New Caledonia Travel Guide
Sitting in the South Pacific hundreds of kilometres off the coast of Queensland in Australia, New Caledonia is an unexpectedly complex place when it comes to culture. Home to an indigenous Kanak culture that has colonized by the French, a significant population of people descended from European and North African prisoners (this island was used as a penal colony), and Vietnamese/Indonesian migrants, this island amazingly diverse.
Combined with stunning beaches, mountains, and coral reefs, it is a destination that deserves to be on the bucket list of anyone travelling in Oceania.
Currency: CFP francs
Languages: French, various indigenous languages
What To Do
Begin your time in New Caledonia by checking out the artistic talents of the locals at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre. Named after revolutionary Jean-Marie Tjibaou, who fought hard for Caledonian independence in the 1980s before getting assassinated, this art gallery will blow you away with its mix of modernist and local Kanak architecture.
Inside, you find photos, sculptures, and paintings which represent the creativity and identity of the Kanak people. In the courtyard, you’ll find a reproduction of a Kanak Great House, which is a conically shaped hut built out of thatch and stone.
Learn about the seafaring history of New Caledonia by dropping by the Le Musee Maritime de Nouvelle-Caledonie. It pays tribute to early explorers like James Cook who were the first Europeans to set foot on this land hundreds of years ago, the history of French colonization, as well as the mysterious story of La Perouse, a ship that went to Botany Bay in Australia, but failed to make it back to New Caledonia on the return voyage.
One of the most stunning architectural sights in New Caledonia (and arguably, of all the South Pacific islands), Amedee Lighthouse should occupy a prominent place in your travel itinerary on a holiday here.
Standing over 184 feet tall over Amedee Island, this light was built piece by piece halfway across the world in Paris, France in 1862. It was then put aboard a boat for the months-long voyage to New Caledonia.
It was re-assembled on the other end with few major issues. Lit up for the first time in 1865, it has been a steady guiding light for mariners in the area ever since. Visitors can visit the lighthouse as part of a day tour, which often includes snorkelling and live entertainment along the way. From the top, you’ll get an unforgettable view, so don’t forget your camera in the boat!
Like many other islands in the South Pacific, New Caledonia is famous for its many postcard-perfect beaches. While there are countless spots where you can enjoy an amazing day on one of the world’s most beautiful islands, there are several which rate a mention here.
Piscine Naturelle certainly fits that description, as its baby blue water, an abundance of Norfolk pine trees, and the presence of ‘floating’ rock formations due to the clarity of the water make it a must see beach on Ile Des Pins.
Snorkeling here will feel as if you are swimming in an aquarium, making the renting of an underwater camera a good idea if you don’t presently own one.
Also on Ile Des Pins, Kanumera Bay is another stand out beach which deserves a visit of at least a few hours. Whether you want to read a book on its fine sand while looking out across at the sacred rock (a rocky outcropping in the middle of the bay which people are forbidden to climb or even touch), or snorkel amidst a plethora of fish in its warm water, you’ll have a great time here.
On the main island, Anse Vata Beach is the best beach to hit if you are staying in the Noumea area. While the presence of hotels and condos give the area a busier vibe, the water off the beach remains clear, making a great place for swimmers.
The wind offshore makes this place popular among kite surfers; if you aren’t into adrenaline sports, you can still rent paddleboards if you want to get out onto the water.
Finally, spending at least one day on Yejele Beach is a must if you are staying on Mare Island. With pure white sand and impossibly blue water, it is a gorgeous place. With a barrier reef just offshore, snorkelling is as easy as slipping a mask and snorkel on the beach and swimming out to see some of the most amazing sights in the South Pacific.
If you are staying on the island, though, avoid the beach when cruise ships visit, as this place can become uncomfortably crowded when this happens.
What to Eat
Try to have some Bougna during your time in New Caledonia. Considered by many to be its national dish, this meal consists of taro leaves, sweet potato, bananas, yam, shellfish, fish, and/or chicken. Mixed together, wrapped in banana leaves, and placed in an in-earth oven, it bakes for a couple hours before being dug up and dished out to hungry dinner guests.
Want to taste the influence the French have had on cuisine in New Caledonia? Have some Vol Au Vent des Fruits de Mer during your visit. A puff pastry dish that is filled with seafood (fish, scallops, prawns, etc) that has been cooked in a cream sauce, it is a savoury dish that is best enjoyed slowly with a good glass of imported French wine.
Looking for a weird dish to try so you can score some travel brag points? Seek out some Civet de Rousette. Translating literally to bat stew, the way it is made makes it tastes much better than you would expect, as the flying rodent’s meat is marinated in red wine before being used to make a ragout.