travel

Is this Australia’s most overlooked holiday destination?

By Rebecca O'Malley January 21, 2019

It’s less than a four hour flight from Australia’s east coast.

We’re only a couple of weeks into the new year and we’re already gasping for a vacay. Sparkling waters, soft white sand, a bounty of cocktails…

New Caledonia is only a hop, skip and a jump the east coast of Australia – an easy three hours flight. But for some reason, this island paradise is overlooked in favour of far more touristy destinations such as Bali, Fiji or Thailand.

Captain Cook first laid eyes on the islands in 1774, naming them New Caledonia as they reminded him of Scotland. They became a French territory in 1853 and continue to exist under French sovereignty. The islands blend French sensibilities with local indigenous traditions – in culture, gastronomy and language. Let’s get amongst it. 

Foodies should let their appetites lead the way. You need to try bougna, a delicacy emblematic of the Kanak people of New Caledonia. Chicken, fish and vegetables are wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked in a traditional oven made from hot rocks in the ground and slow cooked over many hours.

The islands claim a wealth of French restaurants and boulangeries, many of which feature regional French-style cuisine with a New Caledonian twist. Supermarket shelves are stacked with cheese, wine and charcuterie aplenty while bakeries are

No visit to New Caledonia is complete without a taste of Les Escargots de I’lle des Pins, forest-dwelling snails harvested by local farmers. Oooh la la. 

New Caledonia sits mighty pretty within the largest lagoon in the world, 60% of which is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The crystal blue waters house the second-largest barrier reef and a diverse range of marine wildlife – a diver’s paradise. In fact, 76% of the country’s plant and wildlife species are only found in New Caledonia.

Swimmers can say “salut” to colourful parrotfish, mackerel, sea dragons and if you’re lucky, an ancient sea turtle. Ambitious divers can explore the wreckage of La Dieppoise, the last wooden patrol boat of France’s Royal Navy which was deliberately sunk off Amedee Island in 1988.

You’ll struggle to keep water sports off the agenda. Windsurfing, kitesurfing, snorkelling, scuba diving, canoeing… or just floating across the still and pristine waters.

Produced in partnership with New Caledonia Tourism.