New Caledonia – endemic wildlife of the South Pacific
Set in the idyllic South Pacific, some 1,300km east of Australia, the French territory of New Caledonia is one of the world’s great biodiversity hotspots, second only to Madagascar in its levels of endemism.
New Caledonia, an archipelago halfway between Australia and Fiji, is an extraordinary place. While it has all the features you might expect from tropical islands – white sands, blue lagoons, and graceful palms – New Caledonia is also home to some very unusual plants and wildlife. Most striking is the abundance of conifers belonging the ancient plant family Araucariaceae, including the Cook pines, or Araucaria columnaris, which grow in the coralderived soils along the coast.
The biogeography of the island chain has been shaped by a complex and fascinating geological history. Scientists are still making discoveries about the origins of life on this isolated archipelago, but much dates to the age of the dinosaurs.
But New Caledonian is also and mainly known for its lagoon. It is one of the three biggest reef systems in the world. It contains a rare diversity of coral and fish species, and has reef structures that are among the most diverse on the planet.
The New Caledonian lagoon is home to unique marine biodiversity and a considerable number of iconic or endangered species, such as turtles, whales or dugongs. 15,000 of the 23,000 km2 of this New Caledonian site have been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Area.
Ancient plant families are more heavily represented on New Caledonia than their more modern counterparts. The larger flora include Nothofagus, Beilschmiedia, Adenodaphne, Winteraceae, Myrtaceae, southern sassafras (Atherospermataceae), conifers of Araucariaceae, Podocarpaceae, and Cupressaceae, and tree ferns. But the angiosperms are also fascinating, among them is Amborella trichopoda,which the the sole member of the oldest living flowering plant lineage, Amborelleaceae.
New Caledonia fauna is original and for the large part endemic, although it is not as rich and singular as its flora. Similarly to its flora, its fauna is, for some species, of gondwanian origin. There are 20 endemic species among the 142 bird species recorded, including fascinating species such as the famously intelligent New Caledonian Crow, Horned Parakeet, Goliath Imperial Pigeon and the spectacular and unique Kagu.
Our guide for this trip is Mark Hanger, who has previously guided us around New Zealand, Tasmania and Western Australia. Mark’s expert guiding will ensure we have a wonderful time in the idyllic South Pacific.
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Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.
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Local transport as specified in the itinerary. Fourteen nights’ accommodation, full board except evening meal Day 3, two meals Day 11.
International flights. Evening meal Day 3, two meals Day 11. Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing. Gratuities. Travel insurance.
Day 1 The holiday starts at Noumea, where we will meet up at Hotel Beaurivage, near the southern beaches in time for dinner.
Day 2 This morning we drive onto Mount Koghi to walk through the lush mesic rain forests that clothe much of inland New Caledonia, with good opportunities here to view several endemic bird species. In the afternoon we have an introduction to the indigenous peoples of New Caledonia at the remarkable Tjibaou Cultural centre.
Day 3 We will have a guided walk in the vicinity of Nouméa with a local nature guide to provide an introduction to the flora and fauna of this island and gain a first insight into the natural values of New Caledonia, with beautiful views over the lagoon and along the southern coast of the mainland.
Day 4 We start with a walk up to the lookout over the remarkable mangrove forest and the southern coast of Le Grande Terre with views of the Couer de Voh.
Day 5 We visit the Tiebaghi Massif, home to many endemic plants.
Day 6 We will enjoy a walk through northern mangrove and coral shore with a local guide at Sainté Marie.
Day 7 This morning we take a water taxi out to Ilot de Hienga botanical and marine sanctuary – enjoying a guided walk through the islet’s lush forest, then a guided snorkelling trip to discover the underwater ‘forests’ that make this part of the lagoon so special.
Day 8 Today as we travel across the island through this unique Le Minier landscape where mining has left its indelibly mark, we will discover some of the special plants that have evolved to live in this inhospitable environment.
Day 9 We will have a walk through the remnant of dry forest and discover the magnificent ‘column pines’ of the Baie de Tortues.
Day 10 We will take the short botanical trail near Sarramea before visiting the Parc des Grandes Fougères; a delightful national park located on the southern hills.
Day 11 We have a free day in Nouméa.
Day 12 This morning we head south east to Village de Prony, an early penal settlement. The road then winds through the hills of the Sud with numerous opportunities to study the ever-changing botany en route. A short drive this afternoon has us arrive at Cape n’Dua. This reserve is a magical place for nature lovers. Located at the tip of the Great South region; natural steep cliffs and bays make for a stunning landscape.
Day 13 We explore the beautiful Blue River Provincial Park in the far south of the southern province; over 9,000 hectares of wild country rich in native plants and animals. There are lovely picnic and river swimming spots, and good walking tracks. .
Day 14 A botanical path enables us to discover the scrub flora and the impressive Madeleine Falls; the scenic highlight. The reserve contains 168 plant species, and its flora is especially remarkable due to the presence of seven primitive conifers; vestiges of the secondary era.
Day 15 Free time in Nouméa before our flights home.
Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.
All accommodation is of a very comfortable standard and all rooms have private facilities. In most locations it is average to good standard, 3 star equivalent, although higher than this on occasion.
We shall be travelling by ‘people carrier’-style minibus during this trip. Depending on group size, there may be two vehicles.
International flights and travel to/from Noumea are not included in the holiday to allow you maximum flexibility in making your personal travel arrangements. Air France and Qantas both fly to Noumea. We recommend giving yourself at least one day either on arrival or to break the journey, to avoid the worst effects of jetlag at the start of the holiday.
New Caledonia is ten hours ahead of UK time.
New Caledonia is a dependent territory of France. If your passport describes you as a British Citizen, you do not need a visa to enter New Caledonia. You must have a valid passport for this trip (valid for at least six months after the end of the holiday). If you are stopping off in Australia, holders of UK or EU passports must apply for an eVisitor visa before arranging your travel. The eVisitor is free, and can be applied for at www.immi.gov.au/visitors/tourist/ evisa For holders of other passports it is essential that you check with your embassy or consulate and obtain the necessary documents prior to travel.
The weather in New Caledonia in September is generally dry and warm, with average daily temperatures of between 20 and 25°C during the day. Nights are generally mild, down to around 15°C . Average sea temperatures are 22°C The sun can be very strong, even when it is cloudy, and sun protection (hat, sunglasses and sun cream) is essential.
You should consult your GP for advice on travel health advice at least eight weeks before travelling. The ‘standard’ travel vaccinations to consider are tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, rabies and cholera. There is no risk of malaria on New Caledonia, but both Chikungunya and Zika virus and Dengue fever are known to occur on the islands, and you should avoid mosquito bites, particularly between dawn and dusk. There is no risk of yellow fever in New Caledonia, however, a yellow fever certificate is required if you are arriving from a country with a risk of yellow fever transmission or having transited for more than 12 hours through an airport of a country with risk of yellow fever.
This is a 15 day tour, stopping at several locations, and you therefore need to be generally fit and able to cope with ‘living out of a suitcase’ and frequent journeys between areas. On some days we will not be walking very far, but on others we will take longer walks. Most walking will be at a slow pace to give us the time to enjoy the plants, scenery and wildlife. If you are a slow walker however, please ring us to discuss whether any of the walks will be problem. We do not do any strenuous hikes but we may be out for a few hours at a time on some days. All walks are optional and you can choose to enjoy a day around the hotel if you prefer (or half a day of this fits in with the transport arrangements),providing we are not moving on to another location that day.
To see the best of the flowers, it is necessary to walk on rougher ground and up small slopes. Walking boots are essential for all areas out of the towns as the ground can be rocky, especially on the country tracks. Safety advice given by the leaders must be heeded at all times particularly when walking in the countryside. We will send you advice on health and safety issues before the tour.