by Elissa Connely

When holiday dreamers stare into the void from their office chairs, the images that flick through their minds are fantasies of white sand beaches, surrounded by water so sparkling blue, that their Instagram fan club is debating which filter they surely must have used. The fish that pass look like they’ve just come from a paint throwing party and the friendly turtles send their greetings with a casual “dude!” as they pass.

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While not all of these imaginations might be completely plausible, the archipelago of New Caledonia gets pretty damn close to the post card perfect island experience. As tourists discover, New Caledonia offers not only the white sand stretches and pristine waters, but a truly unique and authentic travelling experience. New Caledonia is the dictionary definition of a ‘melting pot’; a true fusion of cultures. Influenced by its indigenous roots, the New Caledonia of today has also been shaped by its history, diversity of its people and cultures, and by its natural surroundings. While French is the official language, there are 28 Melanesian dialects, with an array of accents and local expressions.

Surrounded by a coral reef of 1500km in total length, New Caledonia is home to an enormous number of endemic marine species. Mindbogglingly, 76% of wildlife and plant life on New Caledonia are endemic.  The archipelago of New Caledonia is made up of the ‘Grand Terre’ (the main island), the Belep Islands to the North, the Isle of Pines to the South East and 74 mostly uninhabited scattered islands, begging to be discovered and explored. Rightly, in 2008, New Caledonia’s lagoons were included on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and their protection over the last 10 years has seen the lagoons flourish and thrive.

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The average annual temperature sits at a very inviting 25 degrees and due to the lack of mountainous regions, it rains very little. The islands experience trade winds from the South-East around 10 to 20 knots year-round, making New Caledonia an all-round very comfortable tourist destination. Flights from Australia will get you there in 3 hours from Sydney, 2 hours from Brisbane and 4 hours from Melbourne. You’ll land in the sparkling harbour, capital city of Noumea, where I suggest you start your island adventure with a special dinner in a water front restaurant; cocktail in hand, to get you in the holiday mood.

Enjoying the world’s largest lagoon (Bourail Lagoon), New Caledonia is unsurprisingly one of the most beautiful boating locations in the world. To experience New Caledonia by boat is to experience the country from its beating heart and connect with what makes New Cal so special. On the water you will engage with locals and see New Caledonia from a special perspective. The lagoon is your adventure playground with endless opportunities to cruise, swim, snorkel, paddle, dive, fish and wakeboard, just to name a few.

The best-known boating experience in New Caledonia is undoubtedly by sail. Whether you imagine yourself on a luxury yacht or catamaran, having the freedom to cruise around the islands and discover the lagoon at your own pace is precious. Your boating options are endless. Whether solo, as a couple or a holiday between family or friends, there awaits a perfect boating option for you.

If paradise, luxury and sunsets are your thing, then you should consider hopping on a super yacht. On board, every need, whim and want has been thought of and catered to. You will enjoy cruising the entire coastline of New Caledonia, the islands of Belep, Ouvea, Lifou, Maré and Ile des Pins. While stopped at one of the 212 anchorages along the way, you can enjoy swimming, snorkelling, paddling or simply relax on your sun-soaked deck and breathe in deeply, taking in the supreme beauty of your surroundings. The super yachts are exquisite; beautifully furnished and your onboard chef will ensure you are well fed and that the drinks keep flowing.

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Another excellent option is to hire a yacht or catamaran, with or without skipper, between friends. There is no shortage of hire options available, and whether you’re looking to just enjoy a full day on the water or spend a few nights aboard, you’ll find a suitable option. Many sail options are a mere 2 hours from Noumea, so a day of sailing is absolutely plausible.

Get out there like a local. Hire a motor boat and simply speed off. You will experience New Caledonia in the way of many New Caledonians. Spend your day simply cruising the lagoon. Stop for a snack and a snorkel. Jump from your boat into the lagoon. Feel the salt water on your skin, the sun hit your face and the sea life pulsating around you.

If you’re not a pro boater, you can hire a skipper to join you and take the stress out of the equation. The lagoon is magical but it’s also dangerous for the inexperienced. If you are considering being the skipper, there are an array of considerations to make. Currents can be tricky between islands and passages can be very narrow. There are tidal changes and the reef system to consider. The tide ranges between 1 and 2 metres and you will need to educate yourself on safe anchorages.

Groupama Race 2012 credit Patrice Morin

If none of these options sound like you, take a taxi boat, consider a snorkelling tour or perhaps a whale watching experience is more appealing. I can say on authority that there is at least one boating opportunity on New Caledonia that will speak to you.

Bringing your vessel from Australia or New Zealand to New Caledonia is entirely possible but not without its complications and a whole stack of considerations. For this reason, I won’t cover this option at this time.

New Caledonia is a gem. A fusion of European and Pacific Island culture, mind-blowing delicious food, and nature that emphatically meets the dictionary definition of pristine. A holiday location that allows one to reconnect with themselves, nature, family, friends. Rediscover your inner child, as you cruise, adventure, explore and discover like you’re the first person to unearth the beauty of this archipelago.

Images Supplied by New Caledonia Tourism