"South Seas Gem with a European Flavor" Top 5 Page for this destination New Caledonia by minstrel74
New Caledonia Travel Guide: 372 reviews and 644 photos
Despite its close proximity to the lush islands of Vanuatu, New Caledonia has a far different landscape and feel than many visitors might expect for a South Pacific nation at this latitude. It's a place where the tropical meets the temperate, where the days are warm (sometimes downright hot), but you can detect a slight coolness that's not perceptible in the islands just to the north. It's also a place where European culture is ubiquitous, giving the islands a rather more colonial feel than others in the region. This juxtaposition of European and Melanesian cultures makes for a fascinating place to visit, and any visitor who has studied the country's recent history will find any discussion of the state of affairs in New Caledonia an enlightening one. It's almost poetic that the cohabitation of these two cultures should be reflected so perfectly by the meeting of tropical and temperate climates.
The indigenous people of New Caledonia, the Kanaks, are absolutely the most hospitable people I met during my entire three-month journey throughout the South Pacific. The kindness shown to me as a traveler was indescribable. Everywhere I went, I was greeted, fed, invited to stay overnight,etc. My expressions of gratitude felt inadequate, but I greatly appreciated the hospitality, especially since my French language skills were a little weak. If you spend some time outside of Nouméa, you will most likely experience this warmth of the Kanak people, and you will come to admire their pride and appreciate the beautiful traditions they keep alive on these islands.
One of the first things you will notice about New Caledonia, and especially the main island of Grande Terre, is the variety of landscapes to be found. There does not appear to be any rainforest here or endless expanses of tangled jungle. In fact, much of Grande Terre is just dry hills. Parts of the west coast seem to be nothing more than only lightly-vegetated scrubland. At least based on where I went, the east coast seemed a bit more green, but it was still only modest tree cover compared to the verdant forests of the other island nations in the region. The most distinctive feature found on these islands is the araucaria tree, sometimes confused with the very similiar Norfolk pine. These trees are immediately recognized by their cylindrical shape and thick needles. They appear very temperate in origin and seem somewhat odd growing right next to idyllic white-sand beaches. It's one of the visual delights of these islands, though, and you will see these trees all throughout both Grande Terre and the other island groups.
Anyone flying into Nouméa can't help but notice the devastating effect nickel mining has had on the landscape of the main island. Although not as noticeable on the ground, much of the interior of Grande Terre appears to be heavily scarred from mining operations. Unfortunate, perhaps, but nothing that can't also be seen in certain parts of the United States, central Africa, South America, and any number of other resource-rich regions. There is still a great deal of beauty to this land, but don't be surprised if you stumble upon a large, unattractive open-pit mine.
For information on other parts of New Caledonia, please visit my travel pages for Île des Pins and Nouméa.
- Pros:Interesting juxtaposition of East and West, beautiful outer islands, excellent tourist infrastructure
- Cons:Some amenities very expensive, scarred landscape of Grande Terre
- In a nutshell:Fascinating landscape with an equally fascinating history
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