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Of all the Franco-islands in the Pacific, New Caledonia is perhaps the most French, due to a large expatriate population – who are mostly government employees sent to administer affairs of state. It's those people who demand fresh berries from the south of France, and imported flour to make sure the patisseries are just like at home.
So, why do they bother with this vestige of old colonialism?
There's some tension between the indigenous Kanak population and the French about cultural integrity. As New Caledonia is the world's 4th largest producer of Nickel, there's also some tension over the large scale mining, and what some say is inadequate remediation of the damage.
But most people who visit won't feel the tension, or see the mines, or care too much as they scarf down yet another chocolate croissant before heading off to snorkel in a beautiful local coral lagoon.
Travelers in New Caledonia will experience a very safe, laid-back South Pacific paradise, which has a large twist of French culture.
Violent crime directed to tourists is just about unheard of, even petty crime is minimal. But that doesn't mean you should tempt fate by leaving an expensive camera in full view on the beach or on the front seat of your rental car. Always, everywhere, take care of your valuables.
If you are a perpetrator of crime instead of a victim, be aware that New Caledonia remains a special province of France so French law applies. This includes the principle of "garde a vue". If detained by police you do not have the right to immediate access to a lawyer, and police can hold you to ‘assist with enquiries' for up to three days.
Here's why you should be a Good Samaritan in New Caledonia: It is an offence under French law to fail to offer assistance to a person in danger – otherwise known as compulsory good Samaritan-ism. If you witness an accident, at the very least you should call for help. You are not expected to put your own life in danger to assist someone else, so don't go diving into the water if you can't swim.
You're required to carry identification at all times. Leave the passport locked up and take a photocopy or your home driver's license – you will not get detained if you are not carrying ID, but have it on you at all times to avoid trouble.
Possession of even small amounts of illegal drugs is a serious crime, and punishments result in fines or going to jail.
Hygiene and sanitation standards are good in New Caledonia's resorts, but they may be less so when you venture out to the outer islands. While the vast majority of visitors don't need to be concerned about water-borne disease and parasites, adventurous travelers should be cautious and carry a medical kit when going off the beaten track.
However, Dengue Fever is common in the warm and wet months of February to May. There's no vaccination, so do your best to avoid mosquito bite – wear long loose-fitting clothing, cover exposed skin in insect repellent day and night, make sure your room is mosquito-proof otherwise sleep under a mosquito net.
Tip out any stagnant water you see sitting around your accommodation.
If you do get sick or have an accident, the three hospitals on the main island, Grand Terre (the locals call it "Le Caillou" - the rock), can treat routine ailments and handle most emergencies very well. But if you don't have travel insurance expect to pay upfront – and pay a lot! Costs for medical treatment in New Caledonia are high, so traveling here without travel insurance is not a good idea.
If you require complex treatment you'll need to be evacuated to Australia, which is 930mi (1,500km) to the west, so be prepared for a huge medical evacuation bill.
Scuba diving is popular activity all over New Caledonia, but there's only one decompression chamber, in Noumea. If you're on an outer island, it's going to be a while before help arrives or you can be transferred to Grand Terre, and it's expensive.
Tap water in Noumea and most resorts is safe to drink, but your other option is to boil water (for at least one minute) or carry water purification tablets when visiting the outer islands. Ask your accommodation staff if the water is safe to drink, just in case there's contamination.
You can hire a car, 4WD, scooter or bicycle. Your driver's license from home is all you need. But if you decide to try your hand at a motorcycle or scooter make sure you have the proper license. Being on holiday doesn't magically give you the right (or ability) to ride on two wheels. Driving unlicensed may cause problems if you have to make a travel insurance claim for injury.
There's a reasonable bus service on Grande Terre which is safe to use and cheap.
Taxis are about four times more expensive then catching a bus. Plus, taxis don't cruise around looking for passengers to pick up, you must telephone and order one to your address.
Tropical storms and cyclones (hurricanes) are common November to April, but storms can happen at anytime. Because there is limited capacity to leave New Caledonia by commercial flight, it is customary to ride-out any cyclone or storm. Your hotel will advise you on where to take shelter.
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