What makes New Caledonia particularly unique is the large lagoon surrounding the main island, Grande Terre. This is the largest lagoon in the world at around 14,000 square miles (23,000 square kilometers). In 2009 the special importance of the lagoon was recognized when it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The lagoon is surrounded by a coral reef second only to the Great Barrier Reef in length. The reef gives a natural protection to the sailing area that makes it an ideal cruising ground.
Sailing and Weather Conditions in New Caledonia
New Caledonia is dominated by trade winds from the south east that average around 15-20 knots through most of the year. This is an average though, and you can strike days that are dead calm or blowing quite hard. Fortunately the reef provides protection from the sea so the swells are never enormous.
The best time for sailing is between April and November. These are the cooler months. The temperatures can be lower than you would find in other parts of the South Pacific, but the average daily temperature is still in the region of 20-23 degrees C and the water is eminently pleasant and swimmable.
December to March is hot and humid with a greater chance of cyclones. Ironically, although this is not the best season for the weather it is the most popular for sailing in the lagoon. This is because the majority of the boating is done by locals, for whom it is the summer holidays.
New Caledonia Cruising Grounds
If chartering a yacht, the cruising area is to the west and south of Grande Terre. You could easily spend a lifetime exploring this vast area - the local cruising guide lists more than 150 anchorages and there are many more besides.
If you wish to go further afield there are the Loyalty Islands to the east of Grande Terre, the eastern coast of Grande Terre itself and the even more remote Belep archipelago on the island's northern tip. It's also very possible to include Vanuatu in your yacht charter, a distance of around 330 miles (530 kilometers) from Noumea.
How to Charter a Yacht in New Caledonia
New Caledonia is relatively undeveloped as a sailing destination and only a few small charter companies operate from there. The best company to organize your charter through is Sail Connections; this is an international company who will remove any potential complications from dealing with a local New Caledonian company (problems can occur, particularly as French is the main language).
Aside from one or two monohull yachts (Dufour 45 or similar) most of the charter boats are catamarans. These are ideal for the conditions of the lagoon, which includes many shallow areas and reefs.
Prices are reasonable, particularly if splitting the cost between a family or group of friends. A 47' catamaran will accommodate four couples, each with their own cabin and ensuite. The cost will be less than many four or five star holiday resorts, and a lot more fun.
Skippers are available for charters but it is equally possible to 'bareboat' (skipper yourself). For this at least one of your party will need to provide evidence of sailing experience, such as a Boatmaster certificate or similar. Bareboating is fairly straightforward in New Caledonia. Although there are many reefs throughout the lagoon they are generally well marked and charted. There is also a good Cruising Guide provided and this gives details of anchorages and hazards.
The charter company will also supply wet weather, fishing and snorkeling gear. The boats are not set up for diving so if you wish to do this there are dive companies offering day and overnight trips.
In terms of food and provisioning there are two options. You can either get the company to provision for you from a list you provide (at an additional cost of course) or you can stock up yourself at one of the several excellent supermarkets in Noumea. The Noumea market is virtually at the door of the charter base marina and this is a good place for produce and meat. The market is open daily until around midday.
You will probably also need to include at least one night in Noumea at the beginning and end of the charter. There are a number of good hotels in the town. The Chateau Royal (formerly Royal Tera) is recommended; this has apartment-style rooms that are newly renovated to a high standard.
Allow some extra time to see Noumea. It is a fascinating place and with many good restaurants, museums and other things to do, all overlaid with a unique French/Pacific culture.
Why Go Sailing in New Caledonia?
- Incredible diversity and beauty of the large lagoon cruising area: abundant marine life, deserted islands, reefs and atolls
- Isolation: very few people go here. Most of the time you will have an anchorage to yourself
- Climate: not as hot as other parts of the Pacific and very pleasant in the winter months
- Sailing conditions: trade winds that make for brisk, enjoyable sailing
- French culture: Noumea is a "mini France" - French bread, wines, cheeses and coffee - all in a tropical setting!
Next Article: The Main Cruising and Sailing Areas of New Caledonia