Having only just come back from a cruise (ex Brisbane) via Noumea, NC -Lifou, NC -Vila, Vanuatu. I though I would put my story in here for another perspective, as there seems to be a little negativity in some of these responses.
First and foremost, i was 'talked in' to going so reluctantly said yes. in hindsight i have no regrets. The conjestion on boarding in brisbane was slightly frustrating, but as soon as the formalities were over, the balance of that day was quite enjoyable. I wont go into detail of each day, but suffice to say, there is almost always something to do. so the actual cruise is as hectic or peacful as you choose.
As for disembark/embarkation on these ports, i will mention each separately as they were each unique.
We entered Noumea on a cloudy afternoon, and relaxed at the front bar with the view overlooking all the main town as we entered the harbour. the ship intercom explained the proceedure and we watched the "masses" leave the ship. this was already decided as we had no pre arranged tour to go onto, but could clearly see from the top deck, a quick efficient departure to the waiting tours by those exiting the ship.
Now to our surprise, the (adult) kids left us only 5 minutes before (from the bar), here they were walking on the wharf leisurely strolling towards their tour guide.. So we decided it must be relatively easy to leave without too much waiting in ques. And that was the case. In a matter of less than ten minutes we were from the top deck of the ship, through customs (less than 30 seconds) out to enjoy the city. we pre-planned on meeting the kids back at the warf so enjoyed, really enjoyed, the streets and shops walking around noumea. we returned to the warf around 730 pm, met the kids, enjoyed the festivities still going on in this undercover area. then proceeded to walk to the tavern we found while on 'walkabout' earlier. excellent service, wonderful people. I only speak english, and found everybody in town i met so friendly and helpful, particularly knowing i was a obviously a (sometimes lost) tourist. re-entry onto the ship was a no brainer. a thoroughly enjoyable day.
The night before we were advised to collect a token (boat allocation) in the morning. The ship entered to the safe anchorage, and we decided to once again chill and leasurly leave the ship via its tender boats after "the rush"(no ship access to wharf). This ticketed roster (the token) was for accessing the tenders. so everybody who was departing already had their seat allocated. an efficient way to transfer i think. we knew we were having our number called after the tenders were actually operating so enjoyed a late breakfast and a shipboard stroll after. The intercom called the "purple 7" passengers to disembark so we casually made our way to the reasonably short que. total wait time less than 15 minutes. The kids also had 'purple 7' and were in the beggining of our call. they were waiting at the base of the wharf near the markets as were arrived. not phased by the short delay us oldies gave them. there were tour buses (vans and cars also) waiting to negotiate informal tours with us. but we decided to explore this idillic little place on foot. Gettin back onto the tenders later was quite simply, a breeze. just a small delay on board for the tourist gifts and duty free proceedures. once again took only a few minutes.
the only negative i experienced on arrival at lifou, was the end of the wharf which was monoplolised by photographers , holding up the exit off the narrow wharf by attempting to verbally coerce each person/group to have their photo taken. they could have easily given room off the wharf to allow those not interested to pass. but they chose this tactic to get their captive audience. a little dissapointing, but no deal breaker.
This time we all split up as we were going on different tours. As i was taking a scuba tour (absolutely loved it) I had to ensure i was onto the wharf by 0815. a no brainer. i got into the que at 0800, and off the ship to the tours end of the wharf in no time at all. waited there till the allocated time 0830 and presto, by 0840 the co-ordinators had the scuba group walking towards the mini bus. lots of traffic, lots of mayhem, a narrow road through the markets, now set up and full of touristy stalls. an experience i would still call enjoyable. mini buses flying all over the place trying to get into town, and back out again, for the next fare. wonderfully caotic. We arrived at the scuba tour in less than 10 minutes of getting into the minibus. After the scuba experience i walked to town (500 mtrs) with a fellow tourist . he was meeting his lady at a well renowned duty free store. so we chatted as we walked, enjoying the day and the sights. I left him there and spent the next several hours alone, taking in the new and strange sights. As the day went on i made my way on foot, eventually rarely seeing another tourist(hand held gps , Very good idea)and finally back to the ship. took in the markets, still there of course. and an easy entry yet again, into the ship.
Sorry about the length of this text. Although I do hope I have helped you decide your itinery. but take it from someone who was not excited at all about the prospect of the very same thing that now concerns you. Make each day an enjoyable one, dont stress on the small stuff. the ships crew are extreamly helpful, as are other guests with prior experience of the next port and destination. The pursers desk answered all my concerns regading the next days experience, in all good value for money. (and take you-tube with a grain of salt. I researched there before i left as well) and leave the headache of organising to the sightseeing to someone else. or do what i did. go walkabout and you will find those islolated place for yourself. I didnt speak the language remember, and still discovered my holiday !