Power here is 220 Volt at 50 Hz. The plug type is the European Schuko which is found across Europe. This creates two issues for American devices: the plug shape and the voltage. To change the plug shape you can use basic adapters but if you use these adapters, your device MUST state on the power supply that it can handle both 110 and 220 Volt! If you plug a 110-only device into an adapter that you stick into a 220 socket, you may release the magic smoke that makes the device work! Fortunately, most “modern” electronics will work with 110 or 220 (cell phone chargers, laptop adapters, etc.) but you must check every device BEFORE you plug it in!
If your device is NOT 220V compatible, you’re not completely out of luck. You can use a step-up/step-down transformer to convert 220V to 110V but be warned these things are BIG and HEAVY so it may be worth getting a new microwave once you’re here rather than bringing along your old American one if you’ll need a transformer.
FYI the most recent publishing of Lonely Planet’s Vanuatu and New Caledonia guide has INCORRECT information for the New Caledonia plug type! It shows the Australian angly plug shape which is used in Vanuatu, but this is not the case in New Caledonia!
French is the common tongue in New Caledonia. There are several local languages as well but French will get you everywhere. I know about 5 phrases and have been ok for the most part – there’s usually someone nearby that speaks enough English to help out and, failing that, wild gesticulating seems to work. Learning at least some basic French while we’re here is one of my goals so I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted on that…
Biking is scary in Noumea due to the craziness of drivers (seriously, people! calm down! You don’t need to go 40 km/h in a PARKING LOT!)
Cars/scooters/motorcycles are the most popular. You can hire them from several places. The cheapest we’ve found is Point Rouge but there are the big ones too (Hertz, Budget, Avis, etc.).
There is a city bus in Noumea which is pretty decent. It costs 210xpf per ride unless you buy your ticket ahead of time at a ticket agency – then it is 190xpf. The Karuia bus website has timetables and schedules.
Water taxis! From Anse Vata beach you can hop on a water taxi to go to some of the nearby “Ilots” for a day of snorkeling and relaxing, swimming with fish, and other activities. Depending on the island you want to go to, it costs from 1300xpf up for a round-trip. If you go on a busy day, be prepared to wait a few minutes before setting off. You let them know what time you want to return and the come pick you up.
Government home page with separate pages for vehicles, marine stuff, etc.. Actually pretty helpful if you know what you’re looking for – http://www.gouv.nc
OPT is some crazy far-reaching government office thing that controls the post as well as phone networks (both landline and mobile). Pretty much everything related to communications goes through them which creeps me out a little but we do what we must do. Sending/receiving mail, setting up a phone line, getting a SIM card for your mobile phone, or getting internet access at home will require a trip to an OPT office.
New Caledonia has a GSM 3G+ HSPA+ network at 900Mhz and 2100Mhz in Noumea and 2G network most everywhere else except the most remote of places. You’ll want an unlocked GSM phone. Getting a SIM is way overly complicated and requires proof of residence, a bank account, and 6000XPF+ to be forked over at the OPT office. I don’t know why they make it so hard to start a phone account. Every other place in the world (ok, maybe not the US) makes paying $10 and popping a SIM in your phone at the airport a breeze. Why make it so hard? Also, data plans are EXPENSIVE! Boy do we miss having internet access no matter where we were like back home (especially with a google translate app!). Here you just pay a few bucks for between 1 and 24 hours of access at a time or pay the huge monthly fee for (bandwidth-capped) data.