How to Explore the New Caledonia Barrier Reef

New Caledonia Barrier Reef

The stats describing the New Caledonia Barrier Reef are staggering. Part of one of the world’s biggest marine reserves (more than 1.3 million square kilometres), it’s the longest continuous barrier reef (clocking in at 1,600 kilometres) and second only to the Great Barrier Reef in overall size. Unsurprisingly, the planet’s most diverse lagoon is a paradise for divers, dense with colourful coral and marine life – the pygmy seahorse, black-spotted stingray and giant grouper are just some of the 9300 species that call it home. Powdery white beaches, abundant water sports and chic resorts, are all less than three hours’ flight from Australia’s east coast.

Snorkelling through the reef

Snorkel with sea turtles, New Caledonia

If you’re living the overwater bungalow life at DoubleTree by Hilton Noumea Ilot Maitre Resort or staying beachside at Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Spa & Golf Resort, top-notch snorkelling is mere steps away. Grab a mask and some flippers (DoubleTree offers complimentary equipment hire) and slip into the water just about anywhere.

Further afield, UNESCO-listed Duck Island (Îlot Canard) is a five-minute water taxi from Anse Vata. There’s an underwater trail marked for swimmers, complete with illustrations and descriptions of the wildlife you might encounter. Think: sea anemones, black-and-white striped sweetlips and if you’re lucky, ancient sea turtles.

Families will love Le Ponton, a floating leisure complex moored in Sainte-Marie Bay. Visitors can snorkel Tamanou Reef, kayak, float in an inflatable lounger then lunch on grilled lobster.

Where to scuba dive in New Caledonia

New Caledonia Barrier Reef

A two-hour ferry or 20-minute flight from Nouméa, the diving at Isle of Pines (locally known as I’île des Pins) is excellent, especially at Gorgon Valley where eagle rays and leopard sharks weave between fan-shaped coral. Kunie Scuba Centre on the island runs everything from beginner-friendly lessons to cave diving and night-time tours, when the marine life really wakes up, for more experienced explorers.

The Dieppoise, the French Royal Navy’s last wooden patrol boat, was deliberately sunk off Amédée Island in 1988. Now lying 26 metres below the surface and often visited by manta rays, the shipwreck is one of the region’s most popular dive sites. Hop on a 45-minute ferry from Nouméa or join a tour with Blue Caledonia Diving to explore the area and its inhabitants in depth.

Want to take things to the next level? Odyssey Diving operates two to six-night cruises aboard a luxury catamaran. Along with unparalleled access to under-the-radar sites – you’ll take part in two to three dives each day with a marine biologist instructor – packages include meals and professional photographs to help immortalise your adventure.

More ways to get out on the water

Nekweta Surf Camp, New Caledonia

Only 10-minutes from Nouméa’s city centre, pretty Baie des Citrons is ideal for a post-sightseeing dip. Poé Beach, a two-hour drive from the capital, is picture perfect – somewhat untouched still, with turquoise water, 13 kilometres of sugary sand and a laid-back vibe.

Water sports more your style? Anse Vata, the breeziest beach in Nouméa, is a hotspot for windsurfing, kitesurfing, wakeboarding and paddleboarding. Outlets like Aloha can set you up with windsurfing rental gear, tours and classes for first-timers. Surfing requires a little more effort – you’ll need a boat to reach the sets that break on the reef – but the lack of crowds and relatively tame waves make it a great place to learn. Book a stay at Nekweta Surf Camp, a low-key guesthouse two minutes from Roche Percée Beach near Bourail, for an insider’s guide to the area.

Experience the reef without getting wet

New Caledonia Barrier Reef

There’s plenty to take in from above ground, too. Get a bird’s-eye view of the archipelago (and spot a dugong or two) during a scenic flight with Air Paradise or go island hopping in one of Helisud’s four-seat helicopters.

Closer to sea level, book a glass-bottom boat tour with operators such as Mary D. There’s also the spectacular “natural aquarium” on Maré Island: a rock pool sunk into the cliffs that’s been kept in pristine condition thanks to a swimming ban. It’s a 40-minute flight from Nouméa, but well worth the trip to watch fluorescent parrotfish dart about in the crystalline water.

If you’re visiting in February, don’t miss the chance to see turtle hatchlings scuttle down to the ocean on Roche Percée Beach. Early-morning excursions are led by the knowledgeable team from The Lagoon Aquarium and have a strict “observe but don’t disturb” policy.

The New Caledonia Barrier Reef

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Image credits: New Caledonia Tourism

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