Self drive tour in New Caledonia
August 15-18th, 2017
Visiting the Grande Terre is an excellent opportunity to learn more about New Caledonia, to see endemic flora and fauna, and to appreciate the beautiful seascapes. You will find here a sample itinerary for a self-drive tour along the main island of New Caledonia.
NEW CALEDONIA GRANDE TERRE ISLAND - ESSENTIAL TRAVEL INFORMATION
The Grande Terre is the main island of New Caledonia and most trips to the country will start and end here, as it is the only place hosting an international airport. However, considering the Grande Terre only a mandatory stop-over point is quite reductive, as the islands has fantastic landscapes and hosts endemic wildlife that cannot be found in other places of the world. The Grande Terre is just over 400 kilometers long and, at its widest point, it is only 70 kilometers wide. The territory is mainly mountainous, while the coastline has beautiful beaches, colorful lagoons and hundreds of kilometers of coral reefs.
To appreciate all this beauty, we suggest to rent a car and travel in full freedom spending each night in a different location. The roads in New Caledonia are mostly paved and it's possible to get to the most interesting attractions by using any sedan car, even without double traction (if you wish instead to reach the most remote places along dirty tracks, then a double traction car will be the best choice). In Noumea International Airport, you will find most of the worldwide car rental companies, in addition to Point Rouge that is instead a local car rental company. Advanced reservation is strongly suggested, especially in high season, as the number of vehicles is not comparable to that in other parts of the world.
The sample travel itinerary on the Grande Terre by car presented here, starts from Noumea La Tontouta international airport and continues north visiting Fort Teremba and Poe Beach, where we spent the first night. Then, the trip continues north to Voh, where we paid an organized excursion by 4x4 to see the famous heart-shaped mangrove forest from the top of a mountain (symbol of New Caledonia). After having spent the night in Voh, we crossed the central mountain chain to get to the eastern coast of Grande Terre island, to visit Hienghène with its oddly-shaped rocks, before spending the following night not far from here. On the road again, we crossed the mountains for the second time, to get to the impressive giant fern forest (Parc des Grandes Fougères), a place that shouldn't be really missed from any trip to New Caledonia, and the place where we spent the last night on the Grande Terre. Finally, we drove back to Noumea where, from the national airport right in the downtown, we flown to the Loyalty Islands to continue our holiday there.
This essential trip itinerary can be just 5 days long, however, if you would like to spend additional time in Poe Beach (west coast) or in Hienghiene area (east coast), perhaps to make additional day trips by boat or by ultra-light plane, you should plan additional days. It worth mentioning that south on Noumea and north of Voh, there are other beautiful places to be discovered, but such comprehensive trip will require a minimum of 10 full days driving around
But let's see now the pictures of the beautiful places that we had the opportunity to visit during our self-drive tour in New Caledonia.
Day 1 - First stop: Fort Teremba
. Fort Teremba is an ancient fortress and prison, dating back to 1871, located along the west coast of New Caledonia, north of the capital Noumea. The buildings, recently restored, housed a penal colony whose task was to build the road network between Canala, Bourail and Boulouparis, through forced labor. Tourists can visit the various buildings that housed the supervisory staff, the watchtower and the cell complex where prisoners were held. A small museum explains the history of Fort Teremba and the events that have occurred over the decades in the region.
The cells that housed the prisoners at Fort Teremba were narrow and dark and had no comfort: in most cases, they slept just on the ground wrapped in a miserable blanket. A series of panels also show disciplinary measures and punishments, which often included real torture.
Day 1 - Second stop: La Roche Percee
. Not far from Fort Teremba, La Roche Percee consists of a huge quartz monolith, with its base eroded by waves. A network of trails joins several bays dominated by wide beaches among towering cliffs and trees of Araucaria columnaris
We hike a trail to Turtle Bay
, where we see the first Araucaria columnaris, an endemic tree of New Caledonia.
Day 1 - Third stop: Poe Beach
. Poe Beach (Plage de Poè) is a long strip of sand that stretches almost uninterruptedly for 17 kilometers along the west coast of Grande Terre, north of Noumea. Surrounded by a beautiful coral reef and a lagoon so colorful that it can be seen from space, the whole area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its scenic beauty and for its great biodiversity, which includes numerous turtles, dugongs (attracted by algae that form dark spots in the lagoon) and different types of sharks.
The lagoon and Poe beach changes radically twice a day with the tide. The mangroves closest to the shore are almost completely submerged by the high tide.
Two more photos showing the difference between the high and low tides at the same point: the landscape alternates between a beautiful stretch of sand where you can walk, to a sort of natural pool where you can swim.
The mangrove forest and the channels between the sand bars along Poe beach in New Caledonia.
is not only interesting for the landscape, but it is also a good starting point for excursions in the area. The most popular excursions in Poe are ultralight flights to admire the colors of the lagoon from the air, and boat trips to snorkel or to visit small uninhabited islands (the help desk at your hotel will assist to organize these excursions).
Day 2 - Voh
and the hearth in the mangroves
. At about 3 hours drive from Poe, along the northwest coast of Grande Terre, lies the town of Voh, known for the presence of the famous heart created by the mangrove forest and symbol of New Caledonia. The heart shape exists thanks to a different rate of growth of the mangroves through a large forest, probably due to differences in the composition of the soil. However, the heart must be observed from above and this could not be easy: but let's go step by step...
There are essentially two ways to see the heart of New Caledonia
: flying over by ultralight plane, or climbing a mountain behind the forest. We opt for the second solution, but the road is rather steep and rough, with access allowed only to authorized vehicles. We therefore reserved a trip with a local guide and a suitable vehicle, contacting New Caledonia Voyages
before leaving our home country.
The panorama that unfolds climbing the mountain behind the heart of Voh
, is spectacular and ranges between mountains with orange rocks, mangrove forests and colorful coral reefs. Some tourists opt to climb the mountain on foot, but you need to be aware of the 700 meters change in altitude on a trail kilometers long, all under the tropical sun.
The excursion to see the heart of Voh from top, offers also a view on the nickel
mines in the area, among soils that show a strong orange color (Australia and New Caledonia own 45% of the world's total nickel reserves).
Day 3 - The eastern coast of New Caledonia
. An asphalt road in good condition connects the town of Konè (west coast) to Poindimié (east coast), crossing the picturesque central mountain range. The journey takes about 3 hours and offers beautiful views that alternate between mountain and sea.
The town of Hienghiene
, along the northeastern coast of the Grande Terre, is a must that should not be missed, as the area is known for the presence of bizarre rock formations and large natural pools in the coral reef. If you want to explore the region more deeply, perhaps by taking some boat trips to the small uninhabited atolls offshore, or to better enjoy the landscape changing constantly with tide and sunlight, it is advisable to stay at least 2 nights.
One of the most popular rock formations of Hienghene is the Chicken Rock
(La Poule de Hienghène), so called because, with a little imagination, you can see a chicken in its shape.
The curious calcareous formations of coral origin, which surround a beach near Hienghene
, along the northeastern coast of the Grande Terre, in New Caledonia.
Exploring the tropical forest near Hienghiene with our rental car.
More photos of the spectacular coral rock formations along the northeastern coast of the Grande Terre. Erosion by water and wind has produced bizarre shapes with sharp edges.
The eastern coast of New Caledonia is exposed to tsunami risk
, due to a fault about 300 kilometers to the east (between New Caledonia and the Vanuatu Islands) where earthquakes of magnitude greater than 7 frequently occur. Some signs indicate the way to be followed in case of danger.
Day 5 - Parc des Grandes Fougères
. The Park of the Big Ferns
(Parc des Grandes Fougères) is a fantastic protected area secluded among the hills of central New Caledonia mountain range, a couple of hours drive north of Noumea, near the towns of Sarramea, Farino and La Foa . The national park was established to protect some living species, both plants and animals, endemic to New Caledonia and particularly rare, like the fern trees
The undisputed queen of the Park is this arboreal fern
) endemic to New Caledonia, which can be up to 30 meters high with a single trunk up to one meter wide (this is probably the largest fern tree in the world).
The trunk of Cyathea intermedia
, the largest arboreal fern in the world, endemic to New Caledonia.
In the Park of the Giant Ferns
there is a network of easy trails, allowing visitors to walk among the arboreal ferns. The official website of the Parc des Grandes Fougères
, provides information and maps useful for visitors, while the entrance to the park can be reached by car (although the last section of the road is unpaved, a normal sedan car is enough to get there).
Photos of the ferns trees' top, with the curious pattern left by the fallen leaves.
Where to stay during trip on the Grande Terre?
The options to stay overnight in the various towns on the Grande Terre are not many, as tourism is not yet very developed and the facilities are few and small. Apart from the capital Noumea, the hotels in the most remote villages consist mainly of small lodges with independent bungalows and are generally more expensive than international standards, although always clean, comfortable, with hot water and wifi. In these photos, the Farino Lodge
, just a few kilometers away from the giant fern forest.