The archipelago of New Caledonia is a French Overseas Territory. The islands lie south in the Pacific Ocean, 1,210 km east of Australia. Grand Terre is the main island known locally as “Le Caillou” (the pebble). A host of other islands, including the Loyalty Islands, make up the region. Nouméa is the capital of the province.
Around 269,000 people are living in New Caledonia. Origins include people of European descent, Polynesians, Southeast Asians, and North Africans.
History of the region
The original inhabitants were the Lapita, dating back to before 500 BC. They were highly skilled navigators and farmers. The Lapita people populated a large area of the Pacific at the time. Later the Kanak became the indigenous population.
In 1774, Captain James Cook was the first European to have sight of land here. He named the island after his favourite part of Scotland. There was not very much sea traffic here for many years. Only a few whalers and explorers visited the islands. After 1840, sandalwood became an attractive commodity, and so there were more arrivals. The trade-in sandalwood declined, and the trading of slaves began. The horrific practice of capturing local people from the islands involved deception and tricks. The slavers forced the people to work in sugar cane plantations in Fiji and Australia.
In 1853, France took formal possession of New Caledonia under orders from Napolean III. The French founded Nouméa the following year. Until 1897, the region was a penal colony, and over 22,000 prisoners were sent here. Some were political prisoners. A small amount settled in the country after amnesty was granted, but most people returned to France.
Nickel mining began in 1864. France imported labourers to work the mines. The French prohibited the Kanak from taking part in this work which sparked a vicious guerrilla war. Later in 1917, a second guerilla war started, witnessed by the Catholic missionaries who had come to the region. Many natives died in the two conflicts, and further deaths occurred due to smallpox and measles. Europeans brought these diseases to the islands. The natives had no natural defence system against this type of infection.
World War II
During World War II, Nouméa became an essential base for the US Army and Navy in the South Pacific. The Allies thwarted the Japanese navy in the Battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. Nouméa was the base for the American fleet. During the war, 50,000 US troops were based here.
At the end of the war in 1946, New Caledonia formally became an overseas territory. In later years, France granted all the inhabitants of New Caledonia French Citizenship, regardless of ethnicity.
Sailing in the South Pacific
Imagine a long white beach with crystal clear water gently lapping at the shore. Eating fresh coconut and spear caught fish, served on palm leaves. That a typical island holiday in the South Pacific, in a nutshell. As long as you make sure to avoid the hurricane season (October-March), the islands are nothing short of paradise.
One of the most frequented islands for an exquisite sailing experience is Tahiti. French Polynesia has long been famous for its idyllic beauty. The fabled island of Bora-Bora lies in the Tahitian Leewards. Furthermore, a cluster of other equally spectacular isles all float invitingly in the South Pacific. Coral reefs encircle many of the islands creating expansive lagoons with calm waters. Ancient volcanoes enhance the natural scenery of the islands. Encouraging trade winds help you to enjoy the sailing side of your holiday. As soon as you drop anchor (often after seeking permission from a local tribal chief!), it’s all about scuba diving, snorkelling, and enjoying the astounding beauty of the beaches.