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 lagoons
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 mainland'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 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.
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
Noumea and the surrounding coast offer good shelter from the prevailing southeasters, but on clearing the mainland 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.
Take a look at this amazing drone video shot by 15 year-old Zach, who with his parents took a Dream Yacht New Caledonia charter aboard a Lagoon 39.