Guest Post by Marie Nieves
Dominated by white-sand beaches, turquoise warm waters, breathtaking lagoons, and the second largest coral reef in the world, New Caledonia is an island rich in diverse natural beauty. So, it should be no surprise it’s one of the most visited destinations on this side of the Pacific. Still, New Caledonia is more than just a mere tropical tourist hotspot! As diverse as its natural wealth, Caillou is also a rich cultural melting pot you won’t find anywhere else in the world. This perfect mix of Melanesian and French culture is the main reason behind the islander’s tradition, history, art, and way of life, and is definitely worth exploring.
A Country of Contrasts and Unity
The dramatic tradition of New Caledonia has its base deeply rooted in the culture of the native Kanak people and their French colonizers. This contrast can best be seen in the division of the Grand Terre (Main Island). Most of the chic French-style boutiques, cafés, and neighbourhoods are still located in the south around Nouméa, whilst the Kanak population is most present in the North. Still, both cultures share one language (French), and live their life according to tribal laws – respectful of the tribe, its elders, and without individual ownership.
A Past Full of Stories and Legends
Like a caillou (Eng. pebble) drifting across the Southern Pacific, so does the past of New Caledonia float side by side with the collective present of its people. Your own journey into the island’s past might start some 3000 years ago at the Tiwi Rock Shelter. The island’s oldest settlement provides a glimpse into pre-European island life, while the petroglyphs at Bogota peninsula serve as a real-life storyboard of Kanak origin myths and legends. However, a trip to Fort Teremba will reveal the story about La Perouse, a French explorer whose legend still haunts the island, according to all locals. France’s influence on Caledonians can be summed up by the tallest metal lighthouse – Amédée, which provides you with a 360° view of the entire archipelago.
Art Fusion of Old and New
To fully understand the cultural fusion in New Caledonia, immerse yourself in the Island’s art. Start your artistic trek with a visit to the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre. Housing both historic and contemporary art exhibitions, the design of the building itself reflects New Caledonia’s Kanak tradition and Western influence. Still, the best way to enjoy Caillou art is at night. Visit one of the many clubs and bars, and dance to the rhythms of kaneka, reggae-jazz mixed with the pilou beats found in traditional Kanaka tribal dance. Ultimately, if you visit in September, be sure to visit the Femme Funk Festival.
Keeping Ties with Nature
Nature plays a major part in the heritage of New Caledonia, and one way Caledonians keep that link strong is by going to the beach. In recent years going to the beach has become the favorite past time, and the gathering place for Caledonians of all ages and races, as well as their foreign guests. So it is no wonder that Nouméa has five beaches, located near parks and shopping malls. However, among all the popular New Caledonia travel packages included in the offer, look for the ones that include Yejele Beach. Due to its clear, shallow blue waters and its close proximity to the coral reef, it is by far the most spectacular beach in Caillou.
The Island’s Sports Colours
Sport is yet another significant aspect of life in New Caledonia that merges Melanesian and French culture. The interior of Grand Terre is deeply oriented towards farming, making the rodeo the region’s sport of choice. Each year, this typically Western sport with a Kanak twist is the main attraction of Bourail Fair. Another sports event coloured with uniquely island colours is the Transcalédonienne Race. What’s original about this team race is that it features three team members, one of which must be a woman, respecting the position of female members in New Caledonia’s society.
The Culinary Mix of East and West
A country’s culture can truly be mirrored in its food. With French, Asian and Oceanic influences at its disposal, New Caledonia’s cuisine really does reflect the mix between East and West. The local French cuisine stays true to its native source and to Nouméa, but is always striving to add a tropical ingredient into the mix. However, the main culinary attraction are the local “brousse specialties”. Bougna is a traditional Kanak must-taste dish that gathers the best island ingredients into one hot steamy explosion of flavors. On the other hand, the gastronomy adventure seeker will always go for the hazelnut-flavored candlenut worm.
Once you arrive to this tropical paradise, you will realize, yourself, how this perfect balance of French and Melanesian culture has reshaped the island. With such a diverse, yet unique cultural offer, a trip to New Caledonia will definitely be a new experience that will last a lifetime.
Marie Nieves is a lifestyle blogger and adventure enthusiast who loves unusual trips, gadgets and photography. She is also the editor of High Style Life.