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New Caledonia (French:Nouvelle-Caledonie) 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 Grand Terre, the archipelago of the Loyalty Islands (Iles 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.
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.
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.
The islets and reefs to the north of Grande Terre, with a small community living on Belep Isle.
Uninhabited and incredibly remote, the Chesterfield Islands are an expedition.
- Nouméa — the capital, and the only city of any size.
- Bourail — a farming town.
- Port Bousie
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 in a few decades. New Caledonia sets its own rules for everything except for national defence and foreign policy, which are set by France.
The people of New Caledonia are split into 5 major groups:
- The Kanaks, Melanesian inhabitants of New Caledonia, were here long before the Europeans and many of them are still living outside of Noumea in tribes. The traditional authority of the tribes' chiefs is legal and recognized by French law.
- The Caldoches, descendants of European and North African prisoners and settlers, include 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", are mostly newcomers and here only to work in Noumea for a few years.
- Asians, descendants of those who came to work in the nickel mines of New Caledonia about a century ago, are mostly Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian.
- Polynesians, people from French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna, are mostly living in Noumea for work. As French citizens, they can move freely between New Caledonia and Polynesia.
Since the events of Ouvéa cave hostage-taking in 1988, there has been a political movement towards more autonomy in New Caledonia as listed on the UN list of non-self governing territories. An independence referendum is being planned for 2018.
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. A referendum on independence was to have been held in 1998 but was eventually cancelled, as the Noumea accord decided; a new referendum is scheduled for after 2014.
In New Caledonia, as elsewhere in France, the national holiday is Bastille Day (14 July).
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 degrees. 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 consist of coastal plains with interior mountains. The highest point is Mont Panie (1,628m).
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.
A number of items are restricted by customs and biosecurity regulations. Consult the the official flyer (in French) for more information.
- Noumea-La Tontouta Airport (NOU IATA), in Païta, 52km northwest of the capital city of Noumea +687 35 11 18. Air France provides code-share flights from Paris via Tokyo, Osaka, or Seoul. Regular flights are available from Tokyo and Osaka on Aircalin, as New Caledonia is very popular with the Japanese. Air New Zealand and Qantas also serve the airport. There are also flights from various Pacific nations, New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia. However, there aren't many flights overall, so beware of availability.
- Noumea-Magenta Airport (GEA IATA) , 4km 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 Isle of Pines in the south to Belep Islands in the northern tip of the mainland as well as Koné and Koumac on the west coast and Touho on the east coast.
Noumea 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 the La Tontouta airport to Noumea city centre for XPF400 (as of June 2014).
- Karuiabus is the city bus service in Noumea. Ligne 10/11 will take you from the city centre to Baie des citrons and Anse Vata for XPF210 (as of June 2014).
A taxi from downtown to your hotel will cost approximately XPF850 each way, compared to XPF210 each way by bus. 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 Noumea – if you have just purchased something, even groceries in a small store, they will be happy to call you a taxi.
Renting your own car is a reasonable option for a larger group and the only sensible option if you plan on exploring anywhere off the beaten track. The usual suspects have offices at 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 Noumea, roads are generally good quality if narrow, and there is a free expressway covering most of the way from Tontouta Airport to Mont-Dore south of Noumea. 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.
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 Noumea - 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. It's 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 Prony bay south of Noumea
Relaxing, tanning, and generally doing nothing
- Baie des Citrons and the Anse Vata are common beaches at the Noumea peninsula
- Îlot Maitre 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 in the Yaté region south of Noumea. 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 Noumea. Park at the auberge des Monts Koghis, 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.
- 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
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.
Exchange rates for CFP franc (XPF)
As of January 2017:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The CFP franc (called just franc locally) 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 4217 currency code has remained XPF and pegged first to the French franc and then to the euro.
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 Noumea.
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 will set you back 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 francs.
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 favorites like **porc au sucre** (pork in a sweet soy-based sauce) with rice or in a half baguette, usually for less than 1,000 francs. Local bakeries (*pâtisserie*) 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 recognize a Kava bar by a red light outside and dim lighting inside. It is about XPF100 compared to XPF500 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 XPF, which includes 3,000 XPF of credit. All local calls 44.10 XPF/min, while SMS are 12/42 XPF 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 $20/GB. Gulp!