Hitting the road is one of the best ways to really experience New Caledonia’s beautiful and diverse ‘Grande Terre’. Not only is it easy to pick up a rental car at the international airport or in Nouméa, but New Caledonia’s well-maintained roads and signage make enjoying a road trip around the island a breeze. Plus, travelling around New Caledonia by car allows you the freedom to stop off whenever you like, meet the villagers, each with their unique culture and customs, and to see those remote unspoilt areas that are rarely visited by tourists.
To get you started, here is a quick guide on some of the need-to-knows when driving in New Caledonia: New Caledonia is around 400 kilometres long and takes about eight hours to drive from end to end.
Motorists drive on the right-hand side of the road. The road system is very well maintained overall and unless you intend to drive on the minor mountain roads, you won’t need to rent a 4WD
Fuel prices are regulated, so whether you fill up at a big supermarket in Nouméa or in a remote outback service station, you’ll pay the same price per litre. Although New Caledonia now boasts a very extensive network of service stations, it’s a good idea to think ahead on Sundays and some public holidays, when you could have more difficulty in finding somewhere open in the North or along the East Coast.
12 DAY ITINERARY
Day 1: New Caledonia
Fly to New Caledonia and arrive into Tontouta International airport, where you can collect your pre-booked vehicle and make the 45 minute transfer to your hotel in Nouméa. Many of the hotels in Nouméa have parking available for guests, otherwise there is street parking and undercover parking available around the city – be sure to check in advance with your hotel if you’re unsure. Once settled in, why not get out into the city and try sampling the food? With around 140 world-class restaurants and cafes to choose from and featuring food from every region of France, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Day 2: Noumea – Port Moselle (5 km / 12 min) – Païta (26 km / 30 min)
Drive to Nouméa’s Port Moselle and wander around the local markets (do note that the markets are closed on Mondays). The different sights and fragrances of the exotic fruit, vegetables and seafood at each stall will give you a taste of the variety and intensity of the island’s pacific cuisine and the diversity of fish and shellfish that can be found in the surrounding lagoon. On Sundays, local bands play at the market, which adds to the festive atmosphere.
At lunchtime, try the L‘Assiette du Cagou’ restaurant that is nearby to the Port Moselle markets, where you can experience some of the authentic local New Caledonian cuisine. After lunch, wander into the city (about a 10-minute walk from the Port Moselle markets) to admire the picturesque central city square known as the ‘Place des Cocotiers’ (Coconut Square). In the afternoon, jump in the car to head north to Païta
Upon arrival in Païta, Lézard Home homestay is a beautiful accommodation option and place to relax and recharge your batteries overnight. Sitting within the heart of a large private property that spans over one hectare at the foot of Mont Mou, the homestay is surrounded by flourishing gardens, streams and forests. Guests can take in the beautiful bird songs and the murmuring of the water of the neighbouring streams all while experiencing New Caledonia’s ‘outback’.
Your hosts will be pleased to share their inside knowledge and tips for New Caledonia, so feel free to ask for their advice.
Day 3: Païta – La Foa (86 km / 1h) / A boat trip through mangroves / La Foa – Bourail (60 km / 50 min)
After a delicious breakfast at Lézard Home, head north to discover the west coast, the New Caledonian far west, with its large livestock farming areas and hills covered with Niaouli trees. Hint: visit a local boulangerie and supermarket the day before and pick up a baguette, French cheese and other fillings for a picnic along the way.
Where to stop on your way:
Visit the Niaouli distillery at Boulouparis and try the natural balms, essences and liquors. Take a boat ride up the Nera River and glide through the mangroves – there is an amazing view of the lagoon and Fort Teremba at the mouth of the river. Stretch your legs over lunch at the table d’hôte, La petite ferme (the small farm) at La Foa – the farm’s owners have been welcoming guests for around 20 years.
After lunch, take a drive up to Moindou (20km / 15-minute drive north of La Foa) to visit Fort Teremba. A former penitentiary and military base that has been well restored, Fort Teremba is surrounded by Niaouli savannahs and has beautiful views over the lagoon.
In the afternoon, drive to Bourail, which is a diverse colonial town situated on New Caledonia’s west coast.
Where to stay:
The B&B “Poé Côté Lagon” will charm you with its calm location and personalised hospitality. The Hotel de Poé and the Betikure Parc Lodge offer guests a range of amenities. The five-star Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Resort & Spa will treat guests to prime beach access
Day 4: Bourail – Koné (108 km / 1h20)
Take the morning to explore Bourail. Visit the area’s famous natural rock formations, including the ‘Roche Percée’ (the Pierced Rock) and the ‘Bonhomme de Bourail’ (the Bourail ‘Man’), which is a monolith shaped by the wind and the sea that represents the guardian of the ‘gates of the dead’ for the local Kanaks. Take in the impressive sights of the ‘Baie des Tortues’ (Turtle Bay). Enjoy Bourail’s coastline, which offers a mix of breathtaking cliffs that drop away into the sea and stretches of long white-sand beaches surrounded by majestic pine trees, all the while overlooking the spectacular lagoon, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is also well known for its surf.
Bourail’s beautiful “Three Bays Path” (Sentier des Trois Baies) is a 3.5km /1 ½ hour walk and another opportunity for visitors to stretch their legs and experience the ‘Bonhomme’; the ‘Baie des Tortues’ – where turtles are known to come to lay their eggs each year; and the hidden ‘Baie des Amoureux’ (Lover’s Bay).
Another enjoyable activity in Bourail is a walk on the Botanical Path through the Cyca Forest (2km / 40 minutes). Make your way up to the ‘Roche Percée’ belvedere, which features breathtaking views of the Bourail Pass, Turtle Bay and Île Verte. From this viewpoint you can also see the Notre-Dame-des-Flots statue in the distance, which is believed to protect passing ships. In the afternoon, begin your drive to Koné.
Where to stay:
Hotel Hibiscus is a boutique three-star hotel in Koné that offers free Wi-Fi, a Turkish bath, a swimming pool and undoubtedly the best buffet breakfast in town – fresh French pastries and croissants are baked on-site daily. The hotel also offers stay/fly packages for competitive pricesKoné include the Hotel La Nea and the Hotel Koniambo, while the tranquil Refuge du Cerf is another option for guests in nearby Ouaco.
Day 5: Koné – Poingam (115km – 1hr 15mins)
As a site of natural beauty, treat yourself to a morning ultra-light aircraft flight around Koné, and over the lagoon and the famous Heart of Voh– where the different heights of the mangroves have formed a heart shape. Take in the views and be sure to pack your camera!
Throughout the day, continue your driving journey up to Poingam. There are many beautiful views along the way, including the wild plains of western New Caledonia and pristine beaches such as Nehoue Bay. The village of Poum makes for a great stop-off point during this drive.
Where to stay:
Relais de Poingam is a small, secluded property located at the northernmost point of the main island near to the magnificent Nennon Beach. With only eight bungalows, you’re guaranteed a homely, intimate experience. Take the opportunity to enjoy an evening meal with your fellow guests.
Day 6: Poingam
Give yourself a break from driving and take the day to enjoy all Poingam has to offer. Start the day with a delicious breakfast at the Relais de Poignam and then head out to explore the area.
Take a stroll along one of Poingam’s outdoor educational walkways and discover the area’s natural plants. Visit the newly restored salt flats or observe the area’s many birds and magnificent scenery. Or simply just relax around the seawater pool or on the beach. There is a lot to explore!
Day 7: Poingam – Hienghène (195km – 2hrs 45mins)
After breakfast, jump back into the car and begin your drive down the beautiful east coast – it is a stunning drive with plenty of opportunities to stop and admire the view. The drive will take you over the ‘Col de Creve-Coeur’ (Heartbreak Peak) and the ‘Col d’Amos’ (Amos Peak), with both offering panoramic views of the water.
The drive to Hienghène takes you on a road surrounded by both the sea and the mountains, through the historic site of Balade and past the Colnett and Tao waterfalls before crossing the picturesque Ouaième River by barge.
Where to play:
The team at Babou Côté Océan offer half-day snorkel trips and guided bush walks on the remote islands just off the Hienghène coastline. Tours include all equipment (including wetsuits) plus morning tea and coffee. Camping is also available on the mainland. For more information visit www.babou-plongee.com
Where to stay:
Explore the Koulnoue Hotel and the Ka Waboana Lodge for overnight accommodation
Day 8: Hienghène – Poindimié (73 km / 1h00)
Take the morning to further explore Hienghène. Head up to the Belvedere, which is a great vantage point to take in the spectacular Hienghène Bay. From here you can see the area’s well-known “Chicken Rock” and neighbouring Sphinx like formations, as well as delight in the contrasting colours of the lagoon against Mount Panié, the highest peak in New Caledonia at 1,628 metres.
Back in the car, follow the rivers and valleys along the coastal road, stopping along the way to take in the view of the lagoon as it laps the island of Poindimié in the distance.
Once arrived in Poindimié, visit a local tribe and discover the island’s traditional Kanak way of life.
Where to stay:
The gîte at Newejie is a beautiful accommodation option. Nestled in quiet surroundings, guests are sure to be taken by the gîte’s spicy colours, natural wood and Balinese influences. Another alternative is Hotel Tieti.
Day 9: Poindimié
Take a rest from driving to experience the attractions of Poindimié. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along Poindimié’s beautiful beaches or enjoy the array of activities on offer in the area. From diving and snorkelling to fishing, treks and village visits, there is something for everyone. Or perhaps just find a hammock under a palm tree and snooze the day away with a good book!
Where to play:
Visit the Îlot Tibarama (Tibarama Island). A 10-minute cruise from the shore, the island is covered in exceptional century-old trees.
Day 10: Poindimié – Sarraméa (208km / 2h30)
Rested and relaxed, it’s time to jump back in the car. Around mid-morning, head south in the direction of Sarraméa via the Houailou-Bourail traverse road. This very picturesque route winds along the coast, taking you through several villages, all with unique tribes and over the mouths of several majestic rivers before climbing up and over the ‘La Chaîne’, New Caledonia’s mountain range. The road then descends into the grassy plains of the west coast. There are certainly plenty of photo opportunities along the way.
Where to stop:
Experience the area’s natural beauty at the ‘Parc des Grandes Fougères’ (Great Ferns Park). Enjoy a quad biking or horse riding tour in Sarraméa. Visit the ‘Les Hauts de Fonwhary’ orchard, where you’ll find different varieties of fruits and jams. For dinner, try the ‘Délices des Jumelles’ restaurant, where delicious local produce and communal dining will make all guests feel welcome. Advance booking is essential.
Where to stay:
The Domaine de Meranki is a beautiful family home that sits on a 70-hectare wooded property, which in fact was once a coffee plantation. There are also two Melanesian-style bungalows available for guests on the property.
Day 11: Sarraméa – Nouméa (121 km / 1h30)
The time has come to travel back to Nouméa, for your final night. Before you leave Sarraméa, take a trip to the Feuillet swimming hole. It’s a beautiful way to refresh before commencing the return drive to Nouméa.
Day 12: New Caledonia
Spend your final day in New Caledonia enjoying the beaches and bays around Nouméa, or exploring the city’s boutiques. Still feeling adventurous? Visit the information centre in Nouméa and pick up a brochure with a self-guided architecture tour to explore the city, or perhaps visit the zoo to see the Cagou bird, which is New Caledonia’s national bird.
Other ways to play:
Learn about the indigenous Kanak culture at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre. Explore the lagoon with a snorkelling day trip to Duck Island. Try authentic French crêpes at the ‘Le Rocher’ crêperie, while enjoying the sweeping views of Noumea’s beautiful Lemon Bay.