New Caledonia is one of the most unique and interesting places to visit in the South Pacific. If you are looking for a warm tropical climate with fabulous beaches and islands to explore you will find it there. However, you will also find a lot more. Being a territory of France, New Caledonia has a fascinating culture, combining French and Pacific and with a huge variety of things to experience.
New Caledonia also remains largely undiscovered by tourists. Although there is a good range of hotels and resorts, most of the visitors are from France. You will be welcomed in New Caledonia but it has a refreshingly 'non touristy' feel that adds to its appeal.
New Caledonia Location
New Caledonia is approximately 1100 miles (1800 kilometers) north west of Auckland, New Zealand in the western South Pacific region. It is actually closer to New Zealand than most of the other islands of the Pacific, including Fiji and Tonga.
It is even closer to Australia, being only 900 miles (1500 kilometers) from Brisbane on the Queensland east coast.
New Caledonia Geography
New Caledonia is made up one of one main island and several small island groups and is the third largest archipelago in the Pacific (after Papua New Guinea and New Zealand). It is surrounded by the largest lagoon in the world (more than 14,000 square miles/23,000 square kilometers) which has now been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The lagoon is enclosed by the world's second longest reef, some 995 miles/1600 kilometers in total. This is only a couple of hundred kilometers shorter than Australia's Great Barrier Reef.
The main island of New Caledonia is Grande Terre and it is one of the largest islands in the Pacific (217 miles/350 kilometers long and around 40 miles/60 kilometers wide on average). The capital is Noumea on the the south western coast.
The other island groups of New Caledonia are much smaller and rather sparsely populated. The Isle of Pines is the best known and is south east of the mainland. The Loyalty Islands are to the east and at the northern end of Grande Terre is the Balep group. There are of course numerous other small islands, many of them uninhabited.
History and Culture of New Caledonia
The indigenous population of New Caledonia is the Kanak, a Melanesian culture which has been settled there for nearly 2000 years. They have a rich culture which features prominently in New Caledonian society.
In 1774 Captain Cook sailed through the area on his way to New Zealand. He gave the name "New Caledonia" as the mountainous landscape of the main island reminded him of Caledonia in Scotland. He also named the Isle of Pines from the unique species of pine tree which covers the island.
However it was not until 1853 that New Caledonia was colonized, when it was claimed as a territory of France. Recently there have been moves towards independence and it now has a unique status as a 'Special Collectivity' of France. This means it enjoys a degree of autonomy, including its own currency.
The population of New Caledonia today is around 260,000 and the culture is an intriguing blend of French and Pacific that seems to work rather well. French is the predominant language; even in the tourist areas English is not universally spoken although most people have enough to hold a conversation.
New Caledonia Economy
The main island of New Caledonia contains enormous mineral wealth and is one of the major sources of nickel in the world. As a result, mining makes up the bulk of the territory's economy and it has brought a prosperity above other Pacific Islands. Agriculture, services and tourism also contribute.
Where to Go in New Caledonia
Noumea, the capital city, is by far the most visited tourist destination. Two thirds of New Caledonians live there and it is a lively place, with nice beaches, a selection of resorts and hotels and many quality restaurants. If you were to go no further than Noumea you could still be assured of a great holiday.
The next most visited part of New Caledonia is the Isle of Pines. This is a tropical island dream with stunning beaches and warm waters. And the best part - there's virtually nobody there! Although there are a few places to stay and a small population, if it's isolation you are after, the Isle of Pines is a great choice.
The other parts of New Caledonia are also sparsely populated and fascinating to visit. Outside Noumea, the main island has a well maintained road which circles most of the island, with a few small towns and settlements dotted along the way. The mountainous interior is also well worth exploring for its unique and diverse flora and fauna.
The Loyalty Islands (Mare, Lifou, Ouvea and Tiga) are another option for the more adventurous, and rewards with still more magical beaches.
Best Things to See and Do
If you want to simply flop beside a beach or pool for a holiday in the sun you can certainly do that in New Caledonia, and the best options would be around Noumea or at the Isle of Pines. However, you can also experience great French food and wine (especially in Noumea) if you're prepared to stray a little from your resort or hotel.
There is also a host of other things to do such as visiting islands for snorkeling and beach combing, diving, fishing, sailing and hiking. In fact, New Caledonia offers more options than anywhere else in the South Pacific islands. And despite its reputation, New Caledonia is not necessarily expensive.
Climate and Best Time to Visit New Caledonia
New Caledonia has a tropical climate and in the hottest months (November to March) temperatures can reach above 30 degrees C and it can be very humid.
The coolest months are June to August. Then the temperature is often a pleasant 20-25 degrees, with the water warm yet without excessive humidity. This is also the quietest season for tourism which makes it the perfect time to escape the New Zealand winter.
Getting to New Caledonia
There are flights from Auckland (with Air New Zealand or the provincial airline Aircalin) four times a week and the journey takes only two and a half hours. Aircalin also has international services to and from Australia, Japan, South Korea and a number of other Pacific islands.
More About New Caledonia
- Images of New Caledonia
- Explore Noumea
- New Caledonia on a Budget
- Sailing and Yacht Charter in New Caledonia
Liam Naden and Malene Holm flew to New Caledonia courtesy of Aircalin.