New Caledonia is the third largest island in the South Pacific but, unlike many of its neighbors, was not formed from volcanic eruptions. Rather, New Caledonia is part of an ancient continent that drifted away millions of years ago.
New Caledonia was first inhabited some 3,000 years ago by Austronesians arriving from the Melanesian archipelagos. In the 11th century, Polynesians discovered the island and integrated with the indigenous Melanesians. James Cook was the first European explorer to find this island in 1774. More Europeans and missionaries arrived and settled in the island in the 19th century. In 1853, France made New Caledonia an overseas territory, and it has remained as one ever since. However, there is a growing independence movement from the indigenous Melanesians or Kanaky to sever from the French Republic, and a referendum on the issue is expected sometime after 2014.
New Caledonia consists of the mainland, “Grande Terre”. The capital, Noumea, is located in the southeastern coast of Grande Terre. There are also several smaller islands around Grande Terre, including the Belep Archipelago of islands and islets to the northwest, the Loyalty Islands to the east, the Île des Pins to the south, and the uninhabited Chesterfield Islands and Bellona Reefs to the west.
New Caledonia is truly an exotic group of islands. The landscapes are painted by green valleys and mountain ranges, Melanesian villages and huts along cattle countryside, lush tropical vegetation and Niaouli trees in unspoilt rainforests, gorgeous waterfalls and rivers, pristine sandy beaches, and long stretches of coral reef enclosed by the world’s largest lagoon. Having been isolated for millions of years, New Caledonia developed a rich ecology of unique flora and fauna. There are thousands of exotic plant species and wildlife found nowhere else in the world, including the famous Nautilus – a living-fossil marine creature that was around during the days of the dinosaurs.
Tourists enjoy New Caledonia for its stunning beaches and lagoons, the perfect setting for all water activities imaginable. Whale and dolphin watching, fly fishing, scuba diving, and snorkeling are particular favorites. Exploring the interiors of island and getting a feel for the biodiversity of this island is essential to any true visit.
New Caledonia also has some of the best food anywhere, especially for those who enjoy seafood and exotic fruits. Although expensive, the restaurants cover all cuisine types: from authentic French and Italian, to Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Japanese, to traditional Melanesian.