New Caledonia has quickly become hot property with Australian travellers, ever since new flight routes meant this dreamy island archipelago was just two hours flying time from Brisbane and under three hours from Sydney.
The natural beauty here is breathtaking. New Caledonia is an oasis of rare and unique flora and fauna – one of the world’s four richest locations for biodiversity. Its coral reef encircles the mainland and its azure lagoon is the largest in the world.
Snorkelling, fishing, boating are hot activities – everything can be done independently or with a local guide. Yachts can be chartered, with a skipper to take you where you want to go. Or arrange an expedition on a pirogue, the traditional outrigger sailing boats.
The capital of Noumea is famous for its delicious, authentic and quality food (with a strong French influence). Noumea boasts over 120 restaurants where you can choose from over 100 varieties of cheese, pate de foie gras, baguettes, French wines and champagne.
While in New Caledonia you may choose to visit a Kanak village, where the tribal residents share age-old culture and crafts; perhaps a pre-arranged bougna, the traditional slow-roasted feast of coconut-steeped seafoods, meats and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves.
Just wandering around a golf course might be your idea of heaven. Le Golf de Tina lures golfers with its 5600m, 18-hole course (72 par), stretching away from the foot of the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, 10 minutes from the city centre.
In the capital, the Musee de la Ville, the renowned Aquarium and Tjibaou Cultural Centre, memorable inside and out for its buildings and exhibits, are all on the agenda.
A bonus for travellers is the chance of arriving and finding something unscheduled, perhaps a local festival. Various regions hold colourful events. Luck into one of these and it could be the highlight of your stay.
Noumea’s annual August Jazz Festival is something to aim for, as are the cowboy-country festivities of the Northern Province.
Kone holds a rodeo in April, and the big annual Bourail Agricultural Fair, in mid-August, stages spectacular rodeos and other ranch-country events. In this cattle-raising Northern Province you know you will be eating very well.
Locals confidently claim that New Caledonia’s Isle of Pines is ‘the perfect place’. You won’t see many swaying coconut trees; instead strikingly tall pines blanket the island from tip to toe giving the impression of giant skeletal fingers reaching upwards towards the heavens. The French connections and natural beauty have made this particular island a heavenly honeymoon hideaway and stopover for cruise lovers. There are few hotel developments on the 10-kilometre-wide island and it is free of the usual tourist traps and commercialism (no McDonald’s in sight, hurrah). As such, the island still feels likes its original, blissful, unadorned self.
Another relatively unspoiled spot is the island of Mare, 178 kilometres north-east of Noumea.
Guidebooks warn the few hundred travellers who visit Mare each year that accommodation service can be irregular because the workers are often away fishing or farming family plots.
But while Mare might offer few creature comforts or tourist activities, you can’t fault its natural attractions. Located inside the world’s biggest lagoon, its waters are full of exotic sea creatures like giant manta-rays and rare dugongs, offering some of the South Pacific’s best diving.
You can also hike the island’s rugged interior, honeycombed as it is with grottos, inland pools and deep sink holes.