Get your fill of nature
New Caledonia is renowned worldwide for its extermely rich marine and terrestrial biodiversity, a natural environment that the north of the island cultivates as a treasure. The province has managed to find a balance between preservation and tourist development, work that was rewarded and supported by the registration of part of its lagoon on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2007. Plunge into the heart of this unique, fertile and sporting natural environment.
"It's been 10 years since I have set foot in the North Province. I'm rediscovering these unique scents, this mix of fresh and salty air, from both the mountains and the sea. It's a unique sensation and a constantly renewed pleasure." Back from a trip of several days to the East Coast, Thierry Martin is adamant. For this great hiker encountered round a bend at a rest area on the Koné-Tiwaka cross-country road, the north of New Caledonia is THE true nature destination in the territory, offering hikes in the central mountain chain, canoe excursions, crossings on foot or on horseback, diving, botanical exploration and fine-sand beaches. The North of New Caledonia has thus become paradise for those who love outdoor sports and being in the midst of nature, and its inhabitants have understood this.
If the North Province is a land of nature, it is also a land of people. Most Kanaks who live there perpetuate tradition by living in tribal villages. The tribal village is the basic reference for Kanak society. The clans are organised around it, with a custom chief at their head. Based on oral exchange, Kanak society is governed by custom. To be welcomed into a tribal village means above all "making custom offerings". A rite of passage and a mark of respect. A gift which has sharing value. It is generally made up of a piece of fabric (The manou), a banknote and another symbolic present.
To enter these lands where nature and culture echo each other is a different way of being a tourist, far from the beaten paths and standard patterns.
Land of sport
For some years, this fertile natural environment has first been revealed to the general public through the organisation of rallies (Dream Raid, Transcal, Grand Prix for the North Province Rallies) which allow participants to travel the most remote regions of the main island, but not only that. These rallies are organised mainly around comunities, and in particular tribal villages. Each rally is thus an opportunity for unique meetings between inhabitants, participants and those accompanying them.
In October, 2013 the North Province inaugurated the first section of an exceptional Grande Randonnée (GR) [registered hiking track] route. Over 70 km between the villages of Ponérihouen, Poindimié and Touho, confirmed or amateur walkers will find numerous tracks taking them to experience this wild and preserved natural environment. Exceptional also because this route connects several tribal villages to each other. These tribal villages are responsible not only for maintaining the tracks but also for welcoming the hikers.
If an adventure on foot or on mountain bike to Poindimié in particular does not tempt you, how about joining a crossing on horseback? An experience that Hélène decided to try for a week : "I would never have thought of crossing the mountain chain on horseback, and yet I did it," explains this company director. "I felts close to nature and overcome with a feeling of great simplicity and generosity. It was fantastic both for the body and the mind. Not to mention the cultural wealth of the places we visited. I learned more about botany in six days than in all my time at school!"
Indeed, after Madagascar, New Caledonia is the second most important biodiversity hot spot on the planet : 76% of its flora is endemic, and some species, such as the New Caledonia pine, have been flourishing there since the time of the dinosaurs. In the north, the low demographic pressure allows this natural environment to be maintained in its pure state.
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 diversified 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.
Because of this particular feature, in 2008 six specified area of the New Caledonia lagoon were registered on the UNESCO World Heritage Liste : a real recognition and a new step towards measures to protect and enhance this natural heritage both on land and at sea. This is even truer in the North Province which is home to three of these areas, the Great North Lagoon, the N
orth-East Coastal Area and the Entrecasteaux Atolls. These areas alone represent more than half the Property to be protected and preserved.
The work is thus being done both on land and in the lagoon.
From now on therefore, tourist and sporting activities in the North come within the values upheld by UNESCO. The protection and sustainable development of the natural environment has been extended to the whole province, whether in water sports or sport fishing, diving, pleasure boating or sea canoeing ; and also on land with river activities.
As for diving, you will find remarkable and almost pristine spots in the North Province, whether at Hienghène, Poindimié, Voh, Koumac or Poum.
The first surprise will be to find that the marine fauna are far from shy. It is true that there are not many diving enthusiasts in the North, which allows those who venture into the lagoon to get very close to its inhabitants. Those who love shellfish won't be left behind ; there is a multitude of marine molluscs to observe and marine life evolving in the midst of lush, multicoloured flora.
The marine fauna and flora are so diversified that they seem to have found refuge in these calm and welcoming waters : sponges in unexpected forms, fluorescent corals shaped like corollas, balls or bushes, long-spined sea urchings, starfish, crinoids, etc.
As you will have understood, the natural environment in the North is as fertile on land as under water. A natural spectacle that encouraegs contemplation, but is wothwhile if you want to explore its finest secrets. For an authentic stay, don't hesitate to leave the main road and take the cross-country traks. They will take you to all the paradises in the north of the main island.
Getting right into the mangrove swamp
At Pouébo on the East Coast, a track has been laid out in the Mazé Det mangrove swamp to Pwai tribal village. Guided by members of the Pweencees Association, the walk also goes through some "plant tunnels" and remains passable at high tide in a canoe. Careful, you must not pick anything in this mangrove swamp. It is in the herat of the "North-East Coastal Area" and is registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Heart of the mountain chain
A massive mountain chain separates the East Coast from the West Coast. Particularly impressive in the north of the main island, the "central chain", as the inhabitants call it, contributes to the high rate of endemic species in New Caledonia. Covered with primitive rainforest, the central mountain chain is also home to the most representive species of this environment, with kaoris, endemic New Caledonian pines and magnificent tree ferns.