New Caledonia is a paradise with lush and untamed nature, wonderful underwater gardens and a fascinating and lovely indigenous culture. But for how long?

If you’ve watched the movie Gringo Trails, you’ll see what I mean. If not, I’ll summarise it quickly for you. Tourism is great to create wealth in remote areas – and sometimes help conservation – but it can also negatively rapidly change the most amazing places. I’m not saying this is the fate of New Caledonia. I sincerely hope it is not.

New Caledonia - Isle of Pines - Upi Bay
Upi Bay, Isle of Pines

But if you’re an adventure traveller and New Caledonia is on your list, here are a few reasons why you should consider going now:

New Caledonia is authentic, unspoiled and amazing. But for how long?

With the lessons learnt from other destinations, I do hope they will increase tourism in New Caledonia with a smart plan.

But even small and well-planned development for more tourism will remove some of my favourite facets of this destination.

isle of pines - cruise boat
Cruise boat from the Isle of Pines

I’m not saying it will be bad for most tourists – on the contrary, most of them will appreciate having more comfortable infrastructures. But for nature and adventure travellers, it may not be as authentic as it is now.

Most tourists come to New Caledonia on a cruise from Australia, on ships with about 2,000 passengers. With less than 300,000 inhabitants, the current infrastructures and services are not adapted to this sudden high number of people. The government plans to grow the number of cruise visitors to 1 million in less than ten years, with bigger boats and by opening it to the Chinese market. This means almost doubling the current amount.

They also aim to increase the number of visitors coming by plane. They have just supported the upgrade of the fleet and the development of new luxurious hotels on Lifou.

In addition to the footprint of the infrastructures that will be built to receive these additional tourists, more visitors also means more risk of damaging the eco-system.

I’m not saying tourism development will only have negative impacts.

I trust the Kanak tribes to protect their lands where they can. Their culture is very linked to the sea, the land, and their people. They know the value of nature and their properties, and they preserve them. Tourism is an excellent opportunity to create jobs so they can stay where they wish and avoid the exode to the capital. If well done, it could also be a way to find solutions to solve some issues from climate change.

Noumea Totem Kanak
Kanak Totem in Noumea

But my point is that, as they start adapting to the visitors’ expectations, the exotic charms that adventure travellers love so much may slowly disappear. Plus, as more money gets into the mix, it could impact the local indigenous culture that isn’t entirely into consumerism yet.

Our experience on Lifou was very basic, connected to nature and to the tribe who hosted us. The remoteness and the intimate encounters with the local population made our trips unforgettable. I picked it as my favourite island for the great memories I have of our exchanges, and the incredible quality of the snorkelling. Increasing tourism will reduce these opportunities. It may even create a risk of tensions with the locals who may not wish to see that many foreigners are intruding in their peaceful and tranquil life, using their lands for pleasure and without an adequate level of respect.

New Caledonia is suffering from climate change

Like many islands in the Pacific, climate change is a daily truth for the inhabitants of New Caledonia.

New Caledonia - Isle of Pines
Atoll of Nok Anhui (Isle of Pines) – What will be left if sea level rises?

As we were walking on the north beach of Ouvea, I asked our guide if they have noticed the sea level rising in their area. Unfortunately, the answer was a lot worse than I expected. They lost most of the beach in less than ten years. The sea is still gaining territory.

This comes in addition to the increasing number of intense cyclones. If the World does not tackle climate change more seriously, predictions are not good for these lovely Pacific Islands.

The nearby Great Barrier Reef in Australia is now very damaged. It is worrying for the corals and the underwater beauty of New Caledonia.

Climate change could also impact the tribe cultures, as more salty lands mean less cultivable areas – something they highly depend on for food and traditions.

New Caledonia is safe

Tourism is taking increasing importance in the economy and is a priority for the government. Safety is critical if they want to meet their objectives. Hence, we can hope they’ll find the means to keep the territory attractive despite the challenges that may arise.

The capital Noumea hosts a mix of an indigenous population (Kanaks) and European descendants. There’s an intricate history and sometimes complex relationship there. Unemployment and inequalities persist, and tensions exist – although I have never felt them as a tourist.

Regularly, a referendum asks the population about remaining a part of France or become an independent country. It’s nothing to compare with the one that recently happened in Catalonia (Spain) and all the tensions it created. The French government supports the referendum in New Caledonia. It is part of a decision made in 1998 to grant political power back to New Caledonia and its indigenous population (Kanaks). Still, there are two sides in the territory: the Independentists and Loyalists. There is a risk of political tensions that always bring a few extremist individuals. History has shown it in the past: it does not take much for extremism to change the attractiveness of a country. I hope it won’t happen in New Caledonia. But it’s a good excuse not to wait to visit the country!

Plus if the pressure from climate change increases, we could expect New Caledonia to be threatened by stronger cyclones and other pressures that could change the country.

New Caledonia is astonishing

I do not often go back to the places I already visited as I like to explore new ones. However, I travelled to New Caledonia twice in the last couple of years.

And if it were cheaper, I would love to go again. Both times, I had a blast hiking, snorkelling or just chilling on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It was also a fantastic opportunity to exchange with people from a different culture and learn from their talents and way of life.

Where is New Caledonia?

New Caledonia is a French archipelago located in the Pacific, not far from the East Coast of Australia (just over 2hr flight from Brisbane) and Vanuatu.

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  1. Arienne

    Introducing tourism in developing nations or remote areas is always a tricky situation. Governments and/or regulating bodies need to be involved and have a plan in place to allow the growth and benefits of tourism to happen gradually and in a positive way. Tourism can be a really positive thing when done right and I hope this will be the case for New Caledonia. It looks like an amazing place!

  2. saltyhairtherapy

    I live in Fiji so I really hope I get to visit New Caledonia before I leave the Pacific next year. Your photos are incredible and I love how you emphasized the effects of climate change. The Pacific island countries are the most vulnerable and every small effort to fight it counts!

  3. McCool Travel

    I have not visited New Caledonia and hope it remains relatively unspoiled. I am sure that someone who visited 30 years ago will think it is too developed now but that is human nature. Certainly adopting a slow growth plan is sensible.

    1. Eloise

      Yes, some development is of course normal. People live there and they don’t wish to be disconnected from the rest of the world or not benefit from the great things that modernism can bring 😉 But you’re right, the growth should be slow. And reasonable.

  4. Anne

    Until a week ago, I had never heard of this place so funny that you cover it now. It looks and sounds fabulous but I wonder how easy it would be for me to get there from the UK?

    1. Eloise

      Hmmmm it’s quite far away from the UK… To be honest, it’s the other side of the world 😉
      Best case scenario, you might get there with one stop and two flights for 24-hours in the air in total (via Japan or South Korea). But most of the flights I saw from Europe had two stops (like going to Australia or New Zealand and then adding the flight to Noumea).

  5. Eva

    A couple of friends went on honeymoon to New Caledonia, it was 9 years ago. You mentioned the sea level already rose dramatically over the past 10 years, and it made me think that they had seen it different from what you’ve seen now, and in 10 years it will have changed even more. I really hope we will find a way to decrease the levels at which the sea level is rising nowadays, 10 years is not a big chunk of time.

    1. Eloise

      Thank you for your comment, Eva. It’s normal that the Earth changes and erosion has always happened. But as you highlight, 10 years is not a long time and the speed of the erosion is worrying. I don’t know if we can decrease the sea level, but slowing down the increase would already be good…

  6. Brianna

    I hope the tribes people in New Caledonia aren’t exploited as tourism expanded. The islands are stunning and I can see why you visited twice.

    1. Eloise

      Hello, Brianna. The tribes decide how much tourism they want to accept. They are the ones exploiting tourism on their lands, not the other way around. But like for any destination, if they allow the expansion of tourism for economic purposes, it will bring some risks.

  7. Thomas Mathys

    New Caledonia sounds like a great place to visit, especially before it becomes a mass tourism place. It’s always tricky though, because if a lot of people go now before it changes, won’t it exactly change because of those people? I completely agree with you that tourism hasn’t got only negative impacts on a place. Like you said, with a good plan, you can achieve a good balance between keeping it real and creating good infrastructure. Thank you for involving some Sustainable Tips in your article as well. It’s quite scary that they lost most of the beach in only 10 years!

    1. Eloise

      Thank you for your comment, Thomas. At the moment, the number of tourists is limited by the availability of transport and the capacity of available accommodation. It cannot turn into mass tourism yet. For visitors coming via cruise ships, these visits are organised ahead of time. It will start to change when the number and size of ships increases and when there are more hotel rooms available for tourists and bigger or more planes to take them there. They have started to plan this, so that’s why I advise going now (but I do hope that after it will still be awesome, with a good balance like you wrote ;).

    1. Eloise

      You won’t regret it, Lisa. Don’t worry if you cannot go right now, I’m quite confident it will still be good even after they increase the number of visitors. But if you like the adventure and going out of your comfort zone, now is a good time 😉

  8. New Caledonia looks beautiful and peaceful. I hope it remains as beautiful, as tourism increases. More people often equals more challenges, but hopefully the positive economic impact that tourism brings can help keep it that way.

    1. Eloise

      Thank you for your comment, Sara. I 100% share your point of view 😉

  9. Lisa

    New Caledonia just looks completely amazing I am interested in the under water gardens you mention. But this island has just made it on to my list of must visit places. 🙂

    1. Eloise

      Thanks, Lisa. I love diving and snorkelling and the coral formations in New Caledonia were beautiful 🙂

  10. gastrotravelogue

    It is so difficult to create a balance between tourism and the environment, The very charm that you are drawn to soon disappears. Halong Bay for example 10 years ago was undiscovered. Now it is a different story. I hope that New Caledonia doesn’t buckle to pressure and remains as beautiful as it is now.

  11. Valerie Wheatley

    We are pretty avid travelers but New Caledonia wasn’t even on my radar as a destination until reading your blog. I love going to countries that are not yet spoiled but tourism. We visited Myanmar a few years back and the people were so lovely and helpful and loved meeting foreigners – I imagine there has been a shift as tourism there has increased over the years. My guess is that New Caledonia is similar and if you visit again in a few years you won’t even recognize it. So sad! But all the more reason for us to add it to our list and get there sooner rather than later!

  12. Amelie

    I really do hope that the positive impact of the tourism outweighs the negative because I would love to visit New Caledonia. It’s always tricky as a blogger to spill the beans on an unspoilt paradise, isn’t it? 😉

  13. knycx

    Never heard of this island until today and the photos are amazing. Thanks for the sharing and introduction and somehow it’s sadden to know that the invasion of tourist is always a double edged sword… it might ruin the beautiful exclusive environment…. @ knycx.journeying

  14. Paige

    New Caledonia looks stunning. I really hope that as tourism grows it’s done in a environmentally + culturally sustainable way. I love your little sustainable tip as well. Even thinking twice about the use of something small like a plastic bag or plastic straw makes a huge difference. If we all cut one thing out a year, it would make a HUGE difference.

  15. Christopher

    First off I never heard of New Caledonia so thanks for introducing it to me. Second, you really opened my eyes with this post as I never really thought about the affect tourism can have on lush, untamed nature. It seems like such a fine balance as tourism is responsible for bringing money and providing jobs. Its really sad that global warming is having such an affect on the planet

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