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 Loyaute), and numerous small, sparsely populated islands and atolls.
New Caledonia offers beaches, mountaintop fondue in chalets, camping, amazing snorkeling and diving, and fabulous French food.
The people of New Caledonia are split into four major groups:
There is a general move towards more autonomy in New Caledonia and it was decided in the Nouméa Accord that the territorial Congress will have the right to call for a referendum on the future status of the territory (including possible independence) after 2014, at a time of its choosing.
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 during the 1980s and early 1990s seems to have dissipated. A referendum on independence was held in 1998 but did not pass; 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 (1,628 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, and have stunning white sand, and sport palm trees.
New Caledonia has about 25% of the world's known nickel resources. In recent years, the economy has suffered because of depressed international demand for nickel, the principal source of export earnings. Only a small amount of the land is suitable for cultivation, and food accounts for about 20% of imports. In addition to nickel, the substantial financial support from France and tourism are keys to the health of the economy. The situation in 1998 was clouded by the spillover of financial problems in East Asia and by lower prices for nickel. Nickel prices jumped in 1999-2000, and large additions were made to capacity. Strikes in the building industry in 2001, which lasted four months, adversely affected many other sectors of the economy. French Government interests in the New Caledonian nickel industry are being transferred to local ownership.
New Caledonia includes:
The main tourist destinations are:
Ports and harbors
Noumea is a popular port of call for people sailing around the Pacific, though most dare not sail during cyclone season.
Rentals - cheapest are:
The buses are not too bad and go pretty much everywhere, but they are infrequent. But they are worth trying and will save you money. You can catch a bus that will take you very conveniently from the Baie Des Citrons to downtown Noumea for 200CFP each way. This is a good alternative to a taxi. The bus that services this route is the No 1 Bus and it is green. This will assist you on your return to the Baie Des Citrons (and Anse Vata) since you will be looking for the Green Number 1 Bus. The bus ride takes about 15 to 20 minutes. A taxi for the same destination will cost approximately 850CFP each way, compared to 200CFP each way by bus. Taxis do not cruise the streets to pick up passengers as in other cities; they have to be telephoned to come to where you are. This makes the bus a good alternative as the total journey time is not much longer than by taxi.
If you are 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.
Hitching is possible, but not advisable. Around celebrations there are many drunk drivers on the roads. Locals prefer to travel during daylight hours when possible as the roads at night are very dangerous and few drivers have sufficient insurance.
The official language is French, and it is difficult to find English speakers outside of Noumea. In Noumea, French, English, and Japanese are widely spoken at hotels, restaurants, and shops. To enjoy a place like this, you should really endeavor to learn some French.
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 souvenirs 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 offense.
Buy food from local markets, which are common to almost every town.
Restaurants are expensive. You can eat quite well for about 10EUR at a couple of eateries opposite the library in town. For travellers on a budget, you'll need to observe what the Kanaks do for the best deals.
French food is (obviously) a specialty, but the range of foods available can be a little limited.
Try kava. You can recognize a Kava bar by a red light outside and dim lighting inside. It is about 100CFP compared to 500CFP 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 offenses.
New Caledonia is fairly safe, but it is wise to take the following precautions:
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. Consult a doctor for more information, and see the Wikitravel article.