The Bélep archipelago is still today a place shrouded in mystery since so few people visit it. Far from anything, and virtually self-governing, the community living there is still very independent, so you shouldn’t visit the archipelago without first having some sense of adventure.
Located at the far north of New Caledonia, around 60 kilometers offshore from Poum, the Bélep archipelago (Dau Ar in the Nyelävu language, literally meaning “sun islands”) is part of the North province and extends over some forty kilometers. Only the untouched and inhabited reefs of Entrecasteaux, separated from the Bélep archipelago by the “Great Passage”, a strait some 500 to 600 meters deep, can be found further north, about 100 km to the north-northwest.
A lagoon classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site
The archipelago has three main islands: Art, Pott and Dau Ac. One of these, the largest one, Art, whose capital is Waala, is inhabited. Just over 800 people currently live there, mainly Kanaks or métis who make up 99.7% of the population. They are divided into eight tribes, all concentrated around Waala on the west coast of Art.
The Caledonian lagoon zone, where the Bélep archipelago is located, is one of the six chosen in 2008 by the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be part of its list of world heritage sites for humanity.
Lacking any tourist amenities, the archipelago has kept an authenticity that is almost unique in New Caledonia. Although this sort of double-insularity grants it its own identity, you should still be aware. If you go there, be sure you bring a small “custom” gift to the tribal chief because traditions are stronger here than elsewhere.
- Nouméa Tourism Office
- Opening hours: from Monday to Friday : 8:00-17:30, Saturday : 9:00-15:30, and Sunday 10:00-13:00
- Telephone: +687 28 75 80
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Marist priests had a decisive influence on the archipelago’s history. Pierre Lambert (1822-1903) founded the Bélep mission (1856-1863), which was short-lived especially due to a lack of missionaries. As for Marie-Joseph Dubois (1913-1998), he lived shortly in Bélep (1940-1941), but he’s responsible for A Summarized History of Bélep (1985), where he recounted traditional history as told orally for generations, which resulted in a written genealogy of the chiefdoms going back to the early 16th century!
What to do in Bélep?
While there is no tourism development, fishing is still the town’s main activity. 40% of the companies operate in this sector of production.