New Caledonia is our closest neighbour on the east coast – it’s just a three-hour flight from Sydney to the capital, Nouméa. But this collection of tropical islands in the Pacific doesn’t feel anything like home. European and Melanesian culture has combined to form a unique destination, where you can dine on flawless French cuisine as you sit on an idyllic beach with your toes in the pure white sand. Close enough to visit for a long weekend, New Caledonia should be on your travel bucket list. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
Entering New Caledonia
Australian passport holders do not require a visa to visit New Caledonia for a holiday. Just make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after your return date.
Arriving at La Tontouta International Airport
Nouméa’s international airport is on Grande Terre (New Caledonia’s main island) about 45 minutes from the city. It’s worth checking if your hotel offers an airport transfer, as taxis to and from the airport can be pricey. Otherwise, there’s a shuttle bus into the city or you could consider hiring a car, especially if you plan to explore on your own.
A mix of French and local laws apply in New Caledonia. Drug offences, including the possession of illicit substances, can result in fines or imprisonment. Smart Traveller warns that while same-sex marriage is legal in New Caledonia, outside of Nouméa much of New Caledonian society is not accepting of it.
The language barrier
French is the official language of New Caledonia and more than 28 local dialects are also spoken across the four archipelagos. English is not widely used so brush up on some helpful French phrases before you go.
SEE ALSO: How to Spend 4 Days in Nouméa
Customs and etiquette
If you are invited to visit the tribe or home of a Kanak family, always bring a small gift to offer – food, a few metres of a textile or money are appropriate items.
In New Caledonia it’s considered impolite to cut into a conversation uninvited (you should wait to be asked), speak too loudly in public, arrive late to a pre-arranged meeting or fail to show respect to everyone, especially elders.
The currency in New Caledonia is the Pacific franc, abbreviated to XPF or CFP and commonly referred to as the franc. It’s pegged to the value of the euro, with one euro equal to about 116 XPF.
Major credit cards are accepted across New Caledonia. Euros, Australian dollars and New Zealand dollars are sometimes accepted.
Alert your bank before you leave Australia, just in case your purchases are thought to be fraudulent and your account is frozen.
Make sure your bank won’t hit you with extra fees when you use your credit card in New Caledonia. Your Australian bank and ATMs in New Caledonia will both charge you for withdrawing money from your debit card, too, so it might be worth organising a travel card (most banks have one) with low or no fees to use while you’re away.
Tipping is not customary in New Caledonia. Feel free to round up the bill at a restaurant or in a taxi, although it’s not expected.
Mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue and Zika, are still a small risk in New Caledonia. Wear mosquito repellent and see your doctor before you go to discuss other preventative measures, especially if you are pregnant or plan to be.
Hospital standards are high in New Caledonia but very expensive. Smart Traveller warns that an intensive care bed in a Noumea hospital could cost upwards of $5500 per day. Take out travel insurance before you leave for your trip.
The main mode of public transport in New Caledonia is the bus system. It’s made up of the Tanéo network, which has several routes across the main island, including two tourism-dedicated lines that stop at places of interest for visitors, and Raï, the interurban coach service that has 360 stops across the island. You can reach the islands by fast ferry or fly to Ouvéa, Tiga, Lifou and Maré on local airline Air Loyauté, with most flights taking about half an hour. The easiest way to get around islands Grande Terre, Lifou, Ouvéa, Isle of Pines and Maré is by rental car or scooter.
Being in the South Pacific, the weather in New Caledonia is beautiful most of the time. The average temperature hovers around 20-27ºC year-round and there’s an average of 345 sunshine days annually. However, New Caledonia does experience a cyclone season from the end of November to May, with February to April being the most dangerous time. Bushfires are a risk from September to February.
When to go
The best time of year to visit New Caledonia is from September to November, when the islands experience perfect weather for swimming with little chance of rain. The downside is everyone wants to visit at this time – so be prepared for peak travel season and the prices that come with it. If you want a better deal on flights and accommodation, visit from February to July.
Civil unrest occasionally results in protests and demonstrations in New Caledonia, which can be dangerous. Avoid large gatherings of people and political events.
Petty theft and car break-ins are not uncommon, so always keep an eye on your belongings and keep expensive valuables concealed as much as possible.
There have been reports of drink spiking in New Caledonia, so never accept a drink from a stranger or leave your beverage unattended in a bar or restaurant.
The tap water in New Caledonia is typically safe to drink but this can vary between islands and accommodation styles. The safest bet is to drink filtered or bottled water.
It’s a tropical destination, so the dress code is relaxed in New Caledonia. Anything goes during the day, but at night the French influence is noticeable – a chic outfit for women and a collared shirt for men doesn’t hurt. Dress more conservatively when visiting an Kanak tribe or a sacred site.
Smart Traveller recommends all visitors to New Caledonia take out comprehensive travel insurance to cover overseas medical costs, including evacuation.
Where to stay
Nouméa has the most to offer visitors in the way of restaurants, shopping and nightlife but the most beautiful scenery is further out. The Loyalty Islands comprises four main islands about 190 kilometres east of Grande Terre, three of which have accommodation for visitors; Lifou, Ouvéa and Maré (Lifou has the most options). The beaches are pristine, with snorkelling, scuba and doing nothing the most popular activities.
The east coast of the main island (Grande Terre) is lush and green, and there’s more opportunity to experience the traditions of the Kanak population.
Isle of Pines to the south of the mainland is frequented by cruise ships during the day but it’s worth staying here to experience the picturesque mornings and evenings when there’s less people about.
Phone calls and mobile data
Your Australian mobile phone might work in New Caledonia but you could get hit with data roaming fees so check with your phone company prior to your trip. You could purchase a local SIM to use while you’re there as long as your phone isn’t locked to your Australian carrier – again, check with your phone company before you leave. There are a few emergency numbers in New Caledonia: 15 for medical emergencies, 17 for the police and 18 for fire and rescue services.
To call Australia, dial +61 followed by the phone number – including the area code minus the zero. So, to call a Sydney landline telephone, you would dial +61 2 then the phone number. To call a mobile phone, use the same country code and dial the mobile number minus the first zero.
New Caledonia has fast and reliable internet. Many hotels, bars and restaurants offer free wi-fi.
In New Caledonia the voltage is 220V, compared to Australia’s 230V, and the frequency is 50Hz, the same as Australia, so most devices should work without issue. Wall sockets are the European type, so you’ll need an adaptor to plug in Australian devices.
Handy apps and websites
- Pick Me is the most popular ride-sharing app in New Caledonia.
- Visit Këdia for info about public transport, including timetables and fares.
- Smart Traveller for safety information.
- XE for currency conversion.
- La Tontouta International Airport for information on flights, weather, traffic, parking, terminal locations and airport shuttles.
- New Caledonia – the official tourism website.