5 reasons we HEART New Caledonia

by Astral Sligo

It's a marriage made in heaven: a tropical paradise where Melanesian culture and French influence (and cuisine) meet. The landscape of sun-kissed white sand beaches, rolling plains, vast forests lush and green, and rugged mountainscapes all embraced by turquoise waters is the perfect backdrop for a romantic holiday. There are hundreds of ways New Caledonia will woo you, but here's our top five:

1. Noumea is the Paris of the Pacific and only a 2 ½ hour flight from Auckland and Sydney

We all know that Paris is the city of lurv, but does Paris have the world’s largest lagoon, fringed by white sand beaches and palm trees on its doorstep? Situated on a peninsula in the south of New Caledonia's main island, the cosmopolitan and chic capital city will charm and delight with street names in French, an atmosphere of elegance reminiscent of the Riviera and a warmth of hospitality not usually associated with Parisians.

2. New Caledonia is where the heart (of Voh) is

You've seen the image before, a big, beautiful verdant heart photographed from the air; it's as if an Amazonian giant has drawn a love heart into the landscape. You may be surprised to learn that this heart-shaped curiousity is not a world away, but in the South Pacific, and only a short plane or helicopter trip from Noumea. The naturally forming heart of Voh (Fr. Cœur de Voh) is a patch of mangrove vegetation located in the north of Grande Terre. Voh village was once a French coffee plantation commune, but now is a centre for aquaculture. You may be able to see the heart by climbing nearby Katepaik (a large hill), but the best way to (photographically) capture this heart is by air. Check out this recommended accommodation nearby.

3. Delectable deliciousness: French cuisine with Pacific flair
The French claimed New Caledonia in 1853 and their influence has led to the country’s unique identity and cuisine. Much of the food in New Caledonia is based on French-style cooking, and both coffee and wine are taken very seriously. Make sure to try the traditional Melanesian dish of Bougna: a combination of chicken, lobster or fish with yams, bananas, sweet potatoes and coconut milk wrapped in banana leaves.

Dine at a sidewalk café or take a picnic (baguettes, cheese, wine and chocolates) as the sun sets over a tranquil lagoon or warm sea. For something a little different, try ‘table d’hotes’ where you’re welcomed into the homes of locals who serve you with meals of venison, wild pig, coconut crab and fish. This gives you the chance to sample some truly authentic food while you experience a taste of the local lifestyle and hospitality.

4. Rare and unusual encounters and escapades for nature lovers
Meet mermaids: New Caledonia is not only blessed with the world's second largest coral reef (a diver's paradise), but much of the wide, shallow protected mangrove estuary channels that flow into the warm waters are feeding and breeding grounds for the unusual yet beautiful dugongs (large marine mammals whose name means lady of the sea). Activity providers such as Locajet can suggest day trip tours that will introduce you to these creatures as well taking in other sights such as the picturesque Phare Amedee Lighthouse and also fitting in a local buffet and Pacific dance show.

If you don't want to get into the water, then a visit to the Aquarium des Lagons Nouvelle Caledonie will give you great insight into the underwater marine life.

Other ideas for nature lovers: Take a bushwalk and see if you can spot New Caledonia's national bird, the flightless cagou. Embark on a moonlit kayak trip through the drowned forest of de la Rivière Bleue in the Parc Provincial.

5. Idyllic accommodation set amidst stunning tropical backdrops
New Caledonia has a fantastic selection of accommodation types to suit everyone, and you're almost guaranteed a beautiful backdrop to your holiday. From sophisticated hotels located in the heart of Noumea, to resorts where swim-up bars and massage huts will help you to relax and feel revitalised, to hosted accommodation where reviews indicate that other travellers have felt so at home it seems like they have left a bit of their heart there.

Plan your South Pacific French love affair: order our New Caledonia map.

Best time to visit:
May to October, in order to avoid the cyclones, wet season and mosquitos.