We loved each of our stays in New Caledonia. But be ready: it is rare that a New Caledonia trip goes as planned. It is part of the experience of the island vibes. But don’t worry, I guarantee you will enjoy your time there. These tips and feedback will help you have a stress-free trip despite the last-minute changes.
I organised two trips to New Caledonia for my family. We preferred to avoid the resorts and spend time in more authentic places, so we had to face more challenges than if we stuck to the beaten path. But that is how we experienced the best of what New Caledonia has to offer. We didn’t use a travel agent. You will probably have fewer challenges if you stick to the resorts and most touristy places. Anyway, I still recommend reading about our experience as it will help you plan your New Caledonia trip!
Planning a trip to New Caledonia? Also check out these travel tips for a cheaper and easier trip!
Four things that will help your New Caledonia Trip
I cannot imagine going on a trip to New Caledonia without a Mobilis (a local prepaid phone number), or at least an international phone. It is an amazing ally that will save you time and worries in many situations.
Most people on the island wouldn’t call us on an international mobile, so a Mobilis really helped. We took time to buy a local sim card when we arrive in Noumea and we didn’t regret it as we saved time and money thanks to it during our trip.
2. Extra time
To minimise the impact of last-minute changes, always allow extra time in your schedule. The relation with time in these islands is very different from our usual busy way of life. Don’t try to squeeze in too much and stay flexible. If everything goes smoothly, then you’ll have more time to enjoy a stunning place so it can only be positive!
3. Plan B and C
During your New Caledonia trip planning, try to have a plan B and C in mind. I’m not suggesting to organise it, but know your alternatives and have the contact details ready. It can simply be having a map with a list of things to do with a few notes, in addition to what you have already planned.
4. Travel insurance
I never had to use it, and I hope I never will. But I appreciate the peace of mind brought by having travel insurance. I like WorldNomads (click for more info).
8 things that went wrong during our New Caledonia trips and how we dealt with them
1. Flight postponed / cancelled
When you book a flight with Air Caledonie or Air Loyaute, they warn you that the time of your flight may change without notice and, although further confirmation isn’t required, you should check the time of your flight regularly.
We had a few flights postponed in 2015, but nothing major and I was told they have improved since then.
In 2017, our Air Loyaute flight could not land in Ouvea. Only small aircraft operate between the small Loyaute Islands, and they are unable to land if the track is wet. Air Caledonie planes from Noumea are bigger and don’t have this issue. Unfortunately, a wiper was also broken, and they could not fix it, so we did not have a chance to try again after the rain: our flight got cancelled.
What did we do?
We were stuck at Lifou airport for hours before they could make a decision. Our lovely pilot spent a bit of time with us answering all our curious questions about the aircraft, which was entertaining. Still, it felt very boring to waste hours inside an airport when we were on such a beautiful island. When we were finally told the flight was cancelled and got our luggage back, the Air Loyaute staff accepted to let us leave the airport and update us by phone when they would receive instructions from Noumea on how and when we would reach Ouvea.
We got Louise’s number from the airport desk to organise a quick transfer to Jinek Natural Aquarium – one of the best places in the world for snorkelling. And we could easily call her again when we needed to go back to the airport.
It all went well with Air Loyaute solution: as the flights from Lifou to Ouvea were fully booked for the next few days, they arranged with Air Caledonie to take us back to Noumea, arranged our transfers, dinners and hotel in Noumea and we flew to Ouvea the next day. We lost one day on Ouvea, but we managed to enjoy Jinek, so it wasn’t entirely wasted at all.
Going snorkelling? Check out these beginners tips to take beautiful underwater photos!
What saved us:
- we had a Mobilis (a local phone number)
- we didn’t have fixed plans for our first day in Ouvea
- we were travelling light and could take our luggage with us to Jinek Natural Aquarium
- we had our own snorkel gear
2. Our car rental issue in New Caledonia
Most bookings with local entrepreneurs are done over the phone. We booked half a dozen cars in New Caledonia and only had an issue once, so do not be too alarmed about it. Renting a car is a great way to have more flexibility to explore New Caledonia and we chose that option for all the islands we visited, except the Isle of Pines.
But as there is not always a formal confirmation, it can be a bit stressful to feel powerless when you arrive on an island and don’t get what you booked. That’s how we ended up with a 5-seat car when we were six people travelling. Yes, there was a big boot indeed, but with all the car accidents in the archipelago – especially as we were visiting during the festive season – plus the extra cost for a bigger car, I wasn’t happy with this solution.
What saved us:
- we knew prices and contacts from other car rentals and could get a smaller and cheaper car – it didn’t solve the issue with the number of seats but at least we paid less money than planned
- we were only covering a small area of the island; we did not overfill our stay and could make multiple return trip when needed
- we like walking!
3. Tour cancelled
I called a few weeks in advance and confirmed our tour the week and the day before. We woke up early and drove (twice… remember the five-seat car issue?). No one showed up. The guide finally picked up the phone to tell us that he wasn’t able to come. We could hear he had a big night.
What saved us:
- we knew this might happen so we weren’t too disappointed
- we knew other points of interests nearby
- we had our own snorkel gear to explore the lagoon
4. No restaurants opened where we stayed
It was the 1st of January; we were staying in the south of Ouvea Island and… surprise! Most restaurants didn’t open for dinner, without notice, leaving dozens of tourists hungry. We finally managed to find what seemed to be the last table for six people available on Ouvea.
What saved us:
- We had emergency snacks so we didn’t panic!
- We had a car
- We found out there is always someone willing to help in New Caledonia. A dynamic lady opened a restaurant that wasn’t hers just for the night. She was very impressive, doing all she could to please the customers with her limited resources.
5. We couldn’t find the place we were looking for
Be ready for this to happen a few times during your New Caledonia trip if you choose to hire a car and explore the islands by yourself. The signs aren’t always visible, and the maps aren’t always precise. Even some famous places seem hidden. And we like going to less popular sites, so I let you imagine the number of times we had to turn around. To make things even easier, it’s sometimes hard to guess the spelling, and they may even have different ways of writing the names.
What saved us:
- We always asked people to confirm directions before leaving or when we doubted the way
- We had a pen and paper to write things down: the indications are often super hard to remember (like the third bump on the left after you leave town), and it’s helpful when you cannot pronounce the name to show it to the people who try to help you
- We allowed more travel time than necessary: we quickly learnt that Google Maps isn’t accurate in New Caledonia
- We could call the people we were meeting for live directions (that’s a lot easier when you speak French, though)
6. The hike was more challenging than expected
We travelled to New Caledonia with our parents who, despite being active and healthy, are of course not as adventurous and fit as us. And it can sometimes be hard to find information about an activity before booking. Even when you ask questions, they would tell you that older people can do it. Maybe because the older people in their tribe do it? I am not sure how they judge, but a couple of times we found the hike more difficult than expected. Once, we even thought it was a joke when the guide said we were not there yet and we had to climb down a cliff (and it was worse than the image featured here).
What did we do?
We went ahead only because everyone in the group felt like trying: no peer pressure. It’s not a place where you want to take big risks. We also trusted our guides to help us. They do it every day and know the place better than anyone else.
In the end, the guide was always right: our parents could do it, with the right help and by taking their time. It surely gave us strong memories and made them proud!
What saved us:
- We had good shoes and proper hiking equipment
- We always made sure in advance it wouldn’t be a problem to stop and turn back if we felt uncomfortable
- We had time to go slowly, with enough water and snacks
- We had patient and knowledgeable guides
- Having medical travel insurance is always a good idea, especially when you plan these adventurous activities (more info on travel insurance here)
7. Jellyfish stings
Snorkelling is amazing in New Caledonia. You don’t want to miss out on discovering some of the World’s best lagoons. Despite our small misadventure with jellyfish, we went back to the water again and again as we were amazed by the underwater beauty of each island we visited.
We only encountered jellyfish twice. We got surprised the first time we encountered the jellyfish. We got stung and worried as we swam back to shore. But all went well the second time and we managed to avoid being stung as we knew how to react. So read on to be ready, and you’ll have a great time.
What did we do?
We now always ask the locals about the potential stingers. They know when they are around, according to the season and the currents for example. Being aware of the risk is a great first step to avoid being stung as you keep an eye out for them. We also learnt how to deal with the stung so it doesn’t hurt for long. For this kind of jellyfish, it was easier to remove the tentacles underwater. Then, applying vinegar helped for the pain.
What saved us:
- We were wearing snorkelling tops that protected most parts of our bodies*
- We did not panic and took our time to remove the tentacles in the water
- We dived to avoid swimming at the surface when we saw the group jellyfish around us
- Our local guide told us it was not a serious sting and provided vinegar to help with the pain
8. Bad weather
Although we travelled during the cyclone season, we have always been lucky with the weather during our trips to New Caledonia. But it can rain for a few days. And New Caledonia does not offer many indoor activities. Take with you a card game and a book in case you get stuck in your room because of the weather.
We only had one day of rain on our second trip but luckily, it was nothing too bad to impact our travel plans as we had wet weather gear packed.
Don’t worry too much about things that could go wrong during your New Caledonia trip.
Take it easy, be prepared, and you’ll have a fantastic stay. Most of the things you plan will exceed your expectations, so you won’t even remember what went wrong.
Some people in New Caledonia can seem a bit hard to deal with at the first contact, but all of them were super nice to us. If you aren’t stressed and show respect, they will be willing to help. We even received help from locals when we didn’t ask for it. Of course, it helps to speak French, at least a little. If you don’t speak French, try to have a small French-language travel book with you.
Did you have bad luck during your New Caledonia trip? What happened? Share your experience below!
Where is New Caledonia?
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