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New Caledonia is a tropical, marine-life-rich island destination in the South Pacific. This lush French territory with rugged landscapes and large swathes of beach has a unique blend of French and indigenous cultures.
If you’re looking for a remote island vacation with a mix of undisturbed nature and rich local culture, I strongly recommend visiting New Caledonia.
In this guide, I suggest two options for how to spend 7 days in New Caledonia. The first is a calmer itinerary that maximizes time on the beach and in the water through visiting New Caledonia’s capital city, Noumea, and the pristine island of Île des Pins. The second itinerary takes you on a roadtrip around New Caledonia’s main island, Grande Terre, and offers glimpses into the mountainous regions and indigenous cultures.
7 Days In New Caledonia
Option 1: Beachside relaxation (Noumea & Ile des Pins)
- Day 0: Arrival
- Day 1-2: Noumea
- Days 3-6: Île des Pins
- Day 7: Noumea
- Day 8: Departure
Option 2: Roadtrip adventure (Grande Terre)
- Day 0: Arrival
- Day 1: Noumea
- Day 2-3: Koné
- Day 4-5: Tipindjé
- Day 6: Bourail
- Day 7: Noumea
- Day 8: Departure
What To Know Before Your Trip
New Caledonia is a relatively under-the-radar tourist destination, largely because of its location in the middle of the South Pacific. Since most of the islands are remote and sparsely populated, a successful trip to New Caledonia requires research and planning.
Here are a few of my most important tips to consider before traveling to New Caledonia:
Prepare to use basic French
New Caledonia is a French territory and French is the official language. Kanak languages (indigenous languages) are also spoken throughout the territory.
Particularly outside of downtown Noumea (the capital city) or major resorts, English is not commonly spoken. You are at a huge advantage to travel throughout New Caledonia and interact with local residents if you can speak even a basic level of French.
Bring the right electrical adapter
In New Caledonia, electrical sockets and plugs are type C or F with a standard voltage of 220V and a standard frequency of 50Hz (for example, this adapter is an option).
Check your cellular coverage
Since New Caledonia is a small territory, many international cellular plans don’t offer coverage here. For example, I use T-Mobile and receive coverage in most countries. However, they don’t include service in New Caledonia as part of their international plan.
If you don’t have cellular coverage, I recommend either buying a tourism SIM card or renting pocket WiFi.
You can get a SIM card from any OPT-NC (local telecomm company) in the country. They have a location inside La Tontouta International Airport. Prices for their main tourist plans range from 500 XPF to 2000 XPF (around $10-$30 USD).
You can rent pocket WiFi from this website and pick it up / drop it off at La Tontouta International Airport.
The official currency of New Caledonia is the Pacific Franc (abbreviated to CFP or XPF). The Pacific Franc is fixed to the Euro.
Noumea, other main cities, and most hotels accept credit or debit cards. Cash is commonly used in smaller towns.
I suggest exchanging about 50 euros worth of XPF per person per day of travel. If your home currency isn’t euros, Australian dollars, New Zealand dollars, or American dollars, I suggest exchanging additional euros to ensure you can exchange it to XPF later. (When I stayed at Le Méridien Île des Pins, which is one of the most premium hotel resorts in New Caledonia, their cash machine ran out of XPF for several days and they only allowed me to exchange a set amount of euro per day at their front desk. They didn’t accept other currencies.)
Respect local people and traditions
The Kanaks are the indigenous peoples of New Caledonia and according to the 2019 census, comprise more than 40% of New Caledonia’s population. Over the past century and a half, the Kanaks have had a complicated and sometimes contentious relationship with the French government, including several independence movements (some of which continue today).
Many Kanak tribes inhabit New Caledonia and as you explore the islands, you may see small stands from these tribes selling crafts or food. You can also stay with a local Kanak family for a homestay experience to better understand their traditional culture.
If you visit a tribe, it’s important to follow the local custom of offering a small gift to the tribe’s chief. This gift reflects your respect and appreciation for the tribe. The gift can be a small amount of cash (like XPF 500 or 1000), a pack of cigarettes, or better yet, a specialty item of your home country.
Whether you plan to visit a tribe or not, I recommend preparing a few small potential gifts in case you stumble upon or decide to visit a tribe at the last minute.
Pack a guide book
While I think travel guide books are always helpful, I particularly recommend buying one for your trip to New Caledonia. Cellular service and WiFi may be spotty depending on where you are in the islands. Especially if you don’t speak French well, it will be very helpful to have a book to reference.
Bring snorkel gear
The best snorkeling spots in New Caledonia are accessed via secluded beaches and bays throughout the islands. I brought my own snorkeling gear on my trip so that I could snorkel freely without having to look for rentals (which are not readily available). I suggest bringing your own snorkeling gear with you (you can buy it on Amazon or at a local dive store).
Rent a car
Outside of downtown Noumea or a hotel resort, it is much easier to explore New Caledonia with a car. Public transportation is not convenient or often available, especially if you plan to travel between cities. New Caledonia’s main car rental company is Point Rouge.
Take travel insurance
For all international travel, I strongly recommend taking out travel insurance (EKTA is an affordable option I prefer). This is one of those things that you don’t really need until you suddenly really do.
How To Get To New Caledonia
To reach New Caledonia, you will fly into the capital city’s (Noumea) international airport, La Tontouta International Airport.
There are flights to Noumea from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, and some islands in the Pacific. If you are traveling to New Caledonia from Europe or the Americas, you will like transfer through Tokyo (check out my 7 days in Japan itinerary if you plan to combine a trip to New Caledonia and Japan).
La Tontouta International Airport is about a 45 minute drive from downtown Noumea. If you don’t have a rental car, either take a taxi or bus to your destination. You can buy bus tickets at the bus stop outside of the airport (see the schedule here). The road to Noumea is not well-lit, so take that into consideration if you arrive at night and aren’t a comfortable driver.
Noumea also has a domestic airport, Noumea Magenta Airport, that you will fly in and out of if you visit New Caledonia’s smaller islands, including Île des Pins.
Noumea is the capital and largest city in New Caledonia. It is located on a peninsula in the southwest of New Caledonia’s main island, Grande Terre.
For city life, Noumea is really the only option in New Caledonia. It is situated on the water and has a few skyscrapers, many French restaurants, hotels, and some historical sights of interest. Since the main international and domestic airports are near Noumea, it makes sense to spend a few days in the city.
During my time in Noumea, I stayed in Hôtel Le Paris. This simple hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of the city’s main attractions, including Le Marché de Nouméa and Cathédrale Saint Joseph.
Le Marche de Noumea (Noumea City Market)
Le Marché de Nouméa is a small, colorful market by the harbor. Vendors sell fresh produce and handmade products. The market is well-known for its exotic, local seafood.
This open-air market has a simple cafe in the center which is a great option for a casual breakfast or lunch. I really enjoyed taking a relaxed stroll through the market and poking around the stands for an easy morning in Noumea.
The market is open from 5AM-12PM every day except for Mondays.
Cathedrale Saint Joseph (Saint Joseph’s Cathedral)
Cathédrale Saint Joseph sits above Noumea’s old town from a hillside. The interior of this grand church isn’t accessible by the public, but it’s still worth a visit to appreciate the exterior.
This 19th century, Catholic cathedral offers visitors a quiet place to enjoy a view of the city.
Several great dive spots exist off the coast of Noumea and are great to explore for a half or full day while you stay in the city.
Restaurants in Noumea offer many excellent French and local dishes. Some of my favorite restaurants include:
- Le Roof -📍134 Promenade Roger Laroque, Nouméa 98800, New Caledonia
- Fun -📍58 Promenade Roger Laroque, Nouméa 98800, New Caledonia
- Au Pêché Mignon -📍PC5R+XJJ, Nouméa 98800, New Caledonia
- Restaurant La Marmite et Tire-Bouchon -📍5 Rue Jules Garnier Noumea, 98800, New Caledonia
- Restaurant La Chaumière -📍11 Rue du Docteur Guegan, Nouméa 98800, New Caledonia
- La Table des Gourmets -📍Aérodrome 98800 Nouméa, 91 Rue Maurice Herzog, Nouméa 98800, New Caledonia
Ile des Pins
Île des Pins‘s pine tree-lined beaches are arguably the most iconic images of New Caledonia. Just southeast of New Caledonia’s main island, Grand Terre, Île des Pins has magnificent sandy beaches and towering pine trees.
If you are looking for a beachside getaway, I don’t think there are many places in the world more naturally beautiful than here. Île des Pins is not very touristy and has many different beaches and lagoons to explore.
This island would be a great honeymoon destination as well.
To reach Île des Pins, you can either fly or take a ferry. The island’s airport is called Moué. I took the flight option since the ferry didn’t depart on the days I traveled.
I stayed at Le Méridien Ile des Pins when I visited the island. This spacious hotel offers direct beach access to some of the most pristine water I have ever seen. From the beach, you can snorkel, swim, paddle board, or kayak. The hotel also has a large pool if you prefer to swim or relax there.
The hotel offers transportation to and from the Île des Pins Airport. If you plan to venture frequently away from the hotel, I suggest booking a rental car for your stay. Another alternative is to ask the hotel to call you a taxi as needed.
Le Méridien’s restaurant, LE KOUGNY, is open all day and serves all types of French and local island cuisines. Ask the hotel in advance if you’d like to try bougna, the iconic dish of New Caledonia. Bougna is a hearty stew of taro, yams, bananas, sweet potatoes, herbs, and either meat or fish. This stew is extremely filling, so arrive with an empty stomach.
The hotel is conveniently located a 20-30 minute walk along the beach to La Piscine Naturelle d’Oro, a natural pool popular for snorkeling and swimming.
In addition to Le Méridien, I recommend the below hotels on Île des Pins:
Snorkel at La Piscine Naturelle d’Oro (Natural pool)
La Piscine Naturelle d’Oro is a beautiful natural pool tucked in the forest on the east side of Île des Pins. When I snorkeled there, I saw many fish, starfish, and reef. For me, visiting this natural pool was a highlight of my trip to New Caledonia.
This pool is isolated and requires walking along beach and forest with limited signage for at least 20-30 minutes from the nearest road. I accessed the natural pool by walking along Rivière de sable d’Oro from Le Méridien Île des Pins (the hotel I stayed at). The path was rocky and had tree debris in places, so I recommend wearing sandals or water shoes.
La Piscine Naturelle d’Oro has no nearby infrastructure (restrooms, restaurants, shops, garbage bins). If you plan to snorkel, bring your own gear. Additionally, pack any food, water, or sunscreen you may need with you.
Visit Saint Maurice
The picturesque site of Saint Maurice commemorates the first Catholic missionaries to the island. Dozens of totems surround the main statue and together reflect an interesting blend of indigenous and Christian cultures. Saint Maurice is right on the water so you can enjoy beautiful views of the ocean. The best way to reach Saint Maurice is by car.
Dedicate about 20-30 minutes to explore the statues of Saint Maurice.
Relax on Baie de Kuto (Kuto Bay)
Swimming along Baie de Kuto can’t be missed during your visit to Île des Pins. This picturesque beach is also an incredible destination to watch the sunset.
Powdery white sand stretches along the coast, inviting visitors to bask by the ocean. Since it’s a bay, the water is generally calm and perfect for a swim.
Île des Pins boasts some of the best dive spots in New Caledonia. New Caledonia is surrounded by a massive barrier reef, so scuba diving is a central part of many visitors’ trips to the territory.
Île des Pins offers great dive sites appropriate for all levels.
I booked a snorkel / scuba diving trip through Kunie Scuba Center (the only dive center on the island) and had a great day on the open water. Their staff speaks French along with some English, Japanese, and Italian.
During my excursion, I saw turtles, starfish, plenty of colorful fish, and even some dolphins.
Mostly due to convenience, I ate many of my meals at my hotel’s (Le Méridien Ile des Pins) restaurant, LE KOUGNY. However, I also tried or locals recommended the following places:
- LE KOUGNY -📍Rte d’Oro, 98832, New Caledonia
- Gite Nataiwatch -📍8FQ2+F65, Unnamed Road, Kuto, New Caledonia
- Restaurant Ku-Bugny – 📍8CQV+X7R, Kuto, New Caledonia
- Camping Chez Emile -📍RM4, New Caledonia (there is a very basic and rustic outdoor cafe here that serves delicious, grilled whole fish)
Grande Terre is New Caledonia’s main island.
If you’re eager to experience rustic and remote island life, I recommend exploring Grande Terre. The island teems with plants and wildlife. Grande Terre has beautiful views of mountains and beaches and I saw brilliant sunsets as I drove around the island.
Many Kanak (New Caledonia’s indigenous peoples) tribes dot Grande Terre. One of my highlights of visiting this island was seeing the local tribes’ markets and getting a glimpse into their way of life.
A roadtrip around Grande Terre isn’t logistically or physically easy. If you are looking for a relaxing vacation, then I suggest following my first recommended itinerary and visiting Noumea and Île des Pins. If you’re ready for adventure immersed in nature, then read on for my advice about how to have an amazing roadtrip in New Caledonia.
During my visit to New Caledonia, I took a roadtrip for several days and drove a large loop around Grande Terre.
The island is perfect for a long drive. Single-car roads wind through the lush hills and mountains that characterize Grande Terre’s landscape. By driving, you will discover that many of the best views and beaches are ones that you stumble upon.
For a roadtrip, I suggest visiting the following cities (listed in order):
- La Foa
- Koné (stay the night)
- Tipindjé (stay the night)
- Bourail (stay the night)
Noumea (start and end point)
To begin your roadtrip, rent a car in Noumea (New Caledonia’s main car rental company is Point Rouge). You can either rent a car at La Tontouta International Airport or from a rental location downtown.
See my earlier section about Noumea for ideas about what to do in New Caledonia’s capital city.
Tip: Most of your roadtrip around Grande Terre will be through rural areas or very small communes. I strongly recommend that you buy snacks and water in Noumea to last you for the duration of the trip.
From Noumea, drive for about 3.5 hours north to Koné. Along the way, make a stop in La Foa for a beautiful hike.
La Foa is a rural municipality in central Grande Terre with one of the island’s most enjoyable hiking destinations. Since La Foa is very small, I recommend that you spend the night in Koné and just visit La Foa as a stopover.
It’s a bit of a drive away from the main road to reach the trailhead of Parc Des Grandes Fougères, but this panoramic path is worth the effort. The path follows a 17.5km loop, but you can just hike as much as you’d like of it before getting back on the road.
La Foa has a few restaurants in its “downtown” area (which again, is very small). I ate at Le corsica, an incredible pizza restaurant run by a friendly Frenchman.
There are limited restaurants between Noumea and Koné, so I suggest stopping in La Foa for a lunch break and to buy any additional provisions you may need for the drive.
Koné is a grassy municipality in central Grande Terre with quick access to the mountains and the ocean. Koné doesn’t have a lot of touristic infrastructure, so its main draw is the surrounding nature.
Koné doesn’t receive many tourists, so hotel options are limited. I stayed at Hôtel Hibiscus, which was simple but had everything you could need. The hotel’s restaurant features homemade pasta and desserts. If I return to Koné, I would stay at the same hotel again.
Koné’s hotel options include:
One of New Caledonia’s most iconic places is Heart of Voh, a naturally heart-shaped expanse of mangrove vegetation. The best way to view Heart of Voh is from the sky. You can book a 50 minute flight over the New Caledonian coast (I used this company) and experience breathtaking views of the sea and mangroves.
Another fun activity in Koné is to hike at Sentier du Koniambo. This hillside hike has views of the coast and is just up the road from the center of Koné.
Like many of the stops during a roadtrip through Grande Terre, Koné is sparsely populated and only has a few restaurant options. I ate most of my meals at Hôtel Hibiscus where I stayed, but I also suggest checking out Chez Benoit Guinguette After Work (📍1515, BP 1383 Avenue Lapita, Koné 98860, New Caledonia).
From Koné, head to the east side of the island to the small locality of Tipindjé. Several Kanak tribes live in this ruggedly beautiful area.
There are two ways you can drive to Tipindjé from Koné:
- Drive north through Koumac and then east on the RPN7 across the island. This route is very scenic and takes roughly 4.5 hours. The road down the northeast coastline of Grande Terre is exceptionally stunning with views of mountains and the ocean. The drive is through very rural areas and requires crossing a river via free ferryboat.
- Drive east down RPN2. This route takes roughly 2 hours.
I stayed in Koulnoué Village, a former Club Med resort located right on the water. The facilities are a bit dated, but the resort is spacious, the beach is lovely, and the hotel has a pool and large restaurant. The rooms are standalone cabanas scattered throughout the property, which offers a nice level of privacy. I brought a travel yoga mat with me from home and practiced yoga by myself on the decks of the cabanas.
There are limited hotel options in Tipindjé, but I enjoyed Koulnoué Village:
Aside from relaxing by the beach, the main activity in Tipindjé is scuba diving with Babou Côté Océan. This dive site is run by a warm couple who are passionate about exploring New Caledonia’s underwater world. I didn’t dive here, but my travel partner did and had a great experience diving with them for a full day.
Drive out to La poule de Hienghene, a stunning vista point of the rock formations along the coast. This spot is easily accessible by car and is a popular picnic destination.
Tipindjé is very rural, so there are extremely few restaurant options available. I ate all of my meals at Koulnoué Village, but as I drove through the area I saw a few shack/small cafe options as well.
From Tipindjé, drive for about 3.5 hours south and then west to Bourail.
Bourail is best known as the region of stockmen (local cowboys). This coastal municipality has sandy beaches with sunset views, rugged mountains, and relative to the other stopping points along the roadtrip, is a bit more populated.
I stayed near the beach at Gite le Bungalow, a quaint family-owned bed and breakfast. I really enjoyed the proximity to the beach and walked to it frequently. I suggest these other hotels near the beach as well:
A must-do activity in Bourail is horseback riding at Far West Ranch. You need to make a reservation in advance. Ride between thick vegetation and the seaside to experience New Caledonia in a fun, active way. They offer guided tours that are suitable for beginners.
While you’re in Bourail, pay a visit to Distillerie de Nessadiou (Nessadiou RM4, Bourail 98870, New Caledonia). Distillerie de Nessadiou is a lovely shop that sells locally made products, including liquors, soaps, and oils. I recommend this store as one of the best places on the island to buy unique, hand-crafted souvenirs.
Surfing at Plage de la Roche Percée is popular and many of the nearby surf shacks/hostels rent out surfboards.
My favorite restaurant in Bourail was Pizza Nera, but a few recommendations in the area I have are:
- Pizza Nera -📍9FM9+X4P PR1 – La forêt des cycas, Roche Percée, New Caledonia
- Chez Marco&Co -📍9FR6+M6J, La Roche Percée, New Caledonia
- Le Jardin de Poe – 📍9CQ3+272, Poe Beach, New Caledonia
After Bourail, drive south back to Noumea to wrap up your New Caledonian roadtrip!