Bourail: The other side of New Caledonia

18 September 2017

Two hours north of  Nouméa, the district of Bourail is one of New Caledonia's gems, home to gorgeous wild places and kilometres of perfect, largely undiscovered beaches.

As my bus pulls up outside the Sheraton Resort in Deva, I'm feeling rushed and tired. It's been a busy morning in Nouméa, the capital of New Caledonia, and after two and a half hours on a coach I only have 15 minutes before I have an appointment to be on the back of a horse. I'm hot and grumpy as I take my seat in a golf cart, which ferries me up from the gate of the resort to reception.

All tetchy thoughts disappear instantly as we pull up and the smiling receptionist hands me a cold juice and lets me take in my surroundings as she checks me in. Holy French Pacific paradise! Where have I landed? This is one seriously beautiful resort.

A bungalow at the Sheraton Resort Deva, Bourail. Photo: supplied

I’ve got a few minutes to dump my gear, so head straight for my bungalow. On arrival, I'm thoroughly impressed – a huge effort has obviously been made to replicate traditional Kanak architecture, something I learnt about in detail at the magnificent Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Nouméa the day before. But the basic bungalow exterior is deceiving; I'm completely stunned at just how much you can fit inside something that essentially looks like a very pretty grass hut from the outside. I look longingly at the beautiful four poster bed and luxurious sofas, but know my guides are waiting for me at the ranch so hurry out the door.

Guided horse riding at Bourail. Photo: Alexia Santamaria

As Le Ranch du Carre 9 owner Marion fits me for a helmet, I nervously hope that horse riding isn't something you forget how to do. It's been a few years since I've been on a horse, so I cross my fingers tight and hope I don’t embarrass myself.

I needn’t have worried. The horses guide us effortlessly to the beach and I can't quite believe that less than an hour ago I was feeling so uptight. We clop along white sands next to crystal clear water on our placid ‘transport’. It's a bit different to any horse riding I've done at home; pretty sure I’ve never seen tropical fish darting around in the shallows on any Kiwi excursion.

The Deva Estate, Bourail. Photo: New Caledonia Travel

As we ride, I chat to Yvannick, my guide for the day, and his brother, who is along for the ride. Yvannick tells me they were both born and bred in Bourail. I ask him if he leaves Bourail often and he shakes his head, gesturing at the landsape. “Why would I? I have everything here, beautiful beach, mountains – what else could I need?” Although I quite like cities myself, I find it hard to argue as we look up towards the hills and the iridescent long white grass that looks like fields of gold in the setting sun. We head towards this gorgeous grassy scene to catch a view of the ocean from afar, and even though I've only been in this area for two hours, I already don't want to leave.

Located in the centre of New Caledonia's wild west coast, Bourail is a fascinating area. It still has all the classic beach elements you could want from a Pacific Island holiday, but it's also very attractive for those who love hiking in the bush or mountains. It's a very different New Caledonian experience from anything I’ve seen in travel brochures.

The Sheraton Golf Resort and Spa Deva, Bourail. Photo: supplied

The next day I'm keen to explore the area more, and get a driver for the day. We spend the day checking out some of the beautiful sights around Bourail, the highlight being a trip into the mountains for a traditional Bougna lunch – tender chicken, yams, pumpkin, banana and sweet potatoes cooked underground for hours in coconut milk, wrapped up in banana leaves. Our hosts are Kathy and Anderson Moitiu, and all the produce is grown on their land, which we see as we wander round, noting where Anderson takes groups hiking in the bush. The tranquillity is almost overwhelming in this beautiful mountain setting.

The view from a Bourail mountain top, with wine and cheese. Photo: Alexia Santamaria

Before dropping me back at my bungalow, we stop for some wine, cheese and local charcuterie, accompanied by a view to die for. As we mount the crest of the hill, overlooking sparkling rivers, lush green hills and beyond, the open sea. I hate the fact that I'm so predictably touristy but all I can do is repeat the words “Oh wow!” as I try to pick my jaw up off the ground. The view is just that magnificent.

After that it’s back to the Sheraton for a walk along the beach at the edge of the resort before a lovely dinner and one of the best sleeps of my life in my little ‘hut’. Maybe Yvannick’s right, I think, as I contemplate my return to rainy Auckland the next day. Why would anyone need more than this unbelievably peaceful place, nestled between the mountains and the bluer-than-blue Pacific Ocean.

Alexia Santamaria

Alexia Santamaria is a freelance writer for the NZ Herald, Metro, Next and others, focusing primarily on food and travel. Her past includes two years living in Narita, Japan, one year in London and another in Glasgow. She now calls Auckland home.