Hienghene is rarely on visitors’ must-do list when they first come to New Caledonia. We also checked out the Isle of Pines and the Loyalty Islands before visiting Hienghene. But if you have time to go to the North Province of New Caledonia’s main island, you won’t regret it. There are many things to do in Hienghene for nature lovers. Every time we visited, we were in awe and wished we had more time there. Here’s an overview of why we love this place so much and our favourite things to do there (plus a few things we wished we had time to do!).
How many days should you spend in Hienghene?
Your GPS will tell you it takes about five hours to drive from Noumea to Hienghene. But I recommend allowing a whole day to get up there. The road is often well maintained, but it’s a winding road to go from the west coast to the east coast of New Caledonia, and you don’t want to rush it. If it’s your first time driving there, you’ll also want to stop and admire the views. Also, keep in mind it is not recommended to drive at night in New Caledonia.
Even if you’re left with only a couple of nights and days to explore the Hienghene region, it is worth the trip. We only had one night up there on our first visit. It was enough to see the Ouaieme River, the famous Poule and Sphinx and the Linderalique cliffs. We loved it, and it made us want to come back for longer.
The last time we visited Hienghene, we spent three nights there and, once again, wished we had more time. It’s one of these places where you never get enough of the splendid views.
Planning a trip to New Caledonia? Check out these tips that can help you organise your holidays around the archipelago.
When is the best time to visit Hienghene?
The best time to visit New Caledonia is from May to mid-November, outside the humid season. It’s colder in winter (but still around 20°C) – between June and August. To reduce your risk of bad weather during your visit, you should avoid the cyclone season in February and March.
Hienghene is on the east coast of New Caledonia. It rains twice as much as on the west coast, so the landscape is very different. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have bad weather. On our two visits, we had beautiful, sunny days. We only had heavy rain for about an hour or so just after sunset. The regular rain creates a lush green landscape which is a nice contrast to the red and drier landscape of the west coast.
It’s better to visit Hienghene outside the local school holidays. It can get very busy between Christmas and New Year, and during Easter.
Things to do in Hienghene
Do you have travel insurance? It’s always a good idea to purchase travel insurance so that you can better enjoy risky activities and don’t worry so much about money if an emergency happens. If you pay for your holidays with your credit card, you may have travel assurance included. Otherwise, I find WorldNomads* and Covermore* make it easy to add adventurous activities like scuba diving to your plan. For more information about travel insurance, read this!
Here’s an overview of all the things we did or wanted to do in Hienghene. During the peak season, more activities may become available. I recommend asking the tourist office ([email protected]), Babou Cote Ocean* ([email protected]) and your hotel’s reception (especially if you’re staying at Koulnoue Village*) about tours that are running while you’re visiting.
1. Linderalique cliffs
You cannot go to Hienghene without stopping at these beautiful cliffs just before arriving in the town. The platform is easy to reach, and the views are splendid.
2. Poule (hen) of Hienghene and the Sphinx
The Poule (meaning hen) and the Sphinx are the most famous cliffs in Hienghene. There are many lookouts from the main road to see them from different angles, before and after the town of Hienghene. But you’ll have to leave the main road for a few hundred metres to reach the closest lookout south of Hienghene.
If you’re keen to get closer to the cliffs, it is easy to hire a kayak in Hienghene. We took ours from Babou Côté Océan* and paddled along the beach before entering the mangrove to see the cliffs. If you don’t want to paddle a lot or if you’re there at low tide and don’t want to carry your kayaks, you can also hire kayaks at the lookout platform.
We wished we had more time to also hire kayaks in town to check out the Poule of Hienghene. Maybe next time!
With stunning mountains going down to the sea, the coast near Hienghene is splendid, and you’ll find a few hiking tracks to take you to beautiful viewpoints. I really wished we had more time in Hienghene to do more hiking. It’s always recommended to call the tourist office to ask about the track conditions before hiking in the region as recent heavy rain can make them impracticable and dangerous.
The most famous track is called Les Roches de la Ouaieme (meaning the Ouaieme Rocks). It takes you to a crest from where, if there are no clouds, you’ll be able to see both the east and the west coast of New Caledonia’s main island. It’s unique, but you’ll have to be lucky with the weather. After walking for about two hours, the clouds appeared, and we ended up with no view. Still, the views of the lagoon and the waterfall at the beginning of the track (only 1 km away from the road) and the beautiful forest made it worth the try. There are a few river crossings, and the path is steep and slippery, so do not attempt this hike if it’s been raining a lot or if rain is forecasted.
A couple of hiking tracks will take you to lookouts to see the Linderalique cliffs and Poule from above. The Roches de Linderalique track (meaning Linderalique cliffs) is made of two loops (one along the water and one to the top of Ga Wivaek mount) with many viewpoints (8km, 2hrs). If you want to make it longer, once you reach the top of the mount, you can follow another track called Col du Ga Wivaek (meaning Ga Wivaek Pass). It will take you to the town of Hienghene. Ga Wivaek Pass is a one-way track, so you’ll have to go back the same way or hitchhike (there’s only one road, so your chances of finding a ride are good). Click here to see a map of Roches de Linderalique track and Col du Ga Wivaek.
5. Scuba diving or snorkelling in Hienghene
Do you find scuba diving scary? I know the feeling. I have now done more than 200 dives, so I’ve shared my experience about overcoming my fear of scuba diving in this article; I hope it can help!
We really had a good time scuba diving in Hienghene. It’s a famous dive spot in New Caledonia, reputed for its architecture. It was fun to wander in the canyons and explore the swim-throughs. The lights were amazing, and there were a lot of things to see underwater.
Your underwater pics don’t look that good? Check out my tips for beginners to take underwater photos that aren’t blue!
The best spot for snorkelling is the small islet Hienga, only accessible by boat. There weren’t enough tourists when we visited to organise a trip to Hienga. But it’s worth asking the dive centre (Babou Cote Ocean* – [email protected]) if it’s happening while you’re there.
We met people who snorkelled at the Billet de 500 F beach (meaning 500 franc note beach because it’s featured on the note) and had a great time. The wall is about 15 metres away from the beach and has beautiful corals. You’ll have to pay a small fee to access the beach.
6. Goa ma Bwarhat cultural centre
We didn’t have time to visit the Goa ma Bwarhat cultural centre in Hienghene. We kept it in mind in case we had a rainy day or our dives got cancelled, but we were lucky with the weather. If you are looking for cultural-focused activities while in Hienghene, the cultural centre is a good start.
It’s hard to find information about what you’ll find at the recently renovated cultural centre. Sculptures at the entrance represent the tribes of the two chiefdoms in Hienghene. The main buildings hosts exhibitions of local artists and Melanesian artists (photographs, paintings…). You can also see yams and taro plants – very important for the local culture – and local craft. The two big huts of the two chiefdoms can also be seen at the Goa ma Bwarhat cultural centre.
The cultural centre is open every day of the week from 8 am to 5 pm (4 pm on Fridays), but it’s closed on weekends. They also close for lunch between 12 pm and 1 pm.
7. The Ouaieme river and barge
The Ouaieme river is sacred to the Kanak people. It’s where the dead spirits go back to the sea. A bridge would block them, so the only way to cross the river and reach the northeast of the main island is to put your car on a barge. They operate the barge for free every day and night without interruption, except when it’s not safe with the weather.
The drive from Hienghene to the Ouaieme River is splendid. The road is the only narrow strip between the stunning mountains and the beach. On our first trip during the peak season, there was a queue to embark on the barge, so we turned around as we had a lot of other things to do in Hienghene.
On our second trip, during the low season, we were the only ones waiting. We crossed to the other side in just a few minutes. And a few hundred metres away, we were already rewarded by stunning views of the road we had just taken.
8. Tao Cascade
The Tao Cascade is only a few kilometres away from the Ouaieme barge. If you’ve crossed the Ouaieme River, it’s worth driving to the cascade even just to view it from the bridge. You can hike to see it from closer (you’ll have to pay a small fee). But they close the track when there’s a risk of rain to limit the accidents. You can maximise your chances of reaching the trail by going with a guide.
9. Tasting local food
The easiest way to eat at a restaurant when visiting Hienghene is to book a table at your accommodation if they serve food. But you may find other opportunities to taste local food, like the famous bougna, if you visit a local tribe. Call the tourist office or ask your accommodation about who you should contact to organise this. It can be challenging to visit a tribe when you don’t speak French, but some are very accommodating and try their best to offer a memorable experience despite the language barrier.
Remember that outside Noumea in New Caledonia, restaurants are not always open and always require a booking.
If you only have a few days in Hienghene, you may not have time to relax. There are too many exciting things to do in Hienghene! But if you have time to stay longer than we did, you’ll see Hienghene is a perfect spot to relax. You’ll find accommodation on the beach (see below for more information about where to stay in Hienghene) or with great nature views. Hienghene is a popular destination in the north of New Caledonia’s main island, but outside the peak season, it’s pretty quiet.
Where to stay in Hienghene?
If you’re travelling during the local school holidays, make sure you book your accommodations in New Caledonia in advance.
With rain at the end of each day, we were pretty happy not to be camping when we visited Hienghene. However, camping near the beach is perfect for those travelling on a budget around New Caledonia. It’s always better to set up your tent under a tree to get shade, but avoid coconut trees if they haven’t been harvested as coconuts can fall without warning! There are at least three campgrounds near Hienghene:
- One just before the town, close to the stunning cliffs and the dive centre (Babou Cote Ocean*) – you can hire a tent if you need. The facilities were better than at other campgrounds.
- Another one a few hundred metres further, named “Camping du Billet de 500 F” because it is located on the famous beach featured on the 500 PCF note.
- One just after the town, in Ouendjik tribe (chez Maria), close to the Roche de la Ouaieme hike. The facilities are very basic, but it’s good for those looking for a remote campground with fewer people.
Staying with a tribe is another cheap option when travelling in New Caledonia and an excellent opportunity to learn more about the local culture. We didn’t do it in Hienghene as it wasn’t the best option when scuba diving. We had to get up early and preferred staying close to the dive centre. Also, it can be harder to organise if you don’t speak French.
We stayed at a beautiful resort on the beach called Koulnoue Village* that we could book online* in just a few clicks. You can read my review here. It was convenient to be close to the dive centre (where we could also hire kayaks). The bungalow had recently been renovated, and we loved the comfort and the sea views from our bed. Despite the many activities available in the resort (tennis courts, basketball court, swimming pool, volleyball court, playground, bar, restaurant…), it was very calm and relaxing as we travelled during the low season. We preferred exploring the region and the many things to do in Hienghene rather than staying at the resort!
On our first trip to Hienghene, we were two couples and booked a two-bedroom accommodation at a smaller lodge in town called Ka Waboana*. We had a lovely stay there.
If you’re after a bungalow with sea views cheaper than Koulnoue Village*, check out Koune We Foinbanon next door. They only have shared bathrooms, and the bungalows aren’t as luxurious, so the price is more affordable. You’ll have to email or call them to enquire about availabilities and book online.
Map of these things to do in Hienghene and tips to get there
Hienghene is on the northeast coast of New Caledonia’s main island (Grande Terre), one hour north of the biggest town on the east coast, Poindimie. It takes at least five hours to drive there from Noumea. But if it’s your first time driving north from Noumea, you’ll want to stop on the way. Bourail (La Roche Percée) makes a nice break after two hours. The road between Kone and the east coast has a few lookouts. You can make a loop when you drive back south by crossing from the east to the west coast further south and visiting Le Parc des Grandes Fougeres on the way.
Also, keep in mind it is recommended not to drive at night in New Caledonia.