We decided to travel to New Caledonia for several reasons. We wanted somewhere warm, close to New Zealand, interesting and that we’d never been before. Some quick research told us that New Caledonia would tick these boxes and provide us with a great mix of things to do and places to relax.
New Caledonia has a great tourism department who provide a good overview of the different parts of the country. However most people visiting arrive on cruise ships and/or only spend time around Noumea so we struggled to find any personal reviews. For us we also wanted to know if it was possible to keep our usual travel style of backpacking in New Caledonia as it’s not known for being budget travel friendly.
So we did what we do best, planned a trip and wrote up everything we found out for other people who want to travel to New Caledonia on a budget or just get away from the resorts and see this amazing island. After an epic road trip around the country, camping on beaches, taking trips to the islands and hanging out in Noumea here’s our bumper travel guide to New Caledonia.
When to travel to New Caledonia
New Caledonia has two main seasons, summer and winter. Summer can be hot with temperatures up to 35°C and is perfect for sun lovers and water activities. This is also peak season and touristy areas can be a lot busier especially those visited by cruise ships. Winter is a pleasant 20-25°C and still boasts sunny weather perfect for hiking and camping. In short, any time is a good time to travel to New Caledonia!
How to get to New Caledonia
Aircalin, the national airline of New Caledonia flies basic but affordable flights to Noumea from Auckland, Brisbane, Sydney, Tokyo and some other Pacific Islands. Air New Zealand also fly several times a week from Auckland. Qantas offers connections from Sydney and Brisbane too. While flights aren’t cheap (let’s face it, nowhere is in the Pacific) New Caledonia is Australia and NZ’s closest neighbour and the flight only takes 2.5 hours making it an easy holiday destination. Check out flight availability and prices here.
Bear in mind that the international airport is 45 minutes out of Noumea so you will need to arrange transport into the city when you arrive.
French is the official language and is spoken everywhere. There are also 28 different Kanak (native) languages spoken throughout the islands. English is widely spoken in Noumea but less so in other areas but people are generally friendly and helpful and will do their best to communicate.
The currency in New Caledonia is the Pacific Franc (XFP or CFP). The value is pegged to the Euro at 120XFP = €1. ATMs are available throughout the country and are easy to find, most don’t charge fees.
New Caledonia is still very cash-based and you will even see many people paying by cheque. Credit cards can be used at most places in Noumea and supermarkets and hotels throughout the rest of the country. If you are heading to the islands make sure you bring cash.
Tap water is safe to drink in New Caledonia and you can easily fill a reusable water bottle at cafes and restaurant. There is no water access on some of the small islands off Noumea so if you’re going for a day trip or camping make sure to take enough with you.
WiFi and SIM Cards
There is only one SIM card offer for tourists and it is very expensive with not a lot of data (although you can top this up). You can get the tourist SIM at the airport or in Noumea. You can read all the details here.
WiFi is readily available in Noumea and there are several free WiFi zones. Throughout the rest of the country WiFi is available at most accommodation including some campgrounds and gite. However, don’t expect high speeds. It is mainly through the 4G network and works fine for phones but laptops will struggle and any kind of uploading or downloading is not recommended.
It might pay to download a VPN before you head to New Caledonia. A VPN basically makes your computer secure when accessing the internet and is great idea, especially if you travel often and connect to lots of different networks. You can read more about VPNs in this guide.
Budget for New Caledonia
New Caledonia is not known for being a budget friendly destination and rightly so. But having done destinations such as Singapore and the Maldives on a budget we were determined to see how we went. If you are camping you can get by on as little as €35 per person per day including car hire. However a hotel can easily cost upwards of €100 a night so your budget will vary greatly depending on your travel style. Here are some costs to give you a rough idea:
Meal in a restaurant: €20
Baguette and cheese from the supermarket: €5
Car Hire: from €40 per day
Water taxi to a small island: €10-40
Night in a hotel: €100+
Transport in New Caledonia
If you are travelling around the main island you will need a car. Thankfully, the roads are reasonable and driving distances are quite short. You can see the whole island in around 5 days and can take a few smaller trips from Noumea if you’re short on time. We rented a car from Hertz and were impressed with their service. Our car was comfortable and very economic. It was 100% worth getting out of Noumea and seeing more of this beautiful island - Check car rental prices here.
If you are renting a car for your whole stay it can be worth it to book your car for pick up/drop off at the airport. A shuttle to the airport can be pricey as it is 45 minutes out of Noumea. Check with your car rental company if there is an extra surcharge for this.
Car rental companies also limit mileage to 150km a day which is more than enough to get around but can be pushed to the limit if you are doing a road trip and travelling every day. Check out our road trip guide (coming soon) for some ideas of where to go.
The domestic airline, Air Loyaute, flies between Noumea and the islands daily and flights are relatively cheap. A flight to one of the Loyalty Islands takes around 40 minutes or to the Isle of Pines is about 20 minutes. It is well worth getting off the mainland and the islands offer quite a different cultural experience so if you have the time and budget check out flight availability and prices.
In New Caledonia there are intercity buses operated by Rai which run reasonably frequently between the major towns. Tickets cost between €5-20 depending on the distance and can be purchased from the bus station in Noumea city centre. For timetables and prices check out their website.
The buses are large, comfortable and air conditioned. They aren’t often used by travellers so there aren’t many reviews of the service and punctuality but if you are travelling in New Caledonia on a budget they can be a great way to get around and see a bit more of the country.
Ferries and Water taxis
Being an island, there is of course a variety of water transport options available. If you want to visit one of the islands (which you should) you can get to the outer ones with a ferry or some of the closer ones as a day trip by water taxi from Noumea.
Ferries to the Loyalty Islands take around 4.5 hours and 2.5 hours to the popular Ile des Pins. Ferry tickets are available online here or you can buy them in Noumea. Water taxis can be booked online through Dal Ocean or by contacting any of the other companies via email or facebook. A water taxi to the popular Duck Island is 1000 XPF (€8) or to the much nicer Laregnere or Signal islands takes 25 minutes and costs 4000 XPF (€32.50)
Accommodation in New Caledonia
New Caledonia literally has accommodation to suit all budgets, ranging from free camping to 5-star luxury hotels and resorts. Accommodation in New Caledonia is definitely on the expensive side and is likely to make up a large portion of your budget. Here is the low-down on each option, a price guide and some recommendations.
Expect to pay anywhere from €200 a night for an all-inclusive resort. These are mostly centred around Noumea and have varying standards. All will access to great beaches and facilities but expect to be paying top dollar for food and services. Below are some recommendations for popular resorts in different areas of New Caledonia.
Chateau Royal Beach Resort, Noumea
Sheraton New Caledonia, Bourail
Oure Tera Beach Resort, Ile des Pins
The main hotel chains are in Noumea and sporadically around the rest of the country. If you’re a hotel person make sure you book in advance and pay attention to the reviews. Hotels in New Caledonia can be high in price but low in quality. Most hotels will offer an extensive range of services and activities and if you find a good one this can be a really efficient way of organising your trip.
Casa del Sol Apartments, Noumea – this place has big rooms, a good location and great sunset views.
Refuge de Farino, Farino - A cosy little hideaway featuring bungalows in the forest.
Hotel Tieti, Poindimie - Good value for money right next to an excellent reef for snorkelling.
Airbnbs are becoming increasingly popular in New Caledonia and you can find lots of serviced accommodation as well as locals renting their homes from as little as €30 a night. Again, these are mainly centred around Noumea but you can find some nice places just outside the city which are perfect for families or if you want to stay longer in one place and have your own cooking facilities (a huge money saver).
If you haven’t used Airbnb before, sign up using this link and you’ll get €25 off your first booking!
Gite or Bungalows
This is a great way to get to know a little bit about the local culture and stay somewhere a bit different. In all the towns outside of Noumea you’ll find gite (bungalows) for rent. These are often owned by native Kanak families and sometimes include fare (traditional houses) as well as wooden bungalows.
Oasis de Kiamu, Lifou island
For traditional gite try Gîte de Lya in Yaté.
For a more luxurious bungalow experience head to Les Cases de Plum about 30 minutes out of Noumea. It has four beautiful bungalows, with or without kitchens, centred around a pool in a quiet garden. Great for a romantic getaway!
Camping is one of the best forms of accommodation in New Caledonia. Not only is it very budget friendly (€10-€20 for two people), it also means you can stay in some of the prime locations and enjoy the best of New Caledonian nature and hospitality.
There are a huge variety of campgrounds spread across the island and they range in facilities but most will have showers (usually hot), flushing toilets, a place to BBQ and electricity. The biggest issue can be camping gear, if you can bring your own then this will be a huge money saver, if not you’ll find places in Noumea which will rent it to you for your stay.
You can also camp on many of the smaller islands for free but don’t expect many facilities besides toilets. In the off season some campgrounds are closed or unattended, there are often numbers to call but don’t expect an answer. Locals told us we could pitch a tent there anyway so we went ahead with no problems.
You can read our full guide to camping in New Caledonia soon. In the meantime, find our favourite campground here!
Food in New Caledonia
This was both one of our favourite and least favourite parts of travelling New Caledonia. The French influence means there is an abundance of bakeries supplying freshly baked croissants and baguettes. The quality of these significantly decreases the further you get from Noumea but it’s still a huge novelty on a Pacific Island. They’re also really affordable at €1-2 for a croissant or baguette from most bakeries, some offering a larger variety of baked goods. Cheese is also readily available, affordable and makes the perfect accompaniment to a baguette for picnic lunch.
Supermarkets and convenience stores in Noumea sell a wide range of food (mostly imported from France) and it can be a much more economical to buy food and cook. We found Carrefour and Simply supermarkets to have the best range of food and although fresh veggies were hard to come by they had at least some options for getting those much needed nutrients.
Restaurants on the other hand are like hotels – the prices don’t always reflect quality and with such high costs you don’t want to make a bad choice. Most accommodation will have some kind of restaurant attached but outside of Noumea there are not many good restaurants. A meal in a restaurant will cost anything from €20-50 with the price not necessarily indicative of the quality. There are often lunch specials which can be a good way to save some money and still have a decent meal. Some reputable restaurants in Noumea are:
Le Rocher – Amazing sweet and savory crepes set on a balcony overlooking the ocean. One of the more affordable restaurant options.
O’Pecheur - Recommended for good seafood.
What to pack
When preparing for your trip to New Caledonia make sure you pack light if you are planning on flying to the islands. The local airlines sometimes have strict luggage allowances so make sure you check these before packing your full wardrobe! If you need some help check out these minimalist packing tips.
Mosquito spray – New Caledonia has both Dengue and Zika virus so you should avoid mosquito bites at all costs. Make sure your repellent has at least 20% DEET and apply regularly. We used Bushmans which is made in Australia and specifically for stopping mosquitoes and ticks.
Reef safe sunscreen – Let’s face it, you’re going to be in the sum and in the sea if you’re travelling to New Caledonia. Make sure your sunscreen is reef safe to protect the amazing coral in the area. Try this one.
Reef shoes – Many of the beaches are rocky or have lots of seaweed. If you have a pair of reef shoes they are perfect to throw in for beach days. They are also light and compact so won’t take up much space in your bag.
Rain jacket- New Caledonia is a tropical island and it can be prone to changeable weather and downpours. A fold-up rain jacket like this one is perfect for popping in your bag just in case.
Reusable drink bottle – The tap water is fine to drink so save yourself some money and the earth a few plastic bottles and bring your own reusable one. One with a thermal layer is best for keeping water cool on hot days at the beach. Check out these ones.
Adapter – If you aren’t coming from Europe you’ll need to bring an adapter for your chargers. New Caledonia uses the V2 system the same as Europe. If you travel often consider getting a universal adapter which can save you worrying about getting different ones in different countries.
Sample Itineraries for New Caledonia
In just a few days you can explore some of the best of New Caledonia from a base in Noumea. Find a nice hotel (Casa del Sol Apartments or enjoy a bit more luxury at Chateau Royal Beach Resort) and use your days to head out to the smaller islands by water taxi from Noumea.
Rent a car for a day and head south to Blue River Park where you can hire bikes and cycle over deep red earth, stopping for walks through dense bush. Meet the van in the park and swap your bike for a kayak and cruise along on crystal clear water and back through a sunken forest.
A week is a great time to see a range of the county and also have some relaxed time on the beach. Spend the first few days in and around Noumea (see above) before jumping on a ferry or plane to the Loyalty islands. This is where you can experience the perfect mix of amazing beaches, sea life, Kanak culture and true relaxation.
2 weeks or more
Plan you time in Noumea for the start or end of your trip and get yourself a rental car. Head up the West coast stopping at the Great Fern Park and for snorkelling at Poe Beach. Head across the island to check out the relaxed East coast and stay a night or two in Poindimie or Thio beach.
Make sure to do a loop of the south to see the Blue River Park and take a whale watching tour if you’re there in the right season (July to September). Treat yourself to a comfortable night’s stay at Cases de Plum bungalows before heading back to Noumea.