For such a diminutive territory, New Caledonia captures an immense amount of beauty. It’s the archipelago’s location amid an impossibly blue lagoon — the world’s largest, in fact — that ensures even a directionless stroll is an activity worth writing home about (or immortalising on social media).
Although the breezy, relaxed beauty of this collection of islands demands little of its visitors, it offers a plethora of pastimes, most of which make use of the area’s access to those idyllic waters: snorkelling, diving, seafood sampling and bobbing about in the warm Melanesian Sea are unsurprisingly popular. But dip further into New Caledonia’s heritage and you’ll quickly understand its true magnetism is derived from its position at the intersection of natural beauty and fascinating heritage — the history of the Indigenous Kanak people reaches back thousands of years and can still be seen in the local cuisine and traditions.
Grande Terra (the territory's main island) and its surrounding atolls are some 1500 kilometres from Australia's east coast, making the French territory one of the country’s closest neighbours. The territory's capital is Noumea, where the airport is located, along with a healthy sprinkle of luxury resorts, restaurants and cafes.
Although Grande Terra is relatively small and easily traversable (it's just 42 kilometres wide and 400 kilometres long), the island is often spoken about in terms of the west and east coasts. The west coast is characterised by its varied, verdant forest and mangroves, with soft peaks and plateaus undulating across the landscape, while the east is most well-known for its concentration of Kanak culture, tropical valleys and distinctive, traditional villages.
The territory also includes the picturesque scatter of atolls such as Ile des Pins and the Loyalty Islands; these are decidedly more remote and are the desert island fantasy du jour, with white sandy beaches with shimmering waters.
For a full rundown of pre-departure information, check our Read Before You Leave guide to New Caledonia.
Things to do
You’ll likely run out of time before you run out of snorkelling spots. The marked snorkel path on Duck Island is a fantastic way to glide past some of the most captivating aquatic life within a marine reserve or, for those who dare to dive a bit deeper, there’s a spot near Jokin Cliffs, a catchment of ancient coral stone, teeming with brightly coloured fish.
For a break from waterborne activities, ascending the peak of Mont Panié rewards hikers with stunning views over the island. The more experienced can tackle the 1100-metre spike that looks down over the pillowy green plateau of Dogny.
The territory’s best accommodation options are concentrated on the main island of Grande Terra, with notable options among the cluster of Isle of Pines and the idyllic Loyalty Islands.
On Grande Terra, Noumea has the widest selection, from overwater bungalows perched above a glittering marine reserve at L’Escapade Ilot Maitre or the endlessly luxurious Le Méridien Noumea Resort & Spa, where postcard-perfect palm trees shade your poolside pursuits. Le Méridien Ile des Pins (Isle of Pines) fulfills desert island fantasies with its soaring, palm-frond-thatched bungalows, the blindingly crystal waters greeting you at almost every turn in the secluded resort. At Ile des Pins Oure Tera resort, petanque and watersports are included in your bungalow price.
Eat and drink
Much like the wider character of New Caledonia, the territory’s cuisine is a hybrid of local and cultural influences, with the colonial French the most discernible—it’s not uncommon to enjoy imported delicacies such as foie gras and truffles alongside splendours of local flavour such as bougna — a banana-leaf parcel of lobster, fish or chicken and root vegetables cooked in an earth oven. For this Kanak delicacy, head to restaurants on the eastern edge of Grande Terra, as well as the Loyalty Islands.
For French food made for picking at, frequent pâtisseries such as L’Atelier Gourmand, where chocolate eclairs are as pillowy as those you’d find in Paris, or Gastronomie Import, the deli that’s lined with luxurious morsels spanning black truffles to creamy, gourmet chocolate.
The best option for lunch is surely a picnic assembled from Port Moselle Market, which spruiks everything from freshly baked bread and seafood to French-style cheeses crafted from New Caledonian milk and gelatinous terrines from Tuesday to Sunday.
For an evening aperitif, the leading choice is Le Roof, an overwater bungalow with a balcony that stares directly at that inimitable, cyan-coloured water. The casual wine bar Domaine du Faubourg stocks a surprisingly extensive selection of French drops, all available by the glass.
L’Hippocampe at Le Meridian and Marmite et Tire Bouchon, a pretty marina-side eatery, are top choices for grand dinners. The former is known for its refined approach to local and French fusion classics such as escargot or filet mignon, and the latter scores points for its traditional bistrot fare, finished with flourishes of herb garnishes or tuile biscuits. Chez Toto is a more casual but no less superior choice; the Latin Quarter’s menu favourites include escargot (sourced from the nearby Ile des Pine).