Exploring New Caledonia’s tropical north in 6 days
IN the second article of our New Caledonia travel series, Olivia Merlen shares the perfect six-day itinerary for exploring the archipelago’s tropical north.
Here’s how I spent my five days on the tropical north of New Caledonia and some suggestions for your own travels.
First tip: Camping is ideal for travellers on a budget with the average camp site in New Caledonia the equivalent of $15 for two people, far from the rates of luxury hotels.
Day 1: Bourail
Heading north west from Noumea, the starting point for any traveller should be Bourail, only a two-hour drive away.
The sentier des trois baies (three bays walking track) starts from the Roche Percée beach, where you can see a monolith in the shape of a human face. All along the walk are lookouts perfectly positioned in for admiring the UNESCO world heritage lagoon and reef of Bourail Pass. Between April and early September, loggerhead turtles lay eggs on the beach in nearby Turtle Bay. If you sit patiently, you can catch a sight of them swimming in a tumultuous sea.
From the beach, the track winds its way through column pines, ferns and native hibiscus flowers populated by black butterflies with fluorescent dots. At the end of this miniature forest is Lover’s Bay, which takes its name from its remoteness
A few kilometres away at Poe beach, you can camp and rent equipment for water sports.
Get information on the Three Bays Track and the Cyca Forest Walk at the Tourist information centre in Noumea
Poe campground, 1200CFP ($13) for a tent and 180CFP ($2) per person
Day 2: Voh
Driving north in the early morning, we arrived in Voh, an agricultural community. Just after the town, there’s a path that leads to a climb up the mountains. The walk weaves through various lookouts over Voh’s natural heart, a mangrove swamp.
Famous photographer, Yann Arthus Bertrand, captured the mangrove and used it for the cover of his book La Terre Vue du Ciel (The earth seen from the sky). Although the view does appear to be better from the sky, it’s still an incredible sight.
Taking the road again for another 70km, we arrived in Koumac at a crossroad between the great north and the east coast. Here you can camp and enjoy a few easy afternoon activities like visiting the caves or the mining village, going horse riding or taking up scuba diving.
Day 3: Hienghène
While some travellers head north to Poum, you may be better off going straight east to Ouégoa and Pouébo. This route is one of the few that crosses the territory and the central range of mountains of “la Chaîne”, which divide the mainland lengthwise.
Arriving on the other side of the mountains, we stopped at the first lookout on the lagoon. The landscape here is different, more tropical than the dry West and only populated by tribes.
On the road, the people walking waved to us and we saw a strange succession of makeshift mailboxes, including a microwave. There were illustrated bus stops and “the market”, as locals call it – empty stalls where you leave a few coins in exchange for fruits, vegetables or handicrafts.
After passing a few waterfalls, including the most famous Tao Waterfall, we took the Ouaieme Ferryboat. It was the only ferryboat in New Caledonia and only carries two or three cars at a time.
Arriving in Hienghene in the afternoon, there were a few things we could do. We could take a boat excursion to discover the mangrove swamp or rent a canoe to visit the brooding hen and Sphinx rock formations.
At night, we stayed in one of the cheaper campsites at “Babou Côte Océan”. You can also stay with the tribes of the mountain range if you want to discover the customs of locals. These tribes people, Melanesians or “Kanaks”, have a number of customs.
According to their social structure, everyone participates in the life of the tribe. Even visitors are expected to follow the rules of politeness and faire la coutume which literally means “do the custom”. This can include offering a gift from one’s own culture, a cigarette or a bank note to the chief to show your respect.
The women wear colourful mission dresses and prepare the Bougna, a traditional dish of chicken or fish with coconut milk, sweet potato and yam wrapped in a banana leaf.
Campsite and activity centre Babou côté océan, 400CFP ($4) per tent for a night.
Get information on activities at the Office de tourisme of Hienghene. You can also book to stay with tribes through this tourist information centre, but remember to ask what they offer (a simple stay or a visit and other activities).
Day 4: Poindimié and Tiakan
After enjoying activities in Hienghene, we headed south to Poindimie, which is an hour’s drive away.
At Tiéti Beach, there was plenty to see including a new luxury hotel, the coffee plantations, the red and white coloured Tyé Church and a museum on the American presence at the beach during WWII.
At night, you can camp near the little huts on the Tiakan campground along the beach or under the many coconut trees.
Tiakan campground 500CFP ($5) per person
Day 5: From East to West
We woke early to see the sun rise over the sea in Tiakan. We then drove to the tribe of Ba. There, by leaving a few coin at the authentic-looking “car park”, we could walk a few minutes and have an early swim in the Ba Waterfall.
Back on the road, we crossed the mainland again, this time from east to west. The route, which begins with the Kouaoua road, gives way to changing landscapes from the desert through to the mining scrub, from lunar sceneries of red earth to green fluorescent trees and finally to plains and ferns that look very much like the ones you’d find in Switzerland.
At Farino, you can camp in a mountain setting at the “Refuge de Farino” and in the afternoon walk along the track to a small waterfall perfect for swimming.
Refuge de Farino campsite, 800CFP ($8) per person, (687) 443751
Day 6: Farino
Before heading back to Noumea, be sure to check out the park of giant ferns It’s 4,535 hectares of tropical forest overlapping three towns: Farino, Sarraméa and Moindou. The park rangers will tell you what walk is best for you, depending on the time you have and what you want to see. Don’t forget to see the small heart shaped rock near the stream that crosses the “Camp de la Houé”.
Giant Fern Park website: 400CFP ($4) per person
And that’s New Caledonia in six days. Of course, there’s plenty more to see and do, but no you have no excuse to see it for yourself!
Hungry for more? Check out the first article in Olivia’s travel series about the Red South