Destinations

The Pacific Island big enough to road trip

Tara Harrison

When you think of the Pacific Islands, you don’t imagine a road trip.

That’s more reserved for the big and bold landscapes of the US or Australia, but it’s just as dramatic on New Caledonia, which is better known for its beaches.

Inland, however, there’s cowboy country and mountains covered with near endless bamboo.

You’ll arrive in Noumea, the capital that feels like small-town France.

The signs are in the French style of blue and white but once you leave Noumea the road signs lessen and it feels all the more pioneering. But make no mistake, you won’t get lost.

New Caledonia Straw Hut House Maré Island Nouvelle Calédonie

There are only a few veins and arteries that cut through the pristine island of Grand Terre – the mainland – on which Noumea is the largest settlement. New Caledonia, however, comprises several other smaller islands located off the coast of Grand Terre: the Loyalty Islands of Lifou, Mare and Ouvea, plus the Isle of Pines.

The joy of a road trip through Grand Terre is the interaction you have with local Melanesian culture, as you drive through villages and are welcomed consistently by outstretched arms waving at the car.

The roads traverse tribal regions, demarcated by red wooden signs. With more than three hundred groups on this island alone, there’s much diversity.

You can stop in and visit these villages too, with permission from the chief. As the third largest Pacific island, there’s much terrain to traipse through. New Caledonia is very French, as a territory of the European nation.

That means the road rules are consistent with Europe, and you’ll drive on the ‘other’ side of the road.

There is a magnificent mountain range in the middle of the island, and when you have a map, driving diagonally across the island and through this range makes for a Top Gear worthy road trip experience.

The range is known by the very French title Col des Roussettes, which translates to Flying Fox Saddle.

The speed limit is rarely reached as the road snakes and coils like a serpent. Banyan trees and flame trees stud the lush forest. Sarramea is a two-hour drive north of Noumea and is a verdant village where the roads run alongside a stream and paddocks house plump cows.

Island Cave - Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

Here, a waterfall called Treu Feillet is a cool respite, with a natural pool that locals call a wine vat for its deep and rotund proportions. Turtle Bay is an ideal next stop, on the west coast with its fir trees acting as a talisman, for they stand at such odd wind-swept angles.

And if you fancy a snack en route, there are also roadside stalls selling fruit and glass cabinets with delectable rotisserie chickens. It’s healthy island snacking here.

The baguettes are plentiful as well – a constant reminder of the French culture that permeates the island and creates an exotic ensemble of laid-back panache.

Up north, the town of Hienghene hosts the geological marvel of the Linderalique rocks. Here you’ll find black rocks coming out of the blue water, with one resembling a hen and one resembling a sphinx.

Grand Terre still feels undiscovered, with less infrastructure and tourists than its Pacifi c neighbours. It’s big enough to road trip and intimate enough to feel like you’re one of the first to truly explore it.

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