When you live in Australia and speak about New Caledonia, cruising quickly hits your mind. That’s how almost all Australians visit New Caledonia’s collection of islands. It represents two-thirds of the tourists visiting the archipelago (source). I think going on a cruise to New Caledonia is not the best experience you can have in these lovely South Pacific Islands. If you’re thinking about booking a cruise, please read and you may want to reconsider your choice.
Why do I believe you shouldn’t pick a big cruise to visit New Caledonia? Because you won’t really experience New Caledonia.
I’m not against cruising in general. I actually love being on a boat. But a small boat. With sails. Travelling on a big ship with hundreds of people does not attract me. It’s just not for me: too many people, not enough independence… But I understand it can seduce more and more people. It’s an excellent way to relax, have everything included and nothing to worry about, and most of all to stay at the same place while still visiting different destinations. A great combo… when you go from one city to another city. Because if you go to small islands, I think you’re missing out on too many great things.
This is what I loved during my trip to New Caledonia that you will not experience if you go there on a big cruise:
The diversity of the landscapes
I was stunned by how much the landscape was changing every time we were hopping in the car. Unfortunately, when you only spend one day at a destination on your big cruise around New Caledonia, that’s not something you will be able to see. I’m biased as I often prefer to spend time in one region and fully explore it than ticking a large number of “I’ve been there” boxes.
But when planning your trip, keep in mind New Caledonia has a relaxed pace: we found out that planning several activities on the same day was challenging. Their relationship with time is vague, which was a great cultural experience… but it can become stressful for visitors with a list of things to do.
The kindness of the locals
Our great exchanges with the locals were one of the highlights of the trip. But if you arrive on a cruise, you’ll be amongst hundreds of other tourists. That will leave tiny room for the opportunity to share something special with locals.
Moreover, the big cruises – because they are all-inclusive – don’t have a good reputation for creating a lot of value for the local community. Money doesn’t go to local businesses, restaurants, and hotels. The positive impact on the local community is little.
Learning more about the Kanak culture
During our trip, we had opportunities to ask many questions to many different people with different histories in the archipelago. We also ate at local places and tried many new things.
Coming from the boat, you will for sure be offered coconuts on the beach and some local delicacies. Unfortunately, you’ll miss all the stories around it. You’ll see shows organised by the locals, such as dances. But that’s cliché and kind of an old story. Staying on the island will give you more opportunities for authentic experiences.
It’s true that New Caledonia is a French-speaking country, and this can present some challenges when organising a trip or communicating with locals. Still, there are many resorts around the islands that are used to welcome international customers. Travel agencies can also help you identify the best activities if you don’t speak French. Going to a country where you don’t speak the language is great, and New Caledonia is not the most challenging place to experience this!
The magnificent lagoons
New Caledonia is the worlds’ largest lagoon, and it meets the expectations. The beaches are fantastic. I loved the calm and serenity. Marine life is fascinating. But that’s when there is no cruise boat around. It’s a different picture when hundreds of people suddenly join in the postcard. More individuals in the water mean less wildlife and less visibility.
What happens when you double the number of people in one place in one day? Nothing good. I know tourism is never good for the environment but as a small group, we can always try to reduce our impact. Bringing suddenly hundreds of tourists to natural places is a lot worse than usual tourism. New Caledonians have started to realise this and now reduce access to some endangered sites when a cruise boat has arrived.
Also, cruise ships now have to anchor further away from the coast to limit the damage to the corals. Sadly, the decision was made after some damages were already done, causing some fish to be contaminated by a toxin that can generate food poisoning (ciguatera) in humans. It’s not a direct danger to tourists as you need to absorb a lot of the toxin over time to actually get sick, but it remains a real problem for the local environment.
By all means, if you were thinking of going on a cruise to New Caledonia, don’t remove it from your list just yet.
New Caledonia is amazing and worth a visit. I’m not telling you at all not to go. On the contrary: please, do visit New Caledonia, you’ll have a blast. People who do a cruise there actually love it. But my advice would be to consider a more ethical approach. You may be able to board a smaller and more eco-friendly boat for example. Or you could catch a plane and book some local cruising adventures that will let you take your time to explore the destination… You’ll see so much more of New Caledonia this way.
Have you ever been on a big cruise? Or have you visited a place that dramatically changed when the big cruise boat arrived? I’d love to hear about your experience! Please leave a comment below!
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