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5 Essential Experiences You’ve Gotta Have in New Caledonia

With its emerald islands and crystal-clear waters, New Caledonia has long been described as a French jewel of the South Pacific. Yet there’s so much more to the islands than pretty beaches and bountiful baguettes – and it’s a lot closer than you may think.

Less than three hours’ flight from Sydney and Brisbane, New Caledonia is one of the region’s most stunning (and accessible) destinations. Rich in culture, jam-packed with adventures… the only thing that would make it better is you and your friends hopping on a plane.

Once you arrive, the breadth of experiences on offer can be a little overwhelming, so we’ve compiled a handy guide to the essentials. From snorkelling in the marine-rich waters of Kuto Bay to feasting on French-Melanesian cuisine, this is how to do New Caledonia right.

#1 Fly over the Heart of Voh

 

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As icons of New Caledonia go, there are a few which might spring the mind. The Amédée Island Lighthouse, the Avatar-like architecture of the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre; and, of course, the views from Nouméa’s numerous waterfront restaurants.

The most famous, however, is the Heart of Voh – a natural heart-shaped formation in the mangroves near Koné. First published in a striking photo by journalist and photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand back in 1999, it sums up the beauty and the heart of the country.

So, if you want to tick off the best of New Caledonia during your stay, you really need to see it – and an ultra-light is the most magical way to do it. There are a few ultra-light options, including Nord ULM and CAP ULM POE, so take your pick and a pic while you’re at it!


#2 Take an Insta-Worthy trip to the Isle of Pines

 

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If you want to take your photography to the next level, the Isle of Pines is where you need to be. Just a short 20-minute flight or lazy 2.5 hours by ferry from Grand Terre, it’s almost impossible to take a bad shot of its forest, beaches and towering araucaria pine trees.

A jewel in New Caledonia’s crown, the island is home to some epic locales such as Kuto and Kanamara Bays, with their sugar-white beaches and mesmerising coconut palms. A snorkel through the dazzling waters of a taboo coral island between the bays or a trip aboard a traditional pirogue outrigger canoe will take your island getaway to a whole new level!

Further afield you’ll find Upi Bay, an often-overlooked gem frequented by turtles and dolphins; Oumagne Grotto, known as the Cave of Queen Hortense; and the ruins of a 19th century penal colony, which housed over 21,000 convicts between 1864 and 1897.


#3 Visit the incredible Ouen Toro Hill

 

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Not to be outdone by the outer islands, Grand Terre, the largest and most populated in New Caledonia, is drop-dead gorgeous, too. And one of the best places to take it all in is Ouen Toro, a 132-metre hill where you can enjoy 360-degree views of Nouméa and beyond.

If you’re a fan of walking or hiking, there are several trails of varying difficulty winding up to the lookout at the hill’s summit. If you’re more a talker than a walker, you’ve got to hire one of the 100 percent-electric mini mokes and drive up in time for the sunset over the bay. It’s epic!

Once at the summit, the full scale and beauty of Nouméa can be enjoyed in one place.


#4 Try the local fusion cuisine

 

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Though known as “a little piece of France in the South Pacific”, French flavour and flair are not the only drawcards in New Caledonia. The indigenous Kanak people represent just over 44 per cent of the population, resulting in an intriguing fusion of French-Melanesian culture.

If you want to see this fusion in practice, look no further than the island’s countless restaurants. Think fresh, tropical ingredients prepared with French techniques, together with traditional dishes such as the Kanak speciality bougna – fish, coconut and root vegetables wrapped in banana leaf and cooked for hours on red-hot rocks in the ground.

Though you’ll be tempted to go back for bougna seconds, save room for traditional French cuisine, too: buttery pastries, baguettes overflowing with the freshest produce, and, of course, sensational French cheese and wine. Whatever you choose, you’re in for a serious foodie treat.


#5 Kayak around Hienghène’s La Poule

 

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Another of New Caledonia’s famed attractions is La Poule, a limestone rock formation off the shore of Hienghène on Grand Terre’s northeast coast. Shaped like a brooding hen, it’s a powerful religious symbol said to keep the waters that surround it abundant in fish.

As you’d expect with such a sacred site, setting foot on the island is forbidden – but you can kayak around it. The waters that surround La Poule are dotted with huge black-stone boulders and rich in marine life, making for an unforgettable experience.

Really though, no matter where you go in New Caledonia, from the remote islands to the inland wilderness and cowboy country of the West Coast, there’s so much waiting to be discovered. The hardest decision for most people is just when to book a return trip.

Find your perfect New Caledonia experience today.

(Lead image: Sébastien Jermer / Unsplash)