New Caledonia is the perfect destination for people who just want to get away from the world. Hidden in the endless blue expanse of the South Pacific, this incredibly diverse archipelago seamlessly combines French and Polynesian culture. If you want to find out why this archipelago is one of the most beloved tourist destinations in this corner of the world, then take a look at this comprehensive New Caledonia trip report, and learn all you need to know about this French paradise in the South Pacific.
New Caledonia, our lush mise en scène
New Caledonia appears to teeter on the very edge of the world, but this lush archipelago is far from lonely. In fact, New Caledonia lines the eastern border of the Coral Sea along with numerous island groupings, including Vanuatu to the north, and Solomon Islands to the north-west – while the western border of this sea is none other than the grand Australian coastline.
Now, you might ask yourself what makes New Caledonia so exceptional when compared to other island groupings in its vicinity? First of all, as mentioned before, Nouvelle-Calédonie boasts an eclectic mix of cultures that includes the rustic European appeal of French sensibilities which along with the exciting and mystifying heritage of Polynesian ancestry.
The residents of New Caledonia are incredibly welcoming people that can offer you a worldview so drastically different from your own. If you are travelling with family, this is an excellent opportunity to teach your children about multicultural environments and how big and surprising the world actually is.
You might be asking yourself – how did this happen? Well, the archipelago became a French colony in 1853 and it actually served as a penal colony for the rest of the 19th century. Though this circumstance is admittedly unfortunate, it actually paved the way for some truly arresting architectural work with late 19th century French influences. This is especially noticeable in New Caledonia’s capital Nouméa.
Nouméa is by far the largest urban area of the territory and it lies on the south-eastern tip of New Caledonia’s biggest island and central hub of tourism and commerce – Grand Terre. It is by no means a big city – with circa 100,000 residents occupying its households (over 180,000 if you count in the metropolitan area), it is a disarmingly charming urbanity that is easy to traverse.
Since this city’s airport is the touchdown spot for all international flights and the main port of embarkation for most cruise ships, Nouméa will be your first contact with and impression of this tropical paradise. If you are a newcomer, don’t miss the chance to ride Le Petit Train, an adorable motorized tour that offers a laid-back tour of the city.
A rundown for newcomers
However, New Caledonia did not remain a French colony forever. In 1956, it gained the title of “French Overseas Territory”, and it carries this moniker proudly to this very day. It has become intrinsic to the cultural identity of New Caledonia, and it’s easy to see how.
The currency is Comptoirs Francais du Pacifique francs and the official language is French. Even though Melanesian-Polynesian dialects are present, most people who are fluent in French understand the locals perfectly. Furthermore, over 60% of the populace is Roman Catholic, which is closely followed by the Protestant denomination (30%), with the final 10% being reserved for other religions. On July 14th, New Caledonia celebrates Bastille Day as a national holiday, just like the French.
What to expect as a tourist?
When it comes to accommodation, Nouméa has you covered with moderately priced hotels like Le Surf or high-end establishments like Le Meridien Noumea and Ramada Plaza. If you truly want to “live large” while you are there and move out of the city, there is an incredible ocean view from Sheraton in New Caledonia, and a spa and golf resort straight out of a James Bond movie.
Once you’re settled in, you’ll get a chance to explore the surroundings quite extensively. Grand Terre is large and expansive in and of itself, but it is not the only hub New Caledonia has to offer. A modest archipelago known as Loyalty Islands is a true epitome of untamed Pacific paradise while the Isle of Pines looks like a location out of fantasy writer’s dream.
Take this unique opportunity to visit Tjibaou Cultural Centre, an impressive edifice that stands as a memorial to the history of Melanesian and Oceanic cultures, and learn a bit more about the distinctive customs and the way of life which was prevalent across the South Pacific.
No matter what, savor the rich and endemic biosphere that has species of flora and fauna which are completely unique to this part of the world. This list of natural wonders also includes the New Caledonia Barrier Reef which stretches along and after the Grand Terre and which is (understandably) a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you haven’t heard of New Caledonia before, this is a great chance to embark on an exciting new adventure. You can book a flight to this tropical dreamland, confident you will have a top-notch experience. Even though this tropical archipelago has all the hallmarks of the finest destinations, it still somehow manages to fly under the radar of many eager vacationers. It’s as if the ocean itself is jealously hiding it, like a beautiful secret only shared among the few chosen.