New Caledonia is a paradise with lush and untamed nature, wonderful underwater gardens and a fascinating and lovely indigenous culture. But for how long?
If you’ve watched the movie Gringo Trails, you’ll see what I mean. If not, I’ll summarise it quickly for you. Tourism is great to create wealth in remote areas – and sometimes help conservation – but it can also negatively rapidly change the most amazing places. I’m not saying this is the fate of New Caledonia. I sincerely hope it is not.
But if you’re an adventure traveller and New Caledonia is on your list, here are a few reasons why you should consider going now:
2017: New Caledonia is authentic, unspoiled and amazing. But for how long?
With the lessons learnt from other destinations, I do hope they will increase tourism in New Caledonia with a smart plan.
But even small and well-planned development for more tourism will remove some of my favourite facets of this destination.
I’m not saying it will be bad for most tourists – on the contrary, most of them will appreciate having more comfortable infrastructures. But for nature and adventure travellers, it may not be as authentic as it is now.
Most tourists come to New Caledonia on a cruise from Australia, on ships with about 2,000 passengers. With less than 300,000 inhabitants, the current infrastructures and services are not adapted to this sudden high number of people. The government plans to grow the number of cruise visitors to 1 million in less than ten years, with bigger boats and by opening it to the Chinese market. This means almost doubling the current amount.
They also aim to increase the number of visitors coming by plane. They have just supported the upgrade of the fleet and the development of new luxurious hotels on Lifou.
In addition to the footprint of the infrastructures that will be built to receive these additional tourists, more visitors also means more risk of damaging the eco-system.
I’m not saying tourism development will only have negative impacts.
I trust the Kanak tribes to protect their lands where they can. Their culture is very linked to the sea, the land, and their people. They know the value of nature and their properties, and they preserve them. Tourism is an excellent opportunity to create jobs so they can stay where they wish and avoid the exode to the capital. If well done, it could also be a way to find solutions to solve some issues from climate change.
But my point is that, as they start adapting to the visitors’ expectations, the exotic charms that adventure travellers love so much may slowly disappear. Plus, as more money gets into the mix, it could impact the local indigenous culture that isn’t entirely into consumerism yet.
Our experience on Lifou was very basic, connected to nature and to the tribe who hosted us. The remoteness and the intimate encounters with the local population made our trips unforgettable. I picked it as my favourite island for the great memories I have of our exchanges, and the incredible quality of the snorkelling. Increasing tourism will reduce these opportunities. It may even create a risk of tensions with the locals who may not wish to see that many foreigners are intruding in their peaceful and tranquil life, using their lands for pleasure and without the adequate level of respect.
2017: New Caledonia is suffering from climate change
Like many islands in the Pacific, climate change is a daily truth for the inhabitants of New Caledonia.
As we were walking on the north beach of Ouvea, I asked our guide if they have noticed the sea level rising in their area. Unfortunately, the answer was a lot worse than what I expected. They lost most of the beach in less than ten years. The sea is still gaining territory.
This comes in addition to the increasing number of intense cyclones. If the World does not tackle climate change more seriously, predictions are not good for these lovely Pacific Islands.
The nearby Great Barrier Reef in Australia is now very damaged. It is worrying for the corals and the underwater beauty of New Caledonia.
Climate change could also impact the tribe cultures, as more salty lands mean less cultivable areas – something they highly depend on for food and traditions.
2017: New Caledonia is safe
Tourism is taking an increasing importance in the economy and is a priority for the government. Safety is critical if they want to meet their objectives. Hence, we can hope they’ll find the means to keep the territory attractive despite the challenges that may arise.
The capital Noumea hosts a mix of an indigenous population (Kanaks) and European descendants. There’s an intricate history and sometimes complex relationship there. Unemployment and inequalities persist, and tensions exist – although I have never felt them as a tourist.
In November 2018, a referendum will ask the population about remaining a part of France or become an independent country. It’s nothing to compare with the one that recently happened in Catalonia (Spain) and all the tensions it created. The French government supports the referendum in New Caledonia. It is part of a decision made in 1998 to grant political power back to New Caledonia and its indigenous population (Kanaks). Still, there are two sides in the territory: the Independentists and Loyalists. There is a risk of political tensions that always bring a few extremist individuals. History has shown it in the past: it does not take much for extremism to change the attractiveness of a country.
New Caledonia is astonishing
I do not often go back to the places I already visited as I like to explore new ones. However, I travelled to New Caledonia twice in the last couple of years.
And if it were cheaper, I would love to go again. Both times, I had a blast hiking, snorkelling or just chilling on some of the most beautiful beaches of the world. It was also a fantastic opportunity to exchange with people from a different culture and learn from their talents and way of life.
Where is New Caledonia?
New Caledonia is a French archipelago located in the Pacific, not far from the East Coast of Australia and Vanuatu.
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