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New Caledonia Travel Guide

Historic Nouméa

The Place des Cocotiers, with its statues, fountains, pétanque players, and tourist information office is the ideal place to begin your tour. From November to January the poincianas (flame trees) set this wonderful central park alight in hues of red and orange. Points of interest include the vintage bandstand, at the east end of the square, the Celeste Fountain (1892), point zero for all highway mileages on the mainland, in the middle, and the statue of Admiral Olry, governor 1878-1880, at the west end. The old town hall (1880), facing the north side of the square, is now the Musée de la Ville (closed Sunday) with an excellent collection of old photos and a 1/400 scale model of Nouméa in 1897. An audio guide in English is included in the admission fee.

Walk north on rue du Général Mangin past trendy rue de l'Alma to the old military hospital, built by convict laborers in the 1880s and still Nouméa's main medical facility. Only in 1982 did the territory take over the hospital from the army. Turn right on avenue Paul Doumer and you'll come to Government House, the residence of the French High Commissioner. Go right, then left up rue de la République two blocks, to the Territorial Congress on your right. A small collection of local rocks and shells is showcased upstairs from the reception, in front of the room where the 54-seat congress meets.

Go up the ramp off boulevard Vauban to the Protestant Church (1893) at the head of rue de l'Alma, then continue south on Vauban to St. Joseph's Catholic Cathedral (1893), which was also built by convict labor. Enter this fine old building overlooking the city through the side doors to see the stained-glass windows, timber roof, and wooden pulpit. Continue east from the cathedral along rue Frédéric Surleau to the French army barracks (caserne) on Place Bir Hakeim. A war memorial flanked by guns which once guarded the entrance to Nouméa harbor stands in front of these barracks dating from 1869.

Return west along avenue de la Victoire to 41 avenue du Maréchal Foch and the Bernheim Library. In 1901, Lucien Bernheim, a miner who made his fortune in the territory, donated the money for its first library (the only time a local mining mogul has ever given away anything). What had been the New Caledonian pavilion at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1900 was used to house the collection, and the original building still stands alongside the present reading room. To this day it's the only real public library in the territory. By buying a three-month membership here, you get the right to freely use the Internet half an hour each day (reserve a time slot the day before).

St. Joseph's Catholic Church
St. Joseph's Catholic Church
in Nouméa was built
by convict labor.

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