Although this town of 5,000 inhabitants, 167 km northwest of Nouméa, is the second largest in the territory, it's a disappointing little place after Nouméa. Along the one main street are the church (1877), post office, banks, supermarkets, gas stations, gendarmerie, town hall, and school, eight essential facilities you'll find in most New Caledonian towns. Two companies of French infantry are stationed at Camp Nandai, seven km north of Bourail beyond the turnoff to Houaïlou.
Use Bourail as a stopover on a trip around the island, or as a base for visiting the surrounding area. In mid-August a major agricultural fair is held here—the best time to meet les broussards (country people).
There's not a lot to see in Bourail, although a small market is held at the northwest end of town on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. Worth a visit is the Bourail Museum, on the highway just south of the center, in a storehouse remaining from the penitentiary set up here in 1867. The museum displays the history of the region, in particular the life of early French settlers, Kanak artifacts, seashells, and photos from WW II. A Kanak case and petroglyphs are in the museum yard.
Plenty of buses pass through Bourail, but the drivers will only let you on if there's an empty seat. This can be a problem on Sunday and with buses headed for the east coast, which arrive full from Nouméa. Thus it's smart to visit Bourail on your way back to Nouméa rather than getting out here on your way north. Strangely, hitchhiking out of Bourail can be unpredictable, with waits of more than three hours not uncommon.
Continue to The Center: Around Bourail »