New Caledonia: come explore the world’s largest lagoon
2018 marks the 10-year anniversary of the naming of New Caledonia’s lagoon as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, we look at how to get the most from a visit to this important landmark.
At 24,000 km2 in size, New Caledonia’s vast lagoon is one of the largest marine reserves in the world.
And it’s a spot of considerable environmental significance and interest. It’s coral reef is one of the main nesting sites for the Green turtle, the Hawksbill turtle, the Loggerhead turtle and the Leatherback turtle as well as several rare crab species. As well as this, more than 23 species of tropical seabirds, including boobies, noddies and frigatebirds, soar over the lagoon.
On top of this, July not only marks the beginning of the cool season in New Caledonia but also the return of the humpback whales, who swim north from Antarctica to escape the cold and give birth in the warmer waters of the South Pacific.
Protecting all this marine life and more is a key reason why the lagoon was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
What to see and do around New Caledonia’s lagoon:
There is so much to see and do around both above, on and under the waters of New Caledonia’s lagoon. No matter if you are a water sports type or more of a sand dweller, there’s an activity for everyone.
Above the water
New Caledonia’s lagoon is just as beautiful from up high as it is from land. Paraglide, helicopter, skydive or sit up in the cockpit of a light plane to see the contrasting blues and depths of the lagoon, the wildlife below and the many islets dotting the shoreline.
On the water
New Caledonia’s lagoon is the ultimate playground for those who like a little adrenaline:
- Boardsports – Windsurfing, kitesurfing, surfing or wakeboarding…the lagoon is ideal for daily practice and the warm waters and almost constant breezes and waves make for perfect conditions. And for novices who want to get in on the adventure, there’s no shortage of water sport schools in both Nouméa and around the country.
- Sailing - a favourite Caledonian pastime and you can enjoy it too! Both experienced and beginner sailors will love the countless ways to enjoy the Pacific Ocean off the coast of New Caledonia. This is a unique opportunity to discover islets that are still wild and to cross paths with dolphins, turtles, dugongs and other inhabitants of the lagoon.
For those who like to take things a little slower:
- Explore New Caledonia’s beaches and islets - beaches are everywhere and some of them are so infrequently visited that you’ll feel like Robinson Crusoe, far from the hustle of the city. And don’t forget the islets. Amedée Island, a small sandy island that has hosted the Amédée lighthouse since 1865, combines all the wonders of nature: gorgeous seascapes teeming with fish, a sparkling beach with white sand reflecting the sunlight and the possibility to swim, dive, splash around and perhaps run into a curious turtle.
- Fishing – no matter if using traditional or modern techniques, fishing is a part of the DNA of the South Pacific archipelago. Ranked in the top 5 sites in the world for fly-fishing, New Caledonia is a paradise for those who love fishing. You can see fishermen in the Northern parts of the lagoon fishing in low tide and often bringing in some big catches!
Under the water
New Caledonia boasts a myriad of diving and snorkelling spots, with coral pinnacles sheltering multi-coloured sealife. And it’s often accessible even without wearing a tank.
With only a snorkel mask and flippers, a swimmer can see butterfly fish, triggerfish, parrotfish, clownfish and much more.
What else to do?
Discover the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, a contemporary building inspired by traditional Kanak architecture and surrounded by nature, all sitting on Nouméa’s Magenta Bay. Guests can visit the Centre to learn about the indigenous Kanak culture through interactive exhibitions, shows and concerts, or discover how Kanaks live through the replica displays within the gardens.
Eat! Being an island in the Pacific, it will come as no surprise that seafood features on many restaurant menus with freshly-caught prawns of every denomination, lobsters, oysters, marlin, mackerel, crab and mussels for delectable bowls of moules marinières. The market at Port Moselle in Nouméa is also one of the best places to pick up fresh seafood, caught only a few hours earlier by the local fishermen.