Hienghene is often mentioned on the list of New Caledonia’s best scuba diving sites. It’s particularly famous for its beautiful structures and gorgonians. Is Hienghene scuba diving worth the long drive to the northeast coast of the main island? When your time in New Caledonia is limited, choosing where to go and what to skip is always hard. I hope our scuba diving experience in Hienghene can help you organise your trip. Here’s another article about scuba diving in New Caledonia that you may also find interesting.
When is the best time to visit Hienghene for scuba diving?
From our chats with people who’ve dived in Hienghene more than once, the best time to visit Hienghene for scuba diving is in winter (June – August). You have higher chances of having fantastic visibility underwater and no rain. However, the temperature will be colder (about 20-23°C), but it’s comfortable with a good wetsuit.
It’s recommended to avoid summer (at the end and start of the year) and the cyclone season when travelling to New Caledonia (mostly February and March). It often rains in Hienghene; it rained every evening when we visited, without impacting our trip. So it’s also wise to travel when it’s less humid from May to mid-November.
Hienghene can be busy during school holidays, especially in summer around Christmas and New Year, and for Easter. Make sure you book your dives and accommodations in New Caledonia well in advance if you’re travelling during the peak season.
Planning a trip to New Caledonia? Check out these tips that can help you organise your holidays around the archipelago.
How to go scuba diving in Hienghene
Hienghene is a very small town. There’s only one dive centre in Hienghene, Babou Cote Ocean*.
They go out to the outer reef every morning. The meeting is at 7.30 am at the dive shop, and you’ll need your own vehicle to get there. By the time we unload and washed gear, we didn’t go back to our accommodation before 2 pm. It gave us time to check out some of the best things to do in Hienghene in the afternoon.
The best way to book a dive is to email them at [email protected] to enquire about availability. You can include information about the rental equipment in the email. They’ll respond to your questions and then send you an email to pay for the dives in euros. They held our spot for 24 hours, and we had to pay for all our dives in advance to confirm the booking.
It’s unusual to pay for an activity in full and in advance in New Caledonia. But Babou Cote Ocean seems to be a reliable operator. We’ve had tours cancelled at the last minute or even no shows from guides (for other activities than scuba diving), for no reason. Babou Cote Ocean is a well-oiled machine.
It’s always recommended to look at the form they’ll have you fill out before the dive with all the medical questions. It will avoid bad surprises and give you time to obtain a medical certificate if needed. It’s pretty hard to get a doctor’s appointment in Hienghene.
We don’t have kids, so I don’t know much about this service, but Babou Cote Ocean advertise on their website they offer to babysit while you’re diving.
Are you covered for scuba diving by your travel insurance? It’s worth double-checking. If not, I recommend DAN (Divers Alert Network) for those who dive regularly. WorldNomads* and Covermore* also make it easy to add adventurous activities like scuba diving to your plan.
Equipment you need to dive in Hienghene
We rented most of the equipment from Babou Cote Ocean (BCD, wetsuit and reg).
The equipment looked recent and well maintained. I always prefer to use my mask and fins, even if they’re bulky and heavy when travelling. It’s even more important when we’re diving more than once. I hate it when I rent poor-quality fins that give me blisters for the rest of the trip or are not strong enough in the current. But no one complained about the fins from Babou Cote Ocean, so I wouldn’t be worried about hiring fins there too.
If you’re used to diving with a dive computer, you’ll have to bring your own.
In France (and New Caledonia), it is not required to dive with a computer when you follow a guide. So Babou Cote Ocean does not include computers in the rental equipment. If you don’t bring a computer, you’ll have to follow the guide carefully and keep the same depth. I find it safer to have my own computer. It’s also more relaxing to have more freedom (especially when you like to take underwater photos!).
Our guide carried a torch, and it was fantastic to reveal colours during all the swim-through in the dive.
It’s not necessary to bring your personal light. He took time to stop and ensure all divers in the group could see the walls, gorgonians and other features with some lights. But if you do have a torch, I highly recommend taking it when you go scuba diving in Hienghene.
Babou Cote Ocean has a wet boat, so bring only what’s needed for the dive trip.
We found their boat quite comfortable, and we had plenty of space to move around. Most of the boat had shade, which was very pleasant. But it’s a wet boat, so make sure you leave your valuables safe and dry in the dive shop.
Responsible travel tip: Did you know that your sunscreen could harm the fragile ecosystem of the coral reef? It’s essential to be mindful of what you’re applying to your skin when snorkelling or swimming near the reef. The best way to protect your skin from the sun is to cover up with long sleeves and pants. If you must use sunscreen, choose a mineral-based one to avoid harmful substances (see the full list here). Mineral ingredients are less harmful to the environment and provide excellent protection. Apply the sunscreen at least 20 minutes before entering the water to ensure maximum effectiveness.
The certification you need to scuba dive in Hienghene
You don’t need any certification to go scuba diving in Hienghene.
Babou Cote Ocean offers introductory dives for those who’ve never breathed underwater. However, they won’t take you to the outer reef for these dives. You’ll be limited to 6-meter deep, so you’ll dive near a small islet. We didn’t go there, so I cannot comment on the quality of the sites. I’m sure it’s nowhere as good as the sites certified divers can explore. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t good: it’s easy to be in awe when you’ve never dived. You can also learn to dive with Babou Cote Ocean so that they can take you to the outer reef. However, they follow the French levels, which are a bit different from the more famous PADI and SSI. If your French is limited, I highly recommend getting certified before going to Hienghene.
Beginners (level 1 certification) can dive the best sites in Hienghene
More than ten beautiful scuba diving sites in Hienghene can be enjoyed without going deeper than 20 metres.
New Caledonia follows the French certification system where level 1 divers are not allowed to be autonomous. So a guide must lead the group of a maximum of six divers. The maximum depth differs from Open Water certified divers (PADI and SSI), so level 1 divers can go deeper than 18 metres; something to keep in mind if you’re Open Water Certified.
Although we had inexperienced divers on the boat that day, we could go to the most reputed sites in Hienghene: Cathedral and Pointe des Cachalots.
The guides were good at planning the dive according to the group’s air consumption. They’d take back to the boat divers with low air and come back to allow a longer dive for the rest of the group. Each of our dives lasted for more than one hour!
Your underwater pics don’t look that good? Check out my tips for beginners to take underwater photos that aren’t blue!
What we saw when scuba diving in Hienghene
Our favourite things when scuba diving in Hienghene were the architecture and the gorgonians. The architecture made our dives in Hienghene very different from the other dives we did in New Caledonia (on the Isle of Pines and Poindimie) and even on coral reefs in other places in the world.
It was fun to wander through the canyons, arches and small caves on our first dives ((Hiengu and Dongan Hiengu). The lights coming through the rocks at the famous sites called Cathedral and Pointe des Cachalots were undoubtedly one of the highlights of our dives in Hienghene. The French Disney documentary Oceans featured these sites (1’15 in the trailer).
Talking about unique lights, I also loved seeing a few electric fire clams (also called disco scallops; what a cool name!). We don’t see these weird and unique molluscs often as they hide inside small crevices. But our guide from Babou Cote Ocean knew where to find them.
The corals and fish life were nice, especially in the shallow where the colours reappeared. We saw all the usual suspects from the reef during our dive (including a few sharks, turtles, clownfish, Spanish mackerels…), and even a shy manta ray! We were amazed by the mesmerising patterns of the giant clams and the number of pipefish. However, even if the coral coverage in Hienghene is beautiful, it’s not what makes it so special. We’ve dived beautiful spots on the Southern Great Barrier Reef (Heron Island, Lady Elliot, Lady Musgrave) with amazing coral diversity – and these trips are a lot easier to organise. But we’ve never seen gorgonians that big on the Great Barrier Reef. New Caledonia is quite special for this.
Did you go scuba diving in Hienghene? How was it, and what did you see? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where to stay when scuba diving in Hienghene
The scuba diving centre, Babou Cote Ocean, is outside Hienghene, 7 kilometres south of the small town. There’s a basic campsite a few metres away from the beach if you’re on a budget. You can hire camping equipment if needed. Tribal homestays are another opportunity to find cheap and authentic accommodation in Hienghene. However, it might not be the best for scuba divers considering the travel time to get to the dive shop. Plus, it can be hard to organise when you don’t speak French,
We opted for more comfort and booked a room with beach views at the resort Koulnoue Village* only one kilometre away from the dive centre. You can read my review here. We liked the convenience of this resort. It was easy to book online* in just a few clicks. Once we were there, it was effortless and quick to get there for diving in the morning, then back to our accommodation for lunch and back to Babou Cote Ocean to hire a kayak in the afternoon. We enjoyed our stay and found the views from the bed relaxing. We could keep snacks in the small fridge for when the restaurant was closed after the dives.
If you prefer a smaller lodge, check out Ka Waboana* (about a 15-minute drive from the dive centre). We stayed there on another trip to Hienghene (when we only dived in Poindimie this time) and had a good relaxing time.
Koune We Foinbanon* is another small lodge one kilometre away from the dive centre, but you’ll have to email or call them to enquire about availabilities and book. They only offer shared bathrooms.
Where is Hienghene?
Hienghene is on the northeast coast of New Caledonia’s main island (Grande Terre). It takes at least five hours to drive there from Noumea. Keep in mind it is recommended not to drive at night in New Caledonia.