It’s no secret that the quality of Caledonian vanilla is well on the way to earning global recognition. Though vanilla production is now organized over a large portion of the territory, it was in Lifou that it all started. On the island you can visit several vanilla plantations open to the public, in Mu, Jozip, Mucaweng or Traput.
New Caledonia’s sun and rainfall level appear to offer a particularly good combination to provide local vanilla growers with excellent growth conditions.
Although English missionary Macfarlane gave a few Madagascan vanilla plants to one of the island’s clans as early as 1860, it was not until the 1980s-90s that the beautiful orchid truly began to be exploited. Until then, though abundant in wooded undergrowth, its value was considered purely ornamental.
The vanilla islandVoir plus
An orchid that’s one in 25,000
An orchid? Yes – before it becomes a flavor or even a pod, vanilla starts out as a flower. And through there are almost 25,000 species of orchid in the world, only around a hundred of them are “vanillas”. And of this hundred or so species, only three are cultivated for their aromatic pods in the world: Vanilla pompona, Vanilla tahitensis (a hybrid variety) and Vanilla planifolia, which is found in New Caledonia. The first plantations in Lifou date back to 1993. Today, over 120 producers (almost 50% of all of the producers in New Caledonia) and planters provide 100% natural vanilla. Within just a few years, vanilla has become Lifou’s “brown gold”!
From the House of Vanilla to the Vanilla Festival!
A “House of Vanilla” has also recently been built at the Hnathalo tribe’s site, as well as a drying unit. Given that vanilla is a highly environmentally sensitive product, the house was built away from main roads to avoid the vanilla’s absorbing any odors harmful to its development. Open to the public, the House of Vanilla allows visitors to discover all of the secrets of its production and history. You can also buy pods and other derived products. Given Lifou’s ambition to see the island become a “vanilla forest,” in the words of the House of Vanilla’s first manager, it is only natural that a Vanilla Festival has recently been set up. It is held in mid-October each year in the Mu tribe area in south-east Lifou, in the Lössi district.