A destination less trodden, New Caledonia is a playground for all types of explorers
By Tatyana Leonov
Photographs by StĂ©phane Ducandas/NCTPS
With its rich red soil, azure seas, and bounty of natural features, New Caledonia is a wonderland for the outdoor enthusiast. And as relatively few visitors venture to this French-influenced island territory in the South Pacificâ€”last year saw just 112,000 tourist arrivalsâ€”you wonâ€™t have to share the terrain with hordes of fellow travelers. Though local tour operators donâ€™t tend to have their own websites, you can book your experience in advance through the New Caledonia Tourism Office.
New Caledonia boasts one of the largest lagoons and coral reefs in the world, ensuring that diving opportunities here are plentiful and thrilling. The sites are especially superb off the Isle of Pines, just 20 minutes from the tiny capital NoumĂ©a by plane. It feels like a world apart from the city with its long powdery beaches, turquoise lagoons, and bays that all have their own personality. Head to Ouameo Bay, where the Kunie Scuba Center can help organize everything from cave dives to night dives.
Ride the Waves
On arrival in NoumĂ©a, youâ€™ll quickly notice how much New Caledonians love kiteboarding; the peninsular city is surrounded by bays that are routinely filled by board-riders taking advantage of the areaâ€™s ideal conditions. Anse Vata, Pointe Magnim, and CĂ´te Blanche are particularly good spots to watchâ€”and tryâ€”this extreme sport; the NoumĂ©a Kite School can show novices the ropes, and also offers lessons in wakeboarding and skateboarding.
Take a Hike
Ocher mountains, thick bush- land, placid lakesâ€”New Caledonia is a hikerâ€™s paradise, particularly along the 120-kilometer Grande RandonnĂ©e trail. Starting at the old mining village of Prony on the southern tip of the main island, Grande Terre, the route winds northward through the red-earth terrain of the Great South region and the forested expanse of Blue River Provincial Park, before finishing at DumbĂ©a Dam, just north of NoumĂ©a. Most hikers opt to do the trek without a guide as itâ€™s well signposted and divided into seven sections, each of which represents an average dayâ€™s walk. Itâ€™s well worth tackling the full trail if you have a week to spare, and there are campsites along the way. But there are also many departure points that are accessible by car, so you can pick and choose individual sections as you like.
Dotted with niaouli trees, the western plains of Grande Terre is New Caledoniaâ€™s cowboy country. Horse-riding excursions can be organized from NoumĂ©a, La Foa, DumbĂ©a, Bourail, Thio, and KonĂ©, and these vary from short rides to major expeditions that can involve cattle wrangling and camping under the stars. Les 3 Boucles, located about an hourâ€™s drive northwest of NoumĂ©a, offers trail rides that can last from an hour to an entire day, including a stop at a picturesque waterfall for a picnic lunch.
Â Head to the Jungle Gym
The scenic Mont Koghi region is a great spot for hiking, swimming, and kayaking. A fun and offbeat way to explore the network of forest trails here is by getting right in among the trees. At Koghi Parc Aventure, just 30 minutes by car from NoumĂ©a, you can swing, glide, and jump through the dense foliage using custom-built equipmentâ€”Tarzan-style swings, ladders, rope bridges, and even floating logs are all part of the high-flying obstacle course. There are three different routes and 40 platforms that will keep you entertained (and puffing) for hours.
This article originally appeared in theÂ October/November 2013Â print issue of DestinAsian magazine (â€śSouth Sea Thrillsâ€ť)