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FAQ about travelling to New Caledonia

We recently travelled to New Caledonia, and as promised in South Pacific Travel Tips, we’re here to share our experience and learnings.

We spent seven nights in this beautiful South Pacific country, staying in three different accommodations and using practically every type of transport to help us answer your questions.

We loved our visit to New Caledonia!

With delicious food, beautiful beaches and a touch of French je ne sais quoi, this tropical getaway is easily accessible from places like New Zealand and Australia, while feeling like a world away.

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A palm tree by a white-sand beach in New Caledonia.
A beautiful beach on Isle of Pines.

FAQ about visiting New Caledonia

Is New Caledonia really as expensive as they say?

How should you split your time?

Is Nouméa worth seeing?

Join us as we share our thoughts, helping you plan a worthwhile stopover or vacation.

Keep in mind… these are our personal thoughts following a relatively short vacation. We’d love for you to join our Facebook group to ask any other questions you have and to get other perspectives.

Transport in New Caledonia

How do you get from the international airport to the city?

Tontouta International Airport is located a 40-minute drive north of Nouméa, the largest city in New Caledonia.

A shuttle is the most common way to get into the city.

When we visited, tickets for the Arc en Ciel shuttle cost XPF 2,500 one-way (NZD 38/USD 22) per person.

They have an office at the airport (turn right as you exit the building), so advance bookings are not required when you first arrive.

However, you’ll need to book your return shuttle ticket online, so they know where/when to pick you up. Try to do so with more than 24 hours’ notice.

Taxis, private transfers and rental cars are also suitable transport options from the airport.

Is it worth hiring a car in New Caledonia?

When you don’t need a car

Many people can visit New Caledonia without needing a rental car.

If you’re planning to spend your time in Nouméa (which is where many of the hotels are) and/or on the smaller islands, chances are, you can make do without a rental.

After riding the shuttle to town, you’ll find buses and taxis readily available.

Many restaurants and accommodations are within walking distance too, and as the waterfront walk is flat and beautiful, it’s a nice place to go for a wander.

Or, if you’re headed for the domestic airport (which is about an hour’s drive from the international airport), you’ll hop on the shuttle and then on a domestic flight, in which case, you probably won’t need a rental car… unless you want to explore further afield once you get to your final island destination, that is.

When you might need a car

If you plan to visit resorts or accommodations outside of Nouméa or want to explore the outer islands in more detail, a rental car could be a great option.

Likewise, if you’d like to camp in New Caledonia, a rental car will help you travel the relatively large distances between some campsites.

You don’t necessarily need a rental for the duration of your visit though.

We arranged a rental car for the first two days of our trip. We picked it up at the airport, headed 2 hours north (where we stayed for two nights) and then drove ourselves to the domestic airport.

We were happy being car-less for the remainder of our New Caledonia travels.

Did you know? They drive on the right-hand-side of the road in New Caledonia and practically all cars have a manual gearbox.

An official (but seldom used) road in New Caledonia - looking out to the beach.
If you want to get off the beaten track, you’ll want a rental car.

Do you need an international licence (IDP)?

Because French is the main language in New Caledonia, you do need an international driver’s licence if your licence is in any language other than French.

So, if you’re travelling from New Zealand, Australia, or the US, for example, and your home licence is written in English, you will need an IDP.

With that said, when we showed our IDP at the rental counter, the lady there wasn’t at all interested – she only needed our home licences.

However, should we have had an accident, an IDP would have been required by the police, and might have been requested by our insurance company.

So though you probably won’t be asked for one, we always recommend travelling with an IDP (which acts as an official translation), if the country you are driving in speaks a language that’s different to your own.

For the cost of an IDP, it’s not worth the risk if something goes wrong.

Note: an IDP is not a driver licence. It’s a translation of your driver licence and is only valid while the accompanying driver licence is current. You must always carry both your [home] licence and the IDP while you’re driving.

NZ Transport Authority
Nathan driving a rental car in New Caledonia.

Spending in New Caledonia

What currency do they use there?

Local currency is known as CFP (Collectivités françaises du Pacifique) or XPF – or more commonly, as the Pacific franc.

It is used by the islands in French Polynesia.

What’s the best way to pay for things?

Cash is widely accepted, but seldom needed. The only time that we needed cash on our week-long visit was for a taxi ride.

The rest of the time we used our New Zealand credit card.

We would typically use our Wise card when travelling abroad, however, at the time of our visit, XPF wasn’t supported. Because of these, we used our normal credit card to get Airpoints.

We were not charged additional credit card fees anywhere in New Caledonia, so just had the normal international fees charged by our bank.

Is New Caledonia an expensive place to visit?

New Caledonia is an expensive place to visit!

Having visited over 75 countries, New Caledonia would be up there as one of the most expensive we’ve experienced.

The following figures give a real-life indication as to what things cost there.

If you’re travelling on a budget, we’d encourage you to head along to the supermarket once you arrive to self-cater where possible (this is much more difficult in the resorts).

You can also take snacks from home – this helped save us money when we were hungry between meals.

The cost of food

A kebab with chips and a 250mL Coke cost us XPF 2,500 (NZD 38/USD 22) at a takeaway store. The same for a poke bowl and can of Coke in town.

A frozen cocktail at the resort was approximately XPF 1,950 (NZD 29.40/USD 17.40).

Two mains, a shared ice cream and a can of Pepsi cost us XPF 7,340 (NZD 110.70/USD 65.50) at Le Méridien Ile des Pins… and that was ordering a burger from the snack menu. Had I ordered a normal main, it would have been another XPF 1,000 more!

On the bright side, though, most of our meals were generously sized, so we didn’t need entrées or desserts to fill up.

With a big buffet breakfast, we generally managed to share a lunch without going hungry.

The cost of accommodation

We booked entry-level rooms for two adults at each of the following locations…

Sheraton New Caledonia Deva Spa & Golf Resort

NZD 430/night (studio unit including breakfast).

Le Méridien Ile des Pins

NZD 560/night (studio unit including breakfast).

Do I need a meal package at Ile des Pins?

We priced up the meal package at Le Méridien Ile des Pins and found that, for us, it would be significantly cheaper to purchase meals as we needed them.

For a meal package to make sense for us, we needed to eat multiple courses at each sitting, and given the size of the portions (and our free included breakfast), there really wasn’t a need to commit to full-board.

Unless you’re a big eater, a full-board meal package is unlikely to be more affordable than paying for what you eat from the menu.

Chateau Royal Beach Resort And Spa, Nouméa

NZD 325/night (one-bedroom suite, not including breakfast).

The cost of transport

Our rental car cost NZD265 for three days (total included mileage 450km).

We thought domestic flights were surprisingly affordable, paying NZD 250 per person to fly Noumea to Ile des Pins return.

We could have got them for a bit less than that had we booked earlier too.

Do you need to tip there?

Tipping is not expected or common in New Caledonia – but there is one exception…

Hotels and resorts often add a service charge (and a tax) to the advertised nightly rate.

We booked directly with two hotels and both charged these fees in addition to our stay, so keep an eye out for additional costs. Only one hotel (booked through Expedia) didn’t add a service charge.

All three hotels also included the option to add a tip to bar/restaurant bills.

Remember though, this isn’t expected so don’t feel bad leaving it off if you’d prefer not to tip.

How to split your time in New Caledonia

Is it worth spending a night or two on Grand Terre (the main island)?

We enjoyed Grand Terre and would recommend spending some time there, but it depends on what you want from your vacation.

Pros
  • Save money by not booking domestic flights.
  • A wide range of accommodations can save you money.
  • More varied dining options near Nouméa.
cons
  • Grand Terre is nice but it doesn’t have the same beautiful outlook as the outer islands.
  • The city of Nouméa itself isn’t much to get excited about.

Depending on your thoughts on these points, how much time you have and your budget, you should have your answer as to whether it’s worth spending time on Grand Terre.

Safety

Is safety a concern in Nouméa?

We had no safety concerns at any point during our trip to New Caledonia.

We’d been told by a friend that they felt a little unsafe during their visit to central Nouméa years ago, but we didn’t feel that on our recent visit.

We walked through a few fairly large groups of men in the centre of town, which might have been intimidating if I were travelling by myself (or if it were late at night), but they gave us no cause for concern.

They gave us a friendly ‘bonjour’ as we continued on our way.

With that said, we always recommend taking sensible precautions when travelling – particularly after dark.

Do you need to worry about sea creatures in the ocean?

The waters around New Caledonia are home to a number of potentially dangerous sea creatures, including sea snakes, jellyfish, sharks, lionfish and pufferfish.

These sea creatures all pack a punch if you get on the wrong side of them – whether that be their sting or bite – but are they a genuine concern to visitors?

Sharks

2023 saw a number of shark attacks near Nouméa and, as a result, some of the main beaches were closed for swimming. These beaches have since reopened with shark nets to improve safety for swimmers.

When we were there, we didn’t see any sharks (nor did we hear of any reported sightings).

Jellyfish

Our resort at Isle of Pines mentioned that some bluebottle jellyfish had been spotted in other parts of New Caledonia, and sure enough, we saw two when we were out snorkelling.

Don’t let jellyfish put you off though – just keep your eyes near the surface. From above, you’ll notice their bodies (they look like little plastic bubbles floating on the water) and under the water, you’ll see their blue stingers.

If you see a jellyfish, just give it plenty of space.

Nathan Chant, walking out to go snorkelling in New Caledonia at the Natural Pool.
Sea snakes

We didn’t see any sea snakes on our visit, though another swimmer at the Le Méridien Ile des Pins beach did.

Sea snakes are generally afraid of people though, so if you give them a wide berth, you really don’t have anything to worry about.

Although sea snakes are venomous, they are extremely hesitant to bite and rarely inject humans, even when they do.

Despite their venom, sea snakes prefer to avoid humans and don’t bite unless provoked. In fact, decades often pass without a single reported death from a sea snake bite.

A-Z Animals

The same goes for lionfish and pufferfish, both of which are poisonous but not generally interested in people.

Can you drink the water in New Caledonia?

We were offered tap water at all the restaurants we visited and had no issues drinking tap water in our accommodations.


We really enjoyed our visit to New Caledonia and would recommend it as a great South Pacific holiday destination.

You’re you’re considering a visit, drop us a line in South Pacific Travel Tips on Facebook – we’d love to help plan your trip!

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