New Caledonia (French: Nouvelle-Calédonie) is a dependent overseas territory of France lying in the western Pacific Ocean, in the Coral Sea, to the east of Australia and west of Vanuatu. The territory consists of the main island of Grande Terre, the archipelago of the Loyalty Islands (Îles Loyauté), and numerous small, sparsely populated islands and atolls.
New Caledonia offers beaches, mountaintop fondue in chalets, camping, amazing snorkelling and diving, and fabulous French food.
|Grande Terre |
The main island. It is one of the largest islands in the Pacific. The barrier reef lying off New Caledonia is second only to the Great Barrier Reef in size.
|Loyalty Islands |
Three large populated islands, including Îles Loyauté, just east of Grande Terre.
|Île des Pins |
Was one of the few places in the Pacific with trees tall and sturdy enough to provide replacement masts for ships.
|Belep Archipelago |
The islets and reefs to the north of Grande Terre, with a small community living on Belep Isle.
|Chesterfield Islands |
Uninhabited and incredibly remote, the Chesterfield Islands are an expedition.
- 1 Nouméa — the capital, and the only city of any size.
- 2 Bourail — a farming town.
- 3 Le Mont-Dore – the collectivity's second largest settlement right next to Nouméa
- Port Bousie
- 4 Thio – lovely quiet town in northeastern Grand Terre
- 5 Ouvéa – one of the Loyalty Islands, rich in Kanak culture
|Currency||CFP Franc (XPF)|
|Population||278.5 thousand (2017)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|edit on Wikidata|
New Caledonia is a collectivité d'outre-mer of France with a special status which allows it to have its own laws and its own government in anticipation of becoming completely independent. New Caledonia sets its own rules for everything except for national defence and foreign policy, which are set by the French government.
The people of New Caledonia are split into 5 major groups:
- The Kanaks, Melanesian inhabitants of New Caledonia. They were here long before the Europeans and many of them still live outside of Nouméa in tribes. The traditional authority of the tribal chiefs is legal and recognised by French law.
- The Caldoches, descendants of European and North African prisoners and settlers, including some families that have lived in New Caledonia for more than 100 years.
- People from metropolitan France and other French overseas territories, locally called "zoreils". They are mostly newcomers and are here only to work in Nouméa for a few years.
- Asians, descendants of those who came to work in the nickel mines of New Caledonia about a century ago. Most are Vietnamese, Chinese, or Indonesian.
- Polynesians, people from French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna, who are mostly living in Nouméa for work. As French citizens, they can move freely between New Caledonia and the other two French territories, although this has slowed down due to the pandemic.
Since the events of Ouvéa cave hostage-taking in 1988, there has been a political movement towards more autonomy in New Caledonia; New Caledonia is listed on the UN list of non-self-governing territories. Referendums in 2018, 2020 and 2021 found a majority opposed to independence.
Settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island became a French possession in 1853. It served as a penal colony for four decades after 1864.
The islands have been an overseas territory of France since 1956.
The 1988 Matignon Accords grant substantial autonomy to the islands formally under French law. Agitation for independence, which occurred during the 1980s and early 1990s, seems to have dissipated. Referenda on independence were held in 2018 and 2020, with the majority of voters opposing independence; a final confirmatory referendum took place in December 2021, and they chose to remain a part of France.
In New Caledonia, as elsewhere in France, the national holiday (la Fête nationale) is 14 July, known as Bastille Day by English-speakers.
New Caledonia has a semi-tropical climate, modified by southeast trade winds. It is often hot and humid in January and February. The islands are subject to tropical cyclones, most frequent from November to March. During winter (April to August) the daytime temperature is around 22°C. The water may still be warm, but it often feels too cool to really want to go swimming.
The main island of New Caledonia is one of the largest in the Pacific Ocean and its terrain consists of coastal plains with interior mountains. The highest point is Mont Panié (1,628 m).
Grand Terre is rich in minerals, and is an important source of many ores, mainly nickel and chromium. There is a mountainous interior green with subtropical foliage. The outlying islands are coral-based, have stunning white sand and sport palm trees.
The official language is French though most locals speak New Caledonian patois, and it is difficult to find English speakers outside of Nouméa except where a few pockets of English speakers are left amongst the elderly in the north-east. In Nouméa, French, English, and Japanese are widely spoken at hotels, restaurants, and shops. To enjoy a place like this, you should really endeavour to learn some French or the local languages.
A number of items are restricted by customs and biosecurity regulations. Consult the official flyer[dead link] (in French) for more information.
- Noumea-La Tontouta Airport (NOU IATA), in Païta, 52 km northwest of the capital city of Nouméa +687 35 11 18. Aircalin, the flag carrier of New Caledonia, has its main hub here. Aircalin operates flights from Tokyo and Singapore, which are timed to connect with Air France's flights from Paris, with a codesharing agreement between both airlines. Air New Zealand and Qantas also serve the airport. There are also flights from various Pacific nations, New Zealand and Australia. However, there aren't many flights overall, so beware of availability.
- Nouméa-Magenta Airport (GEA IATA) , 4 km from the city centre, +687 25 14 00. Serves all domestic flights within New Caledonia, such as the Loyalty Islands (Maré, Tiga, Lifou, Ouvéa), from the Isle of Pines in the south to the Belep Islands at the northern tip of the mainland as well as Koné and Koumac on the west coast and Touho on the east coast.
Nouméa is a popular port of call for people sailing around the Pacific, though most dare not sail during cyclone season.
Forget about Google Maps, it is grossly incomplete in New Caledonia and often wrong. OpenStreetMap is a much better option.
By bus or taxi
There are two main bus services in New Caledonia:
- CarSud is the regional bus service in Province Sud. Ligne C will take you from La Tontouta airport to Nouméa city centre for 400 F (as of June 2014).
- Karuiabus is the city bus service in Nouméa. Ligne 10/11 will take you from the city centre to Baie des citrons and Anse Vata for 210 F (as of June 2014).
Taxis do not cruise the streets to pick up passengers as in other cities; they have to be ordered by phone (28 35 12). This makes the bus a good alternative as the total journey time is not much longer than by taxi.
If you are staying in a hotel or other accommodation you can just ask them to call you a taxi. The same applies if you are shopping in Nouméa – if you have just purchased something, even groceries in a small store, they will be happy to call you a taxi.
- See also: Driving in New Caledonia
Renting your own car is a reasonable option for a larger group and is the only sensible option if you plan on exploring anywhere off the beaten track. The usual suspects have offices at La Tontouta Airport, as does local chain Point Rouge. Most cars are manual, so book ahead if you want an automatic.
New Caledonia follows French traffic laws, so driving is on the right. Around Nouméa, roads are generally good quality if narrow, and there is a free expressway covering most of the way from La Tontouta Airport to Mont-Doré south of Nouméa. However, in the countryside (brousse), potholed or unpaved tracks on twisty mountainsides filled with speeding ore trucks are all too common, and driving at night is to be avoided at all costs. Around celebrations there are many drunk drivers on the roads, so take care.
Hitching is much easier than in metropolitan France but, like in most places, with the same inherent risks.
- Tjibaou Cultural Centre, a gift from the French Government. The architect was Renzo Piano, an Italian architect.
- Botanical garden
- Wandering along the waterfront in Nouméa - Baie des Citrons and Anse Vata.
- The New Caledonia Barrier Reef — listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it encircles both the Grande Terre and Île des Pins and also known as the New Caledonia Lagoon.
Snorkelling, diving, windsurfing
- Îlot Canard just outside the Anse Vata is a good place for beginners
- Aguille de Prony is an amazing underwater structure in the Baie de Prony south of Nouméa
Relaxing, tanning, and generally doing nothing
- Baie des Citrons and the Anse Vata are common beaches on the Nouméa peninsula
- Îlot Maître has a resort. This can be reached by taxi boat from the Anse Vata, and by boat from the Baie de Mouselle
- Numerous other tourist resorts can be found throughout the Grande Terre and Île des Pins
- Eating French and local cuisine
Hiking and camping
- Parc de la Rivière Bleue[dead link] in the Yaté region south of Nouméa. Get there early because the best walks take a while to reach and you must be out of the park by 5pm. Plan on taking the shuttle (need to be booked ahead of time at the ticket office) if you want to skip a boring 2km walk on the road both ways.
- The Monts Koghis offer two nice walks just outside of Nouméa. Park at the auberge des Monts Koghis[dead link], sign a release and leave your mobile number in case of emergency.
- Prony offers a nice 1.5h walk through the historical village. Park at the Baie de la Somme since the road is better and there's a lot more parking space, then follow the signs and get on the walk to Prony[dead link].
- Joining a hiking group is generally a good idea, since you then can really enjoy the great scenery without fear of getting lost, or having to stick with conventional tourist spots
Exchange rates for CFP franc
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The CFP franc (called just franc locally, symbol F) is the currency used in New Caledonia, and also in the other Pacific territories of French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna. The initials CFP used to stand for Colonies Françaises du Pacifique ("French colonies of the Pacific"), but this was changed later to Communauté Financière du Pacifique ("Pacific Financial Community") and finally to its current incarnation: Change Franc Pacifique ("Pacific Franc Exchange"). Throughout these successive changes the ISO currency code has remained XPF and pegged first to the French franc and then to the euro. Coins come in denominations of 1-, 2-, 5-, 10-, 20-, 50-, 100 and 200 francs CFP. Banknotes come in denominations of 500-, 1,000-, 5,000 and 10,000 francs CFP. New Caledonia has its own distinct designs on its coins and are also valid for use in French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna. Two series of coins are in circulation as part of the CFP franc, the older 1950s series and the new 2021 series.
The cartoon series La Brousse en folie and Le sentier des hommes by Bernard Berger will give you an insight in the local culture and tradition. The comics are written in French, the former imitating the local accent and grammar (or lack thereof).
Other than that, plenty of conventional souvenir shops may be found throughout Nouméa.
New Caledonia is very expensive, since much of the food needs to be imported. There is no culture of bargaining either and attempting such might cause offence.
Food is one of the highlights of New Caledonia: being a part of France, French cuisine is available everywhere and is generally of a very high standard. However, eating out costs a pretty penny: a full dinner for two in a touristy place with beach views or a hotel restaurant can easily set you back 10,000 F.
To cut costs, look out for snacks (budget restaurants), which serve a limited but cheap menu of hot sandwiches like croque madame (ham, cheese and egg toast) and heartier Asian-influenced favourites like porc au sucre (pork in a sweet soy-based sauce) with rice or in a half baguette, usually for less than 1,000 F. Local bakeries (boulangeries) and crêperies are also a good option for cheap eats on the go.
The cheapest way to go is self-catering. The contents of most supermarkets are largely imported from France, which means there's an amazing selection of cheese and meats, but at a price. A cheaper option is visiting the local market (marché), which will have local produce and fresh seafood like tuna, shrimp and crab, but opening hours are limited (weekend mornings are often your best bet).
- Bougna, a traditional meal among the native Melanesians, which consists of some form of meat, pork, chicken, fruit bat, crab, etc, along with roots such as yams and sweet potatoes. This is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked under hot rocks heated in a fire.
- Coconut crabs
- All fruits taste very good
Try kava. You can recognise a kava bar by a red light outside and dim lighting inside. It is about 100 F compared to 500 F for a beer, so about a fifth of the price. You drink the kava immediately once you've purchased it and then go off to a dark bench to relax.
There are many places around New Caledonia that are affordable and in good condition. All you have to do is search around and you will find somewhere to sleep within your price range.
Volontariat Civil à l'Aide Technique VCAT. Conditions: you must be French or from another EU member state or a country belonging to the European Economic Area. You must be between 18 and 28 years old (inclusive). You must not have had your civic rights revoked by a court or have been convicted of certain offences.
New Caledonia is fairly safe, but it is wise to take the following precautions:
- When snorkelling, avoid contact with sea urchins, which are often poisonous, and coral structures, which can cause scrapes that swell badly and take a long time to heal.
- Sea kraits (tricot rayé) are commonly seen in shallow lagoons and have a potentially lethal venom. However, bites are rare since they are not aggressive when left alone and only attack when threatened.
- There are sharks, some of them quite large, though Great White Sharks are rare. Avoid shark attacks by:
- Not carrying fish that you have caught (and may be bleeding) while in the water
- Facing the shark, so that to the shark you appear large, vertical and difficult to bite
- There are no crocodiles native to New Caledonia. Rogue individuals have been observed on the island no more than twice within the past 200 years, probably swept out from the Solomon Islands.
Iodine or a similar disinfectant is invaluable to fight off small infections, which quite commonly occur in most sores and scratches.
Some mosquitoes carry the dengue fever virus. There is no vaccination for this, so it is important to prevent mosquito bites to the extent possible. Consult a doctor for more information, and see the Wikivoyage article.
There is exactly one mobile operator in New Caledonia, OPT, which is also the only fixed line phone operator, only Internet service provider and only one postal service.
OPT has exactly one prepaid plan, Liberté. As of July 2017, the SIM costs 6,195 F, which includes 3,000 F of credit. All local calls 44.10 F/min, while SMS are 12/42 F to local/international numbers.
With this plan, you can also purchase Internet data for 90 F for one hour/100 MB, social networks free, or 400 F for 24 hours/200 MB. All this works out to US$60 for 3.3 GB, or around US$20/GB. Gulp!