An oasis of calm, where nature’s bounty thrives and coral flourish: New Caledonia is our last paradise.
Made up of four archipelagos, New Caledonia sits comfortably between Australia and New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean. Making a squinted smiley face in the sea, the largest and main island is Grande Terre, where the capital, Noumea, is found.
Close to the south of the island, Noumea is sandwiched by white-sand beaches that straddle each side of its elegant harbourfront. In the city centre, you’ll be introduced to New Caledonia’s French connection where bakeries and the faint smell of cheese fill the air as you stop by old colonial mansions converted into restaurants and official buildings.
Off the coast of Grande Terre, you’ll reach the first of the four archipelago’s, the Isle of Pines, where James Cook first encountered New Caledonia. Here, you’ll be introduced to Melanesian culture, which dates back to 3,000 CE and still represents over 40% of the people in New Caledonia.
Everything from here on out is surrounded by coral atolls interspersed by vibrant lagoons that are populated by tropical fish and turtles. White sand beaches are matched by verdant forests and hiking, swimming and snorkelling will fill your days as you become more immersed in both French and Melanesian cultures.
Visiting New Caledonia is quite unlike anything you have experienced before. Read on to discover Noumea tours and more in this beautiful part of the world.
When to Go to New Caledonia
Centred in the heart of the Pacific, New Caledonia has just two seasons, hot and cold. In the hot season, from September to March, the temperatures can reach up to 35 degrees Celsius perfect for the many water-based activities that will be the main focus of your holiday in New Caledonia.
The hot season is often broken up with typhoons and extremely heavy rain that hit the islands from January to March. It’s best to avoid booking a New Caledonia trip around this time as flights are often changed last minute.
From April to August, the cold period offers somewhat comfortable temperatures between 20-25 degrees Celsius. If you are looking to do some more land-based activities, this is a great time to travel!
Top Places to Visit in New Caledonia
Noumea City Tours
As the capital of New Caledonia, Noumea sits in the south of the island of Grande Terre, fronted by a stunning harbour and the city’s main beach.
Sandwiched by resort towns that form the city’s suburbs, it is known for its high-end French cuisine, nightlife and for being the gateway to dreamy beaches that make up most of Noumea’s excursions.
The city is sprinkled with modernity; however, at its core are French colonial mansions, city halls and churches that are interspersed with restaurants and shops owned by the many other settlers that came after. The further into the outskirts of the city you go, the more Kanak culture you will be introduced to, particularly the Tjibaou Centre that you may encounter on a New Caledonia culture tour.
Isle of Pines Holidays
Coined the Jewel of the Pacific, the Isle of Pines, or Ile des Pins in French, is New Caledonia’s most iconic destination.
Boasting the historical landing point of Captain James Cook, when he first discovered the island’s Mahamat Beach on his way to New Zealand, the Isle of Pines commemorates the moment when the secret of New Caledonia’s beauty was out. The island sits just off the coast of southern Grande Terre.
Your time on the Isle of Pines will be nothing short of exclusive: powdery, white beaches to walk on, and kayaking, swimming and snorkelling in crystal clear waters will make up the majority of the activities you will engage in here. Most resorts have their very own beaches to enjoy, just like in this Isle of Pines holiday package tour, so you’ll have a little slice of paradise to yourself.
To top off the experience, you’ll be immersed in Kanak culture from the moment you arrive, with traditional customs and food that will flavour your stay here.
Mare and Ouvea
Lush, green forests, rugged basalt coastlines, sparkling grottos, and natural pools home to turtles and tropical fish – Mare will steal any nature lover’s heart! Similarly, Ouvea is nothing short of paradise, surrounded by reefs and beaches that will lull you into the ultimate state of relaxation.
Both of these islands make up part of the Loyalty Islands, known for their prominent Kanak culture and coral that bring a colourful assortment of sea life to the islands’ shores. Whether you choose to visit both on a New Caledonia island tour or can only make time for one, you’re guaranteed an island experience to remember – Mare and Ouvea are often described as the closest to paradise you’ll ever get.
While in New Caledonia, learning about the island’s history is a must. Fort Teremba is a harrowing reminder of the beginnings of the French colonial era of the islands.
In 1871, Fort Teremba was created initially as a jail and headquarters for the French army. After its establishment, the fort became France’s main penal colony, where convicts were sent to serve their time. Depending on the sentences they received, the convicts were then given a piece of land to settle here. The Melanesians were displaced by this process, resulting in the uprising, which failed. Furthermore, Fort Teremba was built in the centre of the penal colony.
Fort Teremba is an open-air museum that was created after the penal colony fell into disuse. There is also an interesting light and sound show that displays moments of its history every November that make an interesting addition to New Caledonia’s sightseeing options.
Lifou is the largest of the Loyalty Islands archipelago and a must when on tour in New Caledonia.
This beautiful island is characterised by long dreamy beaches and limestone caves that carve deep into its cliff faces; however, Lifou is most famous for what lies off the coast. Coral atolls surround the island, creating a vibrant barrier reef and the beautiful waters that come with it. Lifou is made of coral, so extra caution is encouraged to stop you from hurting yourself on the coral and subsequently damaging it!
Famed for its diving spots and spectacularly scenic hikes, Lifou is also gaining international attention for its vanilla which is the best in the world!
How to Get Around New Caledonia
Private Driver or Self-Drive Car
It is possible to rent a car on New Caledonia’s main island, Grande Terre. As the population is relatively small and roads well-maintained, you’ll have no problem navigating the island. If you don’t like the idea of driving in different countries or on the opposite side of the road (New Caledonia is on the right-hand side), then you can hire a driver or a taxi to take you to your chosen locations.
A high-speed catamaran service connects you from Grande Terre to stunning islands such as the Isle of Pines, Ouvea and Mare. The services leave regularly, making it easy for you to plan Noumea day tours.
New Caledonia travel is facilitated by its own domestic air service, Air Caledonie. You can connect to the smaller islands on domestic small plane services. Most of the frequented smaller islands have an airstrip. This is well worth taking advantage of; these short trips are incredibly scenic!
Where to Stay to New Caledonia
Marking the territory’s capital, Noumea is home to an overwhelming number of New Caledonia’s population. With that comes a host of accommodation options suitable to the medium to high-end budget.
The city centre is perfect for those looking to shop or embrace Noumea’s vibrant nightlife. For those looking for beach life while still being close to the city, Baie des Citrons and Anse Vata act as resort towns that sit in the suburbs, perfect for family trips or couples looking for a more sociable holiday in Noumea.
Isle des Pines
Isle des Pines is ideal for romantic getaways with a range of luxury resorts set in the most beautiful locations. Most of the accommodation options are set in Kuto outside of the main town and come as all-inclusive New Caledonia holiday packages.
The main islands to stay on are the Loyalty Islands, a group name for Ouvea, Lifou and Mare, where strings of resorts, pristine beaches and dreamy lagoons characterise your stay. The resorts on these islands are some of the best all-inclusive resorts in New Caledonia, catering mainly to a high-end budget.
Food to Try in New Caledonia
When it comes to food, you’ll find that New Caledonia has a distinct Pacific style where seafood always takes centre stage. This is heavily overlaid with a French influence with many baked goods and cheese everywhere you go.
Coconut Crab Curry
In the Pacific Islands, many species of crab feed off coconut. To adapt to this food alternative, the crabs have evolved to have very strong pincers to break the coconuts apart. This unique crab is fleshy, healthy and tastes delicious!
Best served in a slow cook Pacific-style curry, the crab has an entirely different texture to what you might be used to.
Bakeries and Cheese
The French influence has inspired many dishes in New Caledonia; however, what remained the same for many French settlers, and later, expats are bread and cheese. Particularly in Noumea, you’ll find impressive cheese displays in supermarkets and bakeries that fill the streets with a distinct aroma of butter.
Vol au Vant Fruits de Mer
If your French is any good, you’ll no doubt be drooling already. This decadent dish is a French-style puff pastry that encases a seafood chowder. Bold and rich in flavour, your hearty soup will consist of mussels, scallops and prawns with chunks of white fish that are simmered in a creamy broth that brings it all together.
A hearty dish from the local Kanak community is bougna. Hot stones act as an oven for this dish, a traditional Pacific Islands way of cooking that maximises the flavour of the ingredients with an additional smokey flavour.
Bougna is a bit like a stew, made of chicken, yams, sweet potato, chicken and lobster of fish, depending on what is available. The ingredients are cooked in coconut milk which is contained together in a banana leaf ready for cooking.
Festivals in New Caledonia
The fairs and festivals that can be found in New Caledonia celebrate the French and Kanak cultures of the islands. Here are some you cannot miss:
Feast of the Avocado
A highlight of any trip to Mare Island, the Feast of the Avocado is an extra special event that celebrates the harvest of the island’s most bountiful fruit, the avocado. Between the music and dances, you’ll be treated to a tasting of some of the most delicious avocados around.
The French Cheese Festival
Over 100 varieties of cheese create a pungent addition to Noumea’s finest hotel in celebration of one of the oldest traditions of rural France, a cheese festival! The perfect day out with friends, the French Cheese Festival is a tasty addition to an afternoon with specially selected cheeses and perfectly matched wines.
The newest addition to New Caledonia’s festivals is Underground Gourmet. A celebration of all things Kanak.
Breathing life into the culture and food of the Kanak people, Underground Gourmet presents a selection of local chefs who bring their own take on underground cooking to the surface for a flavoursome few days as a tasty alternative to New Caledonia’s tours.
Things to Know Before You Go to New Caledonia
Visa: If you are travelling to New Caledonia from Australia, all that is required is a passport that is valid for six months. If travelling from anywhere else, it’s best to check entry requirements before you go.
Language: The official language in New Caledonia is French. Outside of Noumea, you’ll encounter more Kanak languages, of which there are 28. English is not widely spoken as French is used, so it’s advised that you learn a few phrases before you go.
Currency: The currency in New Caledonia is the South Pacific Franc which is in line with the Euro because of the connection with France. At the time of writing, April 2021, 1 USD is equal to 99 CFP.
Health: Mosquito-borne viruses are common in New Caledonia. Stay protected with your choice of mosquito repellents and opt to use mosquito nets to cover your bed.
Culture: If you choose to visit a tribe in the Loyalty Islands, it is custom to bring an offering. Food, textiles or money are the norms among visitors.
Safety: In the past, protests in the streets of Noumea have resulted in civil unrest. Should this occur during your time in New Caledonia, it is best to keep your distance to avoid any escalation.
Would You Like to Visit New Caledonia?
Vibrant nature and a unique blend of culture await you in New Caledonia. With so much to offer, New Caledonia really is the complete package! To see what is possible, browse our selection of fully customisable trips to New Caledonia’s destinations. Designed by our Local Experts in New Caledonia, you’ll be able to alter any part of your trip to suit your travel needs.
If you don’t like what you see, click on ‘design your own trip’ to answer some simple questions related to your travel style and our Local Experts will design your very own unique trip!