The Pacific island of New Caledonia is a nature lover’s paradise. Punching well above its weight, the island lays claim to impressive natural features including the largest lagoon in the world and a 1,500km-long (930 mile) coral reef, second only in size to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, New Caledonia’s vast coral reef offers some of the most spectacular diving in the world. Not only is it an important nesting site for green turtles, but it also supports an astonishing variety of tropical fish, seabirds, sharks, whales and dugongs, also known as sea cows.
Visitors will find an equally diverse mix of wildlife inland. New Caledonia is famed for its flying foxes and myriad exotic birds, including the highly intelligent Caledonian crow, which fashions hooks from branches to pick its insect prey from trees.
It’s not all about the wildlife, though. This former French colony, which is now classed as a special collectivity of France, is a fascinating melting pot of Melanesian and French culture. This unlikely fusion is most visible in the capital, Nouméa, where luxury hotels, gourmet restaurants and plush boutiques compete with Melanesian cuisine, dance and other local traditions.
This juxtaposition is not always harmonious however, and conflicts between France and New Caledonia sometimes flare up, reflecting their differing attitudes on self-government, French nuclear testing in the region and more. There’s been an appetite for independence for sometime now and the territory seems to be slowly moving towards sovereign status. France will be the poorer for it.