Looking for a relaxing family travel experience with more than 'just' beaches and sunshine? New Caledonia offers travellers a taste of the tropics but with a French twist. Here you can spend your days exploring remote islands, snorkelling in calm waters, and discovering this South Pacific nation's rich, intriguing history.

Financial input from France means that remote New Caledonia is not lacking in infrastructure: you won’t have to rough it here, unless you really want to. 'New Cal' is often lauded for its food options, and yes there's French wine on the menu (parents, take note).

Noumea experience

Base yourselves at the beachside communities of Baie des Citrons or Anse Vata and you’ll probably be content just pottering around for days. There are plenty of places to eat and shop (include a visit to Le Marché, the morning market, on your itinerary).

A visit to see the colourful underwater worlds of the captivating Aquarium des Lagons engages kids of all ages, then go exploring further afield on a day-trip snorkelling on the gorgeous islands of Île aux Canards (Duck Island), Îlot Maître or Amédée Islet.

In the city, the Tchou Tchou Train is the perfect way to tour the city over a couple of hours. For a better understanding of New Caledonia's history and Kanak culture, visit the spectacular Tjibaou Cultural Centre. Finally for a relaxing day with the kids, Parc Zoologique et Forestier (that’s the zoo) is a must – and if you're short on time, you can do it on a Segway.

Spend the day at the family-friendly Baie des Citrons, Noumea © Craig McLachlan / Lonely Planet

Fun in and on the water

New Caledonia's World Heritage listed lagoons are spectacular, playing host to a captivating kaleidoscope of technicolour tropical fish. Heading out snorkelling in a variety of locations is fairly simple and relatively inexpensive, but for the more adventurous there's also the opportunity to learn how to dive together here.

Travelling with perennially bored teens? Perhaps they’ll be interested in sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, water-skiing, kayaking, paddle-boarding or jetskiing? And – if you’re here between July and September – you can add whale-watching to that list too.

Heading into calm waters for some snorkelling © Craig McLachlan / Lonely Planet

Remote islands

If you're looking for a real break from it all, New Caledonia's remote islands could turn a family trip into a truly memorable experience. While you may have heard of Île des Pins, how about the Loyalty Islands of Lifou, Maré and Ouvéa? This line-up, 100km off the eastern coast of Grande Terre, can be easily reached by both air and ferry from Noumea.

Each boasts a good hotel but consider staying at the local lodgings for a more immersive experience. Thatched-roof huts are often perched beachside with hot-water showers (usually) available in a nearby ‘bathroom building’. Note that food is best pre-ordered at your accommodation before you depart. If you have fussy kids with particular needs, consider taking some supplies with you.

Staying in thatched huts, often without electricity, will amaze some modern children © Craig McLachlan / Lonely Planet
Staying in thatched huts, often without electricity, will amaze some modern children © Craig McLachlan / Lonely Planet

Île des Pins with kids

Over 100km southeast of Noumea, Île des Pins (Island of Pines) receives more visitors than the Loyalty Islands, and has plenty to keep the family entertained. Easily accessible by air and by boat, Île des Pins has a variety of accommodation, ranging from camping to 5 stars. It also boasts its own local gourmet food: the Île des Pins snail.

Top of the list for entertainment is a pirogue excursion from Baie de St Joseph that takes in the island’s legendary natural pool, La Piscine Naturelle, which is perfect for snorkelling. Kids will also love a day-trip to Nokanhui Atoll, a sliver of white sand in the surrounding reef. On land, the cave Grotte de la Reine Hortense is a fun excursion, as is a scramble up Pic N’ga, the island’s highest point at 262m.

Accommodation in New Caledonia ranges from simple family lodgings to resorts © Craig McLachlan / Lonely Planet

Explore Grande Terre as a family

The main island of Grande Terre presents a great opportunity to explore as a family and have unforgettable times together. Rent a car in Noumea and head north for a week on superb roads. Go hiking in Le Parc des Grandes Fougères (Park of the Great Ferns) near La Foa, explore historic Fort Téremba near Moindou, then head to the hole through the rock at La Roche Percée near Bourail.

Further north, take a microlight flight from Koné over the Heart of Voh (that highly Instagrammable natural heart shape in a mangrove swamp). Your pilot will probably let you peek into a ‘blue hole’ in The Lagoon, and if you’re lucky you’ll be flying low enough to spot turtles, stingrays and sharks. On the northeast coast, ride the car-ferry over the Ouaïème River, then search for historic hotspots such as the exact place where France took possession of New Caledonia in 1853.

Take a scenic flight over lagoons and coral reefs. © Craig McLachlan / Lonely Planet

Times are a changin'

Of course it wouldn’t be a proper family trip without someone wanting to turn your trip into a learning experience! New Caledonia has a fascinating history and a promising future. With over 160 years as a French colony, this South Pacific outpost communicates in French, uses Pacific francs for money, has French wine, cheese and butter in its supermarkets and Renaults, Citroens and Peugeots are on the roads, but it may be in for some major changes in the next few years.

There is a noticable cultural and economic divide between the local Kanak people and those of French descent. New Caledonia was on the UN’s Decolonisation List in 1986, and times are a changin' with a referendum on self-determination scheduled for the end of 2018. What better way to teach kids about history, explorers, colonialism, and democracy in action than by visiting a country deciding whether to remain a colony of France or to move to full independence in the early 21st century.

For inspiration on how to keep your young explorers entertained whilst on the road – or at home – sign up to the Lonely Planet Kids newsletter.

Explore related stories

Samoan beach fales


South Pacific's most idyllic islands for a tropical getaway

Sep 22, 2021 • 6 min read