplanade, and ended up at what I think was The Pond (I think the area in whch we sat was part of the establishment on the corner).    As you can see from the reviews, it’s mainly a breakfast/lunch place, but our barramundi and chicken pie dishes, although quite straight-forward, were satisfactory.  Once again, the ambiance was a bit bland, more suited to daytime dining, but that was fine by us.

Torquay front beach foreshore

Staying at the resort (Torquay)

We spent a couple of nights at the RACV Torquay resort (although we’re home now).    Spacious rooms, a view out over the golf course with the sand dunes and surf in the distance, and best of all, a lovely breakfast.

The RACV resorts don’t have as many “deals” as they used to, presumably because they’re so popular, but it’s still possible with a bit of planning to get a “good rate”.

Perhaps it’s just the way my mind works, but I found myself drawing comparisons with the last “resort-type” accommodation that we stayed at, which was in the Lake District.    Well, getting to Torquay is much easier, just load up the car and park it in the basement when you get there.   And, to be candid, the price we paid is a fraction of the eye-watering cost of the premium accommodation we had at Bowness.    Of course, being far from home always has an appeal about it, and  the Lake District is very scenic in a way that the Surf Coast can’t match (especially with the creeping onset of suburbia).

But perhaps the biggest difference is that at Torquay we relaxed more.  True, we were both getting over colds, and the weather was cold with a few showers, so we were definitely in the mood for “veg-ing” around the resort.  However,  we did this with no qualms about not getting “out and about” to take in the local area (except of course for meals!).  On the other hand, at Bowness we were much more inclined to use every available moment (well, most of them, anyway) making sure that we were taking in all that there was to be seen because a lot of it was new to us and we’re unlikely to return.                 .

Jack Rabbit

We’re  down on the Bellarine Peninsular, so headed to the Jack Rabbit cafe for lunch.  It seems the kitchen is undergoing renovations, so a temporary kitchen has been set up in a marquee!     However, the food was good, albeit served in boxes rather than on plates.  More importantly the view out over Corio Bay was fantastic as usual.     The forecast was for rain, but this didn’t eventuate although the sky was stormy.

Syracuse and dining in the CBD

If we’re dining out, the CBD isn’t usually on our radar unless we’re already in the city.  There are plenty of places that are easier to get to.   The CBD is a bit of an excursion and public transport can be “hit and miss”.  The frequency of both trams and trains really drops off in the evenings and the trams in particular can be very crowded.  I know there are deals for parking in the evening and we sometimes do drive in for functions, but the traffic, especially driving in, can be problematic.

But we do eat out after early performances at MTC (usually somewhere at Southbank).  After seeing Wild, we had dinner at Syracuse with T and W.   It’s in Bank Place.  Syracuse describes itself as a “Wine Bar & Restaurant”.  Certainly the wine list is very extensive indeed (more than 500 wines, apparently).  The dinner menu was less extensive, but still had some great offerings.  I had the apple & chestnut soup (great!) and the duck ragout gnocchi was some of the best gnocchi I’ve ever had.   I believe that all the others in our group enjoyed their meals also.

But part of the appeal of the place is the room itself:   there are  archways, high ceilings and chandeliers, apparently representing a 19th century hotel lobby.

With such an extensive wine list, it follows that there are plenty of wines in the $100+ bracket.  However, T selected a Barossa red blend for well under this, and it was excellent.

All in all, a good night.