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 Loyaute), the Isle of Pines (Ile Des Pins) and numerous small, sparsely populated islands and atolls.
New Caledonia offers beaches, mountaintop fondue in chalets, camping, hiking, amazing snorkelling and diving, and fabulous French food.
The people of New Caledonia belong to 5 major ethnic groups:
There is a general move towards more autonomy in New Caledonia and it was decided in the Nouméa Accord that the territorial Congress will have the right to call, at a time of its choosing, for a referendum on the future status of the territory (including possible independence) after 2014.
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 during the 1980s and early 1990s seems to have dissipated. A referendum on independence was held in 1998 but did not pass; a new referendum is scheduled for after 2014.
In New Caledonia, as elsewhere in France, the national holiday is Bastille Day (14 July).
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.
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 (1,628 m).
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, and have stunning white sand, and sport palm trees.
Noumea is a popular port of call for people sailing around the Pacific, though most dare not sail during cyclone season.
Hiring a car to travel around the main island of Grand Terre is a great way to experience what this pacific island has to offer and is arguably the easiest and best way to explore Grand Terre. The roads are generally of a high standard and the highway speed limit on the west coast is 110kmph, allowing for fast travel up and down this coast. The west coast has a speed limit of 100kmph and is generally slower to drive around as this coast is hugged by the mountain range, making for more corners and hills.
Road maps are readily available from the tourist information office at the Tontouta Airport and roads are well sign posted, making towns around the main island easy to find and driving in Grande Terre an enjoyable travel experience.
There are a number of car rental companies who hire a range of cars from either the Tontouta Airport or from Nouméa. International car rental companies include Thrifty Car Rentals and Europcar, both of which allow online booking of cars using their respective websites. Rentals - cheapest are:
By bus or taxi
The buses are not too bad and go pretty much everywhere, but they are infrequent. But they are worth trying and will save you money. A bus from Tontouta Airport to Noumea City is about 400CFP as opposed to 7000CFP but shuttle bus or taxi. The bus company Carsud  Line C services Tontouta airport approximately every hour from about 5am to 6pm. Travel time is about 1 hour 30 minutes. Be aware the terminus from Tontouta is a different part of Noumea than for bus going Magenta Airport if travelling to the Islands.
Buses around town: You can catch a bus that will take you very conveniently from the Baie Des Citrons to downtown Noumea for 200CFP each way. This is a good alternative to a taxi. The bus that services this route is the No 1 Bus and it is green. This will assist you on your return to the Baie Des Citrons (and Anse Vata) since you will be looking for the Green Number 1 Bus. The bus ride takes about 15 to 20 minutes. A taxi for the same destination will cost approximately 850CFP each way, compared to 200CFP each way by bus. Taxis do not cruise the streets to pick up passengers as in other cities; they have to be telephoned to come to where you are. This makes the bus a good alternative as the total journey time is not much longer than by taxi.
If you are 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.
There are a couple ferry operators to the Loyalty Islands and Isle of Pines. Bettico operates a high speed catamaran that travels to the islands on a regular basis.
Hitching is possible, but not advisable. 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.
The official language is French, and it is difficult to find English speakers outside of Noumea. 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.
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 souvenirs shops may be found throughout Noumea.
New Caledonia is expensive compared to Asian countries but, like everywhere else, cheap compared to Australia. Much of the food needs to be imported. There is no culture of bargaining either and attempting such might cause offence. A beer in the super market is 150CFP. In some of the camping areas meals can be acquired for 850CFP. Restaurant dining can be comparable prices to Australia at around 2200CFP for a main dish.
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.
Try kava. You can recognize a Kava bar by a red light outside and dim lighting inside. It is about 100CFP compared to 500CFP 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.
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.
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.
New Caledonia is fairly safe, but it is wise to take the following precautions:
Iodine or a similar disinfectant is invaluable to fight off small infections, which quite commonly occur in most sores and scratches.