Self-drive holidays are the best. The freedom of leaving and stopping off wherever you like and travelling to parts of a country rarely visited by regular tourists with your own set of wheels – nothing beats it, especially in paradise, or should we say New Caledonia?
Indeed, New Caledonia is the perfect self-drive destination. At only 400kms long, its small and yet varied terrain is surrounded by a luminous lagoon and infused with that charming French spirit and laid-back Melanesian vibes.
Plus, on a more practical note, the roads here are well-maintained, and the infrastructure is top-notch – it is a first-world country after all. Indeed, unless you intend on going off-road and exploring some remote corners of the country (and we suggest you do btw), you won’t need to rent a 4WD.
Although the ideal self-drive itinerary around this tropical island nation takes around 12 days (and if time permits, we’d recommend doing the whole island), we’ve gone ahead and broken down this epic road-trip into manageable sections for the time-poor (did you know that New Caledonia is the perfect weekend break destination, being just two to four hours flight time from our eastern shores?) that we think are especially awesome.
So what are you waiting for? Hire that car, grab those keys and get behind the wheel!
But first, here’s where you should go…
Noumea to Kone (274 km / 3h15)
The best self-drive holidays move at a leisurely pace. So take it easy and drive north from Noumea and explore the vibrant markets of Port Moselle (just a 12-minute drive out of the city). There, you can park your car and sample some of the exotic fruits and veggies on sale, as well as the freshest seafood you’ve ever bitten into.
Continuing for another 26km, you’ll pass the agricultural town of Païta, before heading further into the New Caledonian interior, passing the charming villages of La Foa (famous for its Marguerite footbridge – built in the style of the Eiffel Tower), Moindou (a coal-mining mecca), and Fort Teremba (a former prison, where you can learn the history of colonisation in the archipelago).
At about 162 kilometres, you’ll reach Bourail, the capital of the Caldoche country and the place where cowboys and rodeos are still an actual thing. The next 108km to Kone, the capital of the Northern Province, is quite remarkable indeed.
You’ll drive past some gorgeous beaches, such as Poe beach and Roche Percée beach (where turtles often come to lay their eggs), as well some interesting natural rock formations – such as Bonhomme de Bourail, a huge monolith facing the majestic UNESCO lagoon (the largest in the world).
From here, you’ll continue along a dramatic coastline of rugged cliffs and white-as-talcum sandy beaches guarded by towering pine trees. If you’re keen, you can also stop for a surf along the way.
Upon reaching Kone, bunk up for the night at Hotel Hibiscus, a boutique, three-star property owned by a lovely French couple. Ask them about their scenic flights over the Heart of Voh for an experience you’ll never forget!
Kone to Hienghène (117 km / 2h)
Suitably rested and excited for another day on the road, spend a good chunk of the day driving at leisure across the superb Koné-Tiwaka transversal road where the wild, flat and dusty plains of western New Caledonia contrast against gushing mountain torrents, lofty peaks and deep valleys populated by Kanak tribal villages.
En route to Hienghène, you’ll eventually pass the famous Cliffs of Lindéralique – huge cliffs of black limestone that stand up to 60m tall – before entering Hienghène from the south and calling it a day in a premium bungalow at the beach-front Koulnoue Village.
Hienghene to Sarramea (281 km / 3h30)
Once you’ve reached the Northern Provence town of Hienghène, perched alongside a coastline of eroded islets, the pace of life slows down even more. Drive along winding coastal roads past Hienghène Bay and its famous Chicken Rock limestone formation. With good visibility, you’ll also be able to make out the 1,628-metre-tall Mount Panié – the highest peak in the country – from this vantage point.
Then continue for 73km alongside rivers and through valleys to the traditional town of Poindimié where you can learn about the Kanak way of life by visiting a local tribe. Who knows, they may even invite you to try bougna, a traditional dish made from tubercles, coconut milk and fish.
Continuing further on this spectacular coastal road with amazing views of the lagoon and white, sandy beaches, you’ll eventually start climbing up and over the ‘La Chaîne’ – the mountainous relief that stretches from the north to the south of the Grande Terre – before descending back down to the verdant plains of the West Coast.
At this point, either stop at the Parc des Grandes Fougères and trek through its diverse ecosystems and under its large ferns for a couple of hours, or continue to Sarraméa, where quad-biking, horse-riding, swimming in the refreshing Trou Feuillet (swimming hole) and – of course – your hotel (we recommend a night in a bungalow at Evasion Hotel) awaits.
Learn more about driving your way around New Caledonia by visiting
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