New Caledonia

Travel Guide Oceania Melanesia New Caledonia



New Caledonia is an outstanding destination, due largely to the magnificent barrier reef which surrounds the main island of Grande Terre. It is the second largest in the world and is, unsurprisingly, an underwater maze of natural beauty.

But the islands themselves are more than capable of entertaining the holidayer. Luxurious five star hotels invite the wealthy tourists into their midst, whilst the budget traveller can lodge in the cheaper accommodation. But be they wealthy or on a budget, everyone who comes to New Caledonia is treated to the same cultural vivacity and tropical flavour. Frenchness has made its mark on culture, but the islanders are by no means a collection of French folk donning swimsuits and suntans; their dance and food are unmistakably traditional, though infused with modern influences. Many look forward to the day when they can cut official ties with France and step out into independence.



Brief History

Europeans first sighted New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands in the late 18th century. The British explorer James Cook sighted Grande Terre in 1774 and named it New Caledonia, Caledonia being a Latin name for Scotland. During the same voyage he also named the islands to the north of New Caledonia the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), after the isles off the west coast of Scotland. Whalers operated off New Caledonia during the 19th century. Sandalwood traders were welcome but as supplies of sandalwood diminished, the traders became abusive. The Europeans brought new diseases such as smallpox, measles, dysentery, influenza, syphilis, and leprosy. Many people died as a result of these diseases.
New Caledonia was made a French possession in late 1853, a part of an attempt by Napoleon III to rival the British colonies in Australia and New Zealand. Auguste Febvrier Despointes led the expedition that seized the island. Following the example set by the United Kingdom in parts of nearby Australia, France sent a total of 22,000 convicted felons to penal colonies along the south-west coast of New Caledonia between 1864 and 1922.
During World War II, the French South Pacific colonies of New Caledonia, French Polynesia and the New Hebrides joined the Free French Forces. Assisted by Australia, the South Pacific colonies became vital Allied bases in the Pacific Ocean. American Allied forces built up a major naval base in New Caledonia to combat the advance of Imperial Japan toward Australia, New Zealand, and the Solomon Islands.
New Caledonia has been on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1986. Agitation by the Front de Libération Nationale Kanak Socialiste (FLNKS) for independence began in 1985. The FLNKS (led by the late Jean-Marie Tjibaou, assassinated in 1989) advocated the creation of an independent state of "Kanaky". The troubles culminated in 1988 with a bloody hostage taking in Ouvéa. The unrest led to agreement on increased autonomy in the Matignon Accords of 1988 and the Nouméa Accord of 1998. This Accord describes the devolution process as "irreversible" and also provides for a local Caledonian citizenship, separate official symbols of Caledonian identity (such as a "national" flag), as well as mandating a referendum on the contentious issue of independence from the French Republic sometime after 2014.




New Caledonia is located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, about 1,200 kilometres east of Australia and 1,500 kilometres northwest of New Zealand. Vanuatu lies to the northeast. The total area of New Caledonia is 19,060 km2, 18,575 km2 of which is land.

The main island is called Grande Terre, and there are also several smaller islands like the Belep archipelago to the north, the Loyalty Islands to the east, the Île des Pins (Isle of Pines) to the south, and the Chesterfield Islands and Bellona Reefs further to the west. Grande Terre is by far the largest of the islands, and the only mountainous island. It has an area of 16,372 square kilometres and is about 350 kilometres in length and 50 to 70 kilometres wide. A mountain range runs across the entire island, with five peaks over 1,500 metres. The highest point is Mont Panié at 1,628 metres. The Diahot River is the longest river of New Caledonia, flowing for approximately 100 kilometres starting northwestward into the Baie d'Harcourt, flowing towards the northern point of the island along the western escarpment of the Mount Panié.




  • 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.


Cities & Towns

  • Nouméa - The capital
  • Thio
  • Poindimié
  • Muéo
  • Koné
  • Canala



Sights and Activities

Parc Provincial de la Rivière Bleue

Parc Provincial de la Rivière Bleue is a beautiful park located at the western end of Lac de Yaté, a hydroelectric dam, in the southwestern corner of Grand Terre. It is a protected reserve and is the place to be if you are keen on nature. There is a variety of bird species, including the cagou, New Caledonia's national bird. There is also a strange drowned forest with skeletons of old trees protruding tragically from the water. The park is well maintained and you can pick up information at the entrance gate, with displays about possible walks and flora and fauna you can encouter.

Loyalty Islands

The Loyalty Islands are located east of the main island of New Caledonia. The three main islands are Lifou, Maré en Ouvéa. Although these islands, compared to the main island of New Caledonia, are already a lot wilder and pure, the island of Tiga is even better. Large parts of this atoll are protected and there are no official acommodations to stay on the island. If you ask nicely, the friendly locals will let you put up your tent somewhere.

New Caledonia Barrier Reef

The New Caledonia Barrier Reef is located in New Caledonia in the South Pacific, and is the second-longest double-barrier coral reef in the world, after the Belize Barrier Reef. In January 2002, the French government proposed listing New Caledonia's reefs as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO listed New Caledonia Barrier Reef on the World Heritage List under the name The Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems on 7 July 2008. The Lagoons were listed under three UNESCO categories: Superlative natural Phenomena or natural beauty, Ongoing Biological and ecological processes, and Biological Diversity and threatened species.

Île des Pins

The Île des Pins are situated about seventy kilometers south of Grande Terre and it is an easy 15 minute flights to these beautiful island. It has the most fantastic beaches and bays of all islands that comprise New Caledonia. Travellers trying to find some quiet secluded places are in the right place here and the locals are much friendlier here than on the main island.

Grande Terre

The main island of New Caledonia is the biggest island in the Pacific, after New Zealand's North and South Island and New Guinea. And that is exactly what it means: Big Island. Although less of a dream holiday destination compared to the Loyalty Islands or Ile des Pins, it has a lot to offer regarding both nature and culture. It is a good place to rent a car and roads are generally in a good condition, although minor roads can be potholed or not paved at all. The island has a mountainous inland with beautiful views towards the coast. The coral reef around Grand Terre is one of the biggest in the world, after the Great Barrier Reef and Belize's Reef system. Snorkelling and diving are excellent here.

Other sights and activities

  • St. Joseph's Cathedral - Located in Nouméa, building work on the cathedral began in 1888, using convict labor. It was finally completed in 1909;
  • Beaches - Baie des Citrons and Anse Vata;
  • Caves- Grotte de la Reine Hortense and Lindéralique Rocks.



Events and Festivals

Yam Festivals

The yam has great importance in New Caledonia, particularly to the Kanak people. Yams are present in all important events such as births, deaths and marriages. There are several yam festivals that take place across the country between February and April, when each village celebrates the harvest. The Nouméa yam festival in mid-April features a parade, carnival, exhibitions, concerts, dancing, and tastings.

Omelette Festival

Around Easter, the town of Dumbea has a festival that centers around the creation of a giant omelet in remembrance of the time Napoleon ordered a giant omelet be made for his soldiers by the townspeople of Bessieres. This event also takes place in a handful of other French speaking towns in France and Canada.

New Caledonia Triathlon

Established in 1985, the New Caledonia Triathlon is a major sporting event, attended by an excess of 300 athletes from around the world. The race takes place in May and there are four categories: elite, adults, teams, and children. To coincide with the fun, there are pasta parties and entertainment such as music and dance shows.

Night of the Museums

Each year in mid-May, the museums of New Caledonia open their doors to reveal mysteries and secrets for one night only. The event takes place across the island and includes themed tours, special exhibitions, concerts, workshops, competitions, and storytelling.

Great Lagoon Regatta

The New Caledonia Great Lagoon Regatta is an international boating event open to all types and sizes of boats. Taking place annually in June, the regatta is a celebration of Melanesian culture and traditions. The various stops include tropical islets and feature parties with traditional food, music and dancing.

Bastille Day

Bastille Day, held on July 14th each year is a national holiday in France and New Caledonia, marked with a military parade, fireworks, music, and dancing.

Nouméa Carnival

Nouméa holds a carnival mid-August every year, which is one of the islands largest events attended by about 15,000 people. There are concerts, music, costumes, dancing and food and in the early evening, a grand parade moves from Birhakeim Square through the streets to the Jules Ferry Quay where the day ends with a fireworks display.


Christmas celebrations take place throughout December in New Caledonia with several markets, light shows, trees, children’s activities and, in Nouméa, a Santa’s post office in the Place des Cocotiers. Christmas Day is a time for family meals and gift-giving. Many restaurants will have a special menu for Christmas Eve, often featuring local specialties such as crayfish.




New Caledonia has a very pleasant climate with generally tropical conditions. There are some variations during the year though. April to September is the cooler period of the year, but average maximum temperatures are still around 25 °C during these months. From October to March, average daytime temperatures reach almost 30 °C, sometimes more. Nights are mostly around 20 °C, warmer from December to March and somewhat cooler from June to August, with night sometimes below 15 °C. Most rain falls between February and May, but heavy outbursts of rain are possible in every month. Although most of the above applies to the whole of New Caledonia, seasons are a bit less defined on the eastcoast compared to the westcoast, where Noumea, the capital, is located.



Getting There

By Plane

Tontouta International Airport is located some 45 kilometers from Nouméa. The national carrier is Air Calin, which mainly serves destinations throughout the Pacific region, Asia and New Zealand. Destinations include Auckland, Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi, Brisbane, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Guam, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Melbourne, Nadi, Osaka-Kansai, Papeete, Port Vila, Seoul-Incheon, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo-Narita.

Other airlines serving Noumea are Air Vanuatu, Qantas and Air New Zealand. All three have connections from several cities in Vanuatu, Australia and New Zealand.

Air Calédonie provides domestic services between Nouméa and Touho, Koné, Koumac and Belep, all on the main island, Grande Terre. Other destinations include outer islands like Ile des Pins and the Loyalty Islands: Maré, Ouvéa, Lifou and Tiga. Air Alize, Air Loyaute and Helicocean and Helitourisme have light aircraft and helicopter services, some of them chartered.

By Boat

Cruiseships, cargoships and yachts are the way to go to New Caledonia, as no regular passenger services to and from New Caledonia exist. Noumea has a large harbor.
The MV Havannah runs a monthly service out of Noumea in New Caledonia to Port Vila, Malekula and Santo in Vanuatu.



Getting Around

By Plane

Air Calédonie provides domestic services between Nouméa and Touho, Koné, Koumac and Belep, all on the main island, Grande Terre. Other destinations include outer islands like Ile des Pins and the Loyalty Islands: Maré, Ouvéa, Lifou and Tiga. Air Alize, Air Loyaute and Helicocean and Helitourisme have light aircraft and helicopter services, some of them chartered.

By Car

Grande Terre has an extensive road network and most roads are tarred and in a good condition. You can rent cars in Nouméa or the international airport and some smaller places and major hotels. Rates are competitive. Traffic drives on the right and you need an international driving permit. Note that the age limit usually is at least 21 but sometimes 25. Cars are also available on Ile des Pins and all of the Loyalty Islands.

By Bus

Buses travel between Nouméa and almost all major towns at least a few times daily and it's a relatively cheap and comfortable way of getting around.

By Boat

The inter-island, high-speed catamaran, Betico, sails three times a week between Noumea, the Loyalty Islands and Île des Pins., From Noumean, the Betico sails to the Loyalty islands about twice a week, usually on Monday or Tuesday and then again on Thursday or Friday. It sails to Île des Pins three times a week on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are available at the Gare Maritime des Îles at Noumea's ferry terminal ([email protected]; 7:30am-5:30pm Monday to Friday, 6:00am-10:00am Saturday). A one-way economy-class ticket from Noumea to the Loyalty Islands costs 6,200 CFP and to Île des Pins 4,700 CFP. It is 3,300 CFP for a one-way ticket between the islands. There are also Île des Pins day trips costs 8,200 CFP.
The Havannah is a cargo ship operated by the Compagnie Maritime des Îles ([email protected], also at the ferry terminal), which runs on Mondays between Noumea and Maré and Lifou in the Loyalty Islands (one way 5,120 CFP).



Red Tape

Requirements are roughly the same as for France, Schengen Visa not being valid of course.




See also Money Matters

The CFP franc is the currency used in New Caledonia. The initials CFP originally stood for Colonies Françaises du Pacifique but now means Change Franc Pacifique. French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna Islands also use the CFP franc and they can be used in all three states.
It is subdivided into 100 centimes. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 franc. Banknotes include the 500, 1,000, 5,000 and 10,000 ones.
All banknotes are identical in all three states. The coins on the other hand, have one side which is identical and one side where the inscription of the respective country (New Caledonia also applies to Wallis and Futuna by the way) can be found.




The official language is French though most locals speak New Caledonian patois, and it is difficult to find English speakers outside of Noumea except where a few pockets of English speakers are left amongst the elderly in the north-east. In Noumea, 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.
Many Kanak languages (estimate of 340 dialects) are spoken by the indigenous people.




Restaurants are expensive. You can eat quite well for about €10 at a couple of eateries in Nouméa. For travellers on a budget, you'll need to observe what the Kanaks do for the best deals.




There is a wide range of accommodation options in the capital and some beach destinations and islands, but fewer once you travel to more remote inland places.




Try kava. You can recognize a Kava bar by a red light outside and dim lighting inside.




See also Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to New Caledonia. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering New Caledonia) where that disease is widely prevalent.

It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to New Caledonia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.

Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccinations, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.




See also Travel Safety

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. A seasnake known locally as the Tricot Rayé has a potentially lethal venom, but is not aggressive when left alone, and only attacks when threatened. There are sharks, some of them quite large, though Great White Sharks are rare.



Keep Connected


Internet cafes are common in the capital Noumea, with prices reasonable. Many hotels offer wi fi and or internet services.


See also International Telephone Calls

Try to get a local SIM card for your phone, otherwise charges for calling or internet can be extremely high. For internet, try to use wifi spots as much as possible to avoid these costs.


The OPT post offices are available in Noumea and many towns on the coast of New Caledonia's Grande Terre.


Quick Facts

New Caledonia flag

Map of New Caledonia


Local name
Overseas Territory of France
New Caledonian
Christianity (Catholic, Protestant)
CFP Franc (XPF)
Calling Code
Time Zone


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