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New Caledonia

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New Caledonia (French:Nouvelle-Caledonie) is a dependent overseas territory of France lying in the western Pacific Ocean, in the Coral Sea, to the east of Australia and west of Vanuatu. The territory consists of the main island of Grand Terre, the archipelago of the Loyalty Islands (Iles Loyauté), and numerous small, sparsely populated islands and atolls.

New Caledonia offers beaches, mountaintop fondue in chalets, camping, amazing snorkelling and diving, and fabulous French food.

Regions

Cities

  • Nouméa — the capital, and the only city of any size.
  • Bourail — a farming town.
  • Mueo
  • Port Bousie
  • Thio

Understand

New Caledonia is a collectivité d'outre-mer of France with a special status which allows it to have its own laws and its own government in anticipation of becoming completely independent in a few decades. New Caledonia sets its own rules for everything except for national defence and foreign policy, which are set by France.

The people of New Caledonia are split into 5 major groups:

  • The Kanaks, Melanesian inhabitants of New Caledonia, were here long before the Europeans and many of them are still living outside of Noumea in tribes. The traditional authority of the tribes' chiefs is legal and recognized by French law.
  • The Caldoches, descendants of European and North African prisoners and settlers, include some families that have lived in New Caledonia for more than 100 years.
  • People from metropolitan France and other French overseas territories, locally called "zoreils", are mostly newcomers and here only to work in Noumea for a few years.
  • Asians, descendants of those who came to work in the nickel mines of New Caledonia about a century ago, are mostly Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian.
  • Polynesians, people from French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna, are mostly living in Noumea for work. As French citizens, they can move freely between New Caledonia and Polynesia.

Since the events of Ouvéa cave hostage-taking in 1988, there has been a political movement towards more autonomy in New Caledonia as listed on the UN list of non-self governing territories. An independence referendum is being planned for 2018.

History

Settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island became a French possession in 1853. It served as a penal colony for four decades after 1864.

The islands have been an overseas territory of France since 1956.

The 1988 Matignon Accords grant substantial autonomy to the islands formally under French law. Agitation for independence, which occurred during the 1980s and early 1990s, seems to have dissipated. A referendum on independence was to have been held in 1998 but was eventually cancelled, as the Noumea accord decided; a new referendum is scheduled for after 2014.

In New Caledonia, as elsewhere in France, the national holiday is Bastille Day (14 July).

Climate

New Caledonia has a semi-tropical climate, modified by southeast trade winds. It is often hot and humid in January and February. The islands are subject to tropical cyclones, most frequent from November to March. During winter (April to August) the daytime temperature is around 22 degrees. The water may still be warm, but it often feels too cool to really want to go swimming.

Geography

The main island of New Caledonia is one of the largest in the Pacific Ocean and its terrain consist of coastal plains with interior mountains. The highest point is Mont Panie (1,628m).

Grand Terre is rich in minerals, and is an important source of many ores, mainly nickel and chromium. There is a mountainous interior green with subtropical foliage. The outlying islands are coral-based, have stunning white sand and sport palm trees.

Get in

A number of items are restricted by customs and biosecurity regulations. Consult the the official flyer (in French) for more information.

By plane

  • New Caledonia Airport (IATA: NOU), in Païta, 52km northwest of the capital city of Noumea +687 35 11 18. Air France provides code-share flights from Paris via Tokyo, Osaka, or Seoul. Regular flights are available from Tokyo and Osaka on Aircalin, as New Caledonia is very popular with the Japanese. Air New Zealand and Qantas also serve the airport. There are also flights from various Pacific nations, New Zealand, Australia, and Southeast Asia. However, there aren't many flights overall, so beware of availability.
  • Noumea-Magenta Airport (IATA: GEA) , 4km from the city centre, +687 25 14 00. Serves all domestic flights within New Caledonia, such as the Loyalty Islands (Maré, Tiga, Lifou, Ouvéa), from Isle of Pines in the south to Belep Islands in the northern tip of the mainland as well as Koné and Koumac on the west coast and Touho on the east coast.

By boat

Noumea is a popular port of call for people sailing around the Pacific, though most dare not sail during cyclone season.

Get around

Forget about Google Maps, it is grossly incomplete in New Caledonia and often wrong. OpenStreetMap is a much better option.

By car

Rentals - cheapest are:

  • Red point (drivers have to be above 24 years of age)

Note that, like in France, automatic cars are not common and most rental cars are manual.

By bus or taxi

There are two main bus services in New Caledonia:

  • CarSud is the regional bus service in Province Sud. Ligne C will take you from the La Tontouta airport to Noumea city centre for XPF400 (as of June 2014).
  • Karuiabus is the city bus service in Noumea. Ligne 10/11 will take you from the city centre to Baie des citrons and Anse Vata for XPF210 (as of June 2014).

A taxi from downtown to your hotel will cost approximately XPF850 each way, compared to XPF210 each way by bus. Taxis do not cruise the streets to pick up passengers as in other cities; they have to be ordered by phone 28 35 12). This makes the bus a good alternative as the total journey time is not much longer than by taxi.

If you are staying in a hotel or other accommodation you can just ask them to call you a taxi. The same applies if you are shopping in Noumea – if you have just purchased something, even groceries in a small store, they will be happy to call you a taxi.

Hitching

Hitching is much easier than in metropolitan France but, like in most places, with the same inherent risks. Around celebrations there are many drunk drivers on the roads. Locals prefer to travel during daylight hours when possible as the roads at night are very dangerous and few drivers have sufficient insurance.

See

  • Tjibaou Cultural Centre, a gift from the French Government. The architect was Renzo Piano, an Italian architect.
  • Botanical garden
  • Wandering along the waterfront in Noumea - Baie des Citrons and Anse Vata.
  • The New Caledonia Barrier Reef — listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it encircles both the Grande Terre and Île des Pins. It's also known as the New Caledonia Lagoon.

Do

Snorkelling, diving, windsurfing

    • Îlot Canard just outside the Anse Vata is a good place for beginners
    • Aguille de Prony is an amazing underwater structure in the Prony bay south of Noumea

Relaxing, tanning, and generally doing nothing

    • Baie des Citrons and the Anse Vata are common beaches at the Noumea peninsula
    • Îlot Maitre has a resort. This can be reached by taxi boat from the Anse Vata, and by boat from the Baie de Mouselle
    • Numerous other tourist resorts can be found throughout the Grande Terre and Île des Pins

Cuisine

  • Eating French and local cuisine

Hiking and camping

  • Parc de la Rivière Bleue in the Yaté region south of Noumea. Get there early because the best walks take a while to reach and you must be out of the park by 5pm. Plan on taking the shuttle (need to be booked ahead of time at the ticket office) if you want to skip a boring 2km walk on the road both ways.
  • The Monts Koghis offer two nice walks just outside of Noumea. Park at the auberge des Monts Koghis, sign a release and leave your mobile number in case of emergency.
  • Prony offers a nice 1.5h walk through the historical village. Park at the Baie de la Somme since the road is better and there's a lot more parking space, then follow the signs and get on the walk to Prony.
  • Joining a hiking group is generally a good idea, since you then can really enjoy the great scenery without fear of getting lost, or having to stick with conventional tourist spots

Talk

The official language is French though most locals speak New Caledonian patois, and it is difficult to find English speakers outside of Noumea except where a few pockets of English speakers are left amongst the elderly in the north-east. In Noumea, French, English, and Japanese are widely spoken at hotels, restaurants, and shops. To enjoy a place like this, you should really endeavour to learn some French or the local languages.

Buy

Money

The CFP franc (called just franc locally) is the currency used in New Caledonia, and also in the other Pacific territories of French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna. The initials CFP used to stand for Colonies Françaises du Pacifique (“French colonies of the Pacific”), but this was changed later to Communauté Financière du Pacifique (“Pacific Financial Community”) and finally to its current incarnation: Change Franc Pacifique (“Pacific Franc Exchange”). Throughout these successive changes the ISO 4217 currency code has remained XPF and pegged first to the French franc and then to the euro.

Shopping

The cartoon series La Brousse en Folie and Le Sentier Des Hommes by Bernard Berger will give you an insight in the local culture and tradition. The comics are written in French, the former imitating the local accent and grammar (or lack thereof).

Other than that, plenty of conventional souvenir shops may be found throughout Noumea.

Costs

New Caledonia is very expensive, since much of the food needs to be imported. There is no culture of bargaining either and attempting such might cause offence.

Eat

Buy food from local markets, which are common to almost every town.

Restaurants are expensive. You can eat quite well for about 10EUR at a couple of eateries opposite the library in town. For travellers on a budget, you'll need to observe what the Kanaks do for the best deals.

French food is (obviously) a speciality, but the range of foods available can be a little limited.

Dishes

  • Bougna, a traditional meal among the native Melanesians, which consists of some form of meat, pork, chicken, fruit bat, crab, etc, along with roots such as yams and sweet potatoes. This is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked under hot rocks heated in a fire.
  • Coconut crabs
  • All fruits taste very good

Drink

Try kava. You can recognize a Kava bar by a red light outside and dim lighting inside. It is about XPF100 compared to XPF500 for a beer, so about a fifth of the price. You drink the Kava immediately once you've purchased it and then go off to a dark bench to relax.

Sleep

There are many places around New Caledonia that are affordable and in good condition. All you have to do is search around and you will find somewhere to sleep within your price range.

Work

Volunteering

Volontariat Civil à l'Aide Technique VCAT. Conditions: you must be French or from another EU-member state or a country belonging to the European Economic Area. You must be between 18 and 28 years old (inclusive). You must not have had your civic rights revoked by a court or have been convicted of certain offences.

Stay safe

New Caledonia is fairly safe, but it is wise to take the following precautions:

  • When snorkelling, avoid contact with sea urchins, which are often poisonous, and coral structures, which can cause scrapes that swell badly and take a long time to heal.
  • A seasnake known locally as the Tricot Rayé has a potentially lethal venom, but is not aggressive when left alone, and only attacks when threatened.
  • There are sharks, some of them quite large, though Great White Sharks are rare. Avoid shark attacks by:
    • Not carrying fish that you have caught (and may be bleeding) while in the water
    • Facing the shark, so that to the shark you appear large, vertical and difficult to bite
  • There are no crocodiles native to New Caledonia. Rogue individuals have been observed on the island no more than twice within the past 200 years, probably swept out from the Solomon Islands.

Stay healthy

Iodine or a similar disinfectant is invaluable to fight off small infections, which quite commonly occur in most sores and scratches.

Some mosquitoes carry the dengue fever virus. There is no vaccination for this, so it is important to prevent mosquito bites to the extent possible. Consult a doctor for more information, and see the Wikivoyage article.

Connect

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Exercise normal security precautions

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Canadians are encouraged to register with the Australian Consulate General in Nouméa in order to receive the latest information on situations or events that could affect their safety.

Crime

Petty crime is prevalent. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations occur and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. Roadblocks and marches may occur on main roads at any time and with little or no notice. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and monitor local media.

Transportation

All main roads on Grande Terre are paved.

Buses connect all major towns and villages. There is a ferry service between Noumea and other islands.

Emergency Services

In the event of an emergency, dial 17 for the police and 15 for an ambulance.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, food and water can also carry diseases like hepatitis A. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in the Oceanic Pacific Islands. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!


Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis and malaria.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

Malaria

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in this country.


Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Certain infections found in the Oceanic Pacific Islands, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

For the latest Travel Health Notices and information on vaccinations, outbreaks and diseases, consult the website of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The Agency strongly recommends that you consult with a travel medicine clinic or health care provider preferably six weeks before departure.

The Agency publishes travel health advice for New Caledonia.

Medical services

Medical facilities are generally good on the main island, but limited on the other islands.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention FAQ for more information.

Canada and France are signatories to the European Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons. This enables a Canadian imprisoned in France to request a transfer to a Canadian prison to complete a sentence. The transfer requires the agreement of both Canadian and French authorities.

Dual citizenship

Although France recognizes dual citizenship, dual citizens are considered French citizens and are subject to French laws. Consult our publication entitled Dual Citizenship: What You Need to Know for more information.

Money

The currency is the Comptoirs français du Pacifique franc or the CFP franc (XPF).

Credit cards are accepted. Currency and traveller’s cheques can be exchanged at major banks or in most hotels. Most banks have automated banking machines (ABMs). 

Climate

The cyclone season extends from November to April. Monitor regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.