New Caledonia - How to travel safely

Be a good samaritan, carry your passport and staying healthy are just the start of ensuring your trip is a great one.

Of all the Franco-isles in the Pacific, New Caledonia is perhaps the most French, due to a large ex-pat population - 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.

Why do they bother with this vestige of old colonialism? New Caledonia is the world's 4th largest producer of Nickel.

There's some tension between the indigenous Kanak population and their overlords about cultural integrity. There's 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 dazzlingly beautiful coral lagoon.

For the most part, all the visitor sees is a laid-back South Pacific paradise with a large twist of French chic.

Crime & Scams

Violent crime directed to tourists is just about unheard of, even the 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 the seat of your rental car. Always, everywhere, take care of your valuables.

French Law

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 3 days.

Laws you might break:

You're required to carry identification at all times. Leave the passport locked up and take a photocopy or your home driver's license. (This is not going to get you detained though).

Possession of even small amounts of illegal drugs is a serious crime.

It is an offence under French law to fail to offer assistance to a person in danger – 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.

Health & Medical

Hygiene and sanitation standards are good in the resorts, they may be less so in outer islands. So the vast majority of visitors needn't be concerned about water-borne disease and parasites.

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.

Hospitals & Medical Evacuation

If you do get sick or have an accident, the 3 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!

If you require complex treatment you'll need to be evacuated to Australia, which is 1500 kms to the west, so be prepared for a huge medical evacuation bill.

Scuba Safety

Scuba diving is popular activity all over New Caledonia, but there's only one decompression chamber, in Noumea. Again, 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.

(Some of the locals.)

Can I Drink The Water?

Tap water in Noumea and most resorts is safe to drink, but there's plenty of bottled water available and it's a safer option.

Getting Around

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 4 times more expensive then the bus. Plus, taxis don't cruise around looking for passengers to pick up, you must telephone and order one to your address.

Cyclone Season

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 means it is customary to ride-out any cyclone or storm. Your hotel will advise you on where to take shelter.

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