Prefer remote action? Check out this self-drive itinerary

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 a road trip around the island a breeze. Plus, travelling around New Caledonia by car gives 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.

Driving in New Caledonia: A quick guide

Before you get started on your New Caledonia self-drive itinerary, here is a quick guide on some of the need-to-knows when driving in the archipelago:

  • New Caledonia is around 400 kilometres long and takes about eight hours to drive from end to end
  • Just like in France, motorists in New Caledonia drive on the right-hand side of the road
  • The road system is well maintained overall so, unless you intend to drive on the minor mountain roads, you won’t need to rent a 4WD
  • Fuel prices are regulated. 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.

Here is our recommendation for a 12-day New Caledonia self-drive itinerary:

Day 1: New Caledonia

Fly to New Caledonia, arriving at La Tontouta International Airport, and collect your pre-booked vehicle before making the 45 minute transfer to your hotel in Nouméa. Many of the hotels in Nouméa have parking available for guests, but if your chosen accommodation does not provide parking, street parking and undercover parking is available around the city. Be sure to check in advance with your hotel if you’re unsure of their parking arrangements.  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 food from every region of France, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Day 2: Noumea – Port Moselle (5 km / 12 mins) – Païta (26 km / 30 mins)  

Drive to Nouméa’s Port Moselle Markets and wander through the diverse stalls (note: 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.

After purchasing lunch at the markets, wander into the city (about a 10 minute walk from the Port Moselle Markets) to admire the picturesque city square known as the ‘Place des Cocotiers’ (Coconut Square).

In the afternoon, jump in the car and head north to Païta.

Upon arrival in Païta, Lézard Home homestay is a beautiful place to relax and recharge your batteries overnight. Sitting within the heart of a large private property 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 New Caledonia travel tips, so feel free to ask for their advice.

Day 3: Païta - La Foa (86 km / 1 hr) / A boat trip through mangroves / La Foa - Bourail (60 km / 50 mins)

After a delicious breakfast at Lézard Home, head north to discover the west coast and 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 Téremba 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 (20 km / 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, 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 Bétikuré Parc Lodge offer guests a range of amenities

- The five-star Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Resort & Spa treats guests to prime beach access

Day 4: Bourail - Koné (108 km / 1 hr 20 mins)

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’), a monolith that is said to represent the guardian of the gates of the dead for the local Kanak people. 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 UNESCO World Heritage listed lagoon. The area is also well known for its surf.

Bourail’s beautiful Three-Bay Trail (Sentier des Trois Baies) is a 3.5 km 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 (2 km / 40 minutes). Make your way up to the Roche Percé’ 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, with fresh French pastries and croissants are baked on-site daily. The hotel also offers stay/fly packages for competitive prices.

- Koné is also home to the Hotel La Nea and the Hotel Le Koniambo.


North of New Caledonia

Day 5: Koné - Poingam (115 km - 1 hr 15 mins)

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 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 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 Poingam 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, observe the area’s many birds in their natural habitat or simply take some time to relax by the water. There is a lot to explore!

Day 7: Poingam - Hienghène (195 km - 2 hrs 45 mins)

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 Col de Creve-Coeur (Heartbreak Peak) and Col d’Amos (Amos Peak), with both offering panoramic views of the water.

The drive to Hienghène takes you along 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 ferry.

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.

Where to stay:

- The Koulnoue Hotel and the Ka Waboana Lodge are both good options for overnight accommodation

East of New Caledonia

Day 8: Hienghène - Poindimié (73 km / 1 hr)

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 and a nature reserve which the public are prohibited from accessing.

Back in the car, follow the rivers and valleys along the coastal road, stopping to take in the view of the lagoon as it laps at Poindimié in the distance.

Once you’ve arrived in Poindimié, visit a local tribe and discover the island’s traditional Kanak way of life.

Where to stay:

- The gîte at Néwéjïé 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.

- Go kayaking at Amoa. Join a guided tour and spend time paddling along the river at Amoa.


Day 10: Poindimié – Sarraméa (208 km / 2 hrs 30 mins)

Relaxed and well rested, 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 picturesque route winds along the coast, taking you through several villages and over the mouths of several majestic rivers before climbing up and over 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. You’ll also find an assortment of stalls along the roadside too, stocking everything from fruit and vegetables to handmade jams.

Where to stop on your way:

- Experience the area’s natural beauty at the Parc des Grandes Fougères (Giant Fern Park)

- Enjoy a quad biking tour in Sarraméa

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:

Le Domaine de Meranki is a beautiful family home that sits on a 70-hectare wooded property which was once a coffee plantation. There are also two Melanesian-style bungalows available for guests on the property.

- The bungalows of Évasion hotel place you in the heart of the Giant Fern Park. Each bungalow is furnished with everything needed for a comfortable stay, with a pool also located onsite.

- A number of great bed and breakfasts can also be found close to the entrance of the Giant Fern Park in Farino if you’re wanting to explore the area for longer, including Lodge Terre de Soleil, Les Bulles de Farino and Oasis de Tendéa.

Sarraméa New Caledonia

Day 11: Sarraméa - Nouméa (121 km / 1 hr 30 mins)

The time has come to travel back to Nouméa for your final night. After departing Sarraméa, take the short trip to nearby La Foa. There’s plenty to do in this area, from horseback riding and diving to skydiving, forest hikes and more.

Day 12: New Caledonia

Spend your final day of your New Caledonia self-drive itinerary 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, 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 Crêperie Le Rocher while enjoying the sweeping views of Noumea's beautiful Lemon Bay