Pacific Perfection with a Touch of French Flair
Bienvenue! Just four hours' flight from Auckland, Sydney or Brisbane and you can be sailing your charter yacht in this sophisticated South Pacific island destination. New Caledonia is a place to go sailing that offers a choice of two quite different sailing itineraries.
As most charterers do, enjoy day after day exploring the inshore waters of the world's largest island lagoon that extends directly out of Noumea and offers superb sailing and holiday-making in protected waters. Sail the short stretch of more open water - while still in the lagoon - to the inviting Ile des Pins, a highlight of any visit to this part of France in the South Pacific.
If you have the sailing experience and are willing to do a short ocean passage, another world awaits you to the east. The Loyalty Islands lie 100km off the main island's east coast. Getting there requires a long day's sailing, and there's a bit of travelling between the three main islands too. But for the sheer pleasure of the experience in visiting a remote Pacific island paradise, it's a journey well worth the undertaking.
New Caledonia was named by Captain James Cook as its northern coastline reminded of Scotland when he sailed these waters in 1774. France took possession in 1853, and administers the island group to this day. With its idyllic location and natural splendour, New Caledonia provides everything a visitor can wish for in a South Pacific getaway, and more.
New Caledonia's charter operations are based in the capital city Noumea (pop. 180,000). From there it's a short sail to a choice of sheltered bays, making this the ideal destination for easing into a sailing holiday. For most charterers, the ultimate New Caledonan destination is l'Ile des Pins (Isle of Pines), a small island directly to the south. The Isle of Pines forms part of the outer barrier of the largest lagoon in the world, which defines New Caledonia's well-travelled charter area. Within the lagoon there are literally hundreds of places to visit.
The beautiful Isle of Pines
Thought of the Isle of Pines creates an image of most people's perfect tropical island - sandy beach shaded by coconut palms, a forested volcanic peak forming a spectacular backdrop - and it truly is a worthy destination. For one thing, the pristine sands extend uninterrupted all the way under your anchored boat, making swimming and snorkelling a convenient pleasure. The iconic pines are everywhere you look, as are the traditional water-craft the local Kanak people use for fishing and increasingly for tourist activity.
Once safely anchored after an on-the-wind sail to the Isle of Pines, it's time to relax aboard your charter yacht. It's likely you are in one of the sheltered sandy bays of Kuto or Kanamera, and you're ready to dive Gadgi Bay with its magnificent coral sculptures. Dine on famous lobsters at one of the local restaurants, and next morning climb Pic N'ga to see the sunrise. Take a picnic lunch out to Brush Island, sail a pirogue with the locals in Upi, or explore the dried riverbed of Oro and swim in the fabulous blue waterhole.
Sailing New Caledonia's World Heritage lagoon
l'Ile des Pins, c'est magnifique. But there's a lot more to a New Caledonian bareboat holiday cruise. On the way out there, the extensive Prony Bay on the main island Grande Terre's southern tip can take days to explore if time allows. Just beyond is Port Boise with its resort dining facilities, while Ile Ouen guards the bay's entrance.
On the way back to Noumea from Isle of Pines, it's a downwind sail to the southern islands, a water world dotted with tiny islets. There's some good shelter, and an extraordinary amount of wildlife. Complete your holiday with a final night stopover at Ilot Amédée, and take in a bit of French South Pacific history at the famous lighthouse.
Eastwards to the Loyalty islands
The most popular New Caledonian charter itinerary stays in the southern lagoon. However if time allows, consider including the Loyalty Islands. A 16-day cruise is advised to do all these beautiful islands justice, three weeks is even better.
It takes 13-15 hours to sail from your anchorage on the Isle of Pines to Maré, the nearest in the group, and most charterers do a night sail to get there. So proven blue-water experience and a crew willing to undertake such a journey is essential. Once in the Loyalty Islands, the contrasts with the big lagoon may surprise.
It's another night (or very long day) sail between Maré and Lifou, the largest Loyalty island. These are both uplifted coral atolls, quite different form the usual idea of a Pacific Island destination. More ancient than the low-lying, sand-fringed outcrops, of which the third main Loyalty island Ouvéa is a typical example, Maré and Lifou are ringed by cliffs that once formed the outer reef, and what were once the lagoons making up the island interiors.
Ouvéa is a similar distance northward, so prepare for another long sail to this quintessential tropical island paradise. The local Melanesian people are friendly, and it’s important to acknowledge the privilege of visiting their home. Read up on any special local customs and expectations, and when visiting Ouvéa, take along a pouch of tobacco to present to the local chief.
Sailing season and climate
Cooled by the surrounding Pacific Ocean and refreshing south easterly trade winds, New Caledonia enjoys a semi-tropical climate marked by two seasons. From October to March it is warm and humid, while April to September bring somewhat cooler and drier conditions. Sunrise is between 6.00 and 7.00 am and sunset between 5.00 and 6.00 pm.
Known to many as 'the land of the eternal spring', New Caledonia has an equable climate that invites swimming, sunbathing and sailing all year round. Conditions are suitable for chartering throughout the year, subject to the seasonal cyclones that can arise anywhere in the South Pacific. The best months for a yacht charter are from September to November.
Navigating New Caledonia's southern lagoon and Loyalty Islands
Noumea and the surrounding coast offer good shelter from the prevailing southeasters, but on clearing Grande Terre it's an often-rigorous windward sail across to Isle of Pines. Allow at least two days from base, stopping off at one of the many mainland bays. While labelled the largest lagoon in the world, this waterway is open at its southern end and a reasonable sea can roll in, making the experience closer to open-water sailing than crossing an enclosed lagoon.
Sailing back from Isle of Pines to Noumea is a pleasure. Make the most of the downwind sail, zigzagging through the southern Isles and exploring the remote anchorages you encounter. The job is made easy with your boat's chart plotter, not to mention the clarity of the water.
As mentioned a Loyalty Islands boat charter requires a lot of holiday sailing time there and back. Plan to arrive in daylight. The cliffs of Maré and Lifou can be daulting to contemplate, but there are ample sheltered anchorages available. Visiting the Loyalty Islands is a special experience for the well-prepared skipper and crew.
Take a look at this amazing drone video shot by 15-year-old Zach around the southern lagoon. Zach and his family took a Dream Yacht New Caledonia charter aboard a Lagoon 39.