If you're looking for a sailing or yachting holiday in the South Pacific, one of the best options is New Caledonia. Surrounded by the world's second largest reef, this is a vast area with a lifetime's worth of places to explore. The coast of the main island is dotted with pretty anchorages and offshore there are dozens of islands in every direction.
Here are the major cruising areas to explore by boat:
Noumea and Surrounds
Noumea is the provincial capital of New Caledonia and home to more than two-thirds of the population. It is located on the south west coast and the main departure point for yacht trips. It is a great area to explore for shorter trips, with many interesting places to visit within a short distance of Noumea harbor.
There are several small islands offering sheltered anchorages for day or night stays. They include:
Amadee Island (Ilot Amadee): Although only 400 meters long, the island features a strikingly visible 65-meter lighthouse which provides navigation through one of the only three natural breaks in the lagoon's outer reef (the break, called the Boulari Passage is not far from here). Amadee is only 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Noumea so makes an ideal day trip. During the day it can be rather crowded with visitors (both the Mary D cruise boat and the Amadee Diving Club are based there) but it's fun to walk around the island and to take the 247 steps to the top of the lighthouse for a fabulous view.
Signal Island (Ilot Signal): This is a small and deserted island slightly north of Amadee Island. There is a wharf and several moorings on the northern side. The snorkeling is excellent on this side and the island itself has a nature trail that is also well worth exploring.
Ilot Maitre: The distinctive feature of this island is the row of overwater bungalows.
They are part of L'Escapade Resort which covers most of the island. There is good snorkeling and anchoring near the bungalows.
Southern Coast: Noumea to Prony Bay
The south west of Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia, is dotted with small bays, the best of which is Prony Bay at the southern tip. This is a large bay with many great anchorages and shelter in any winds.
Just offshore is Ile Ouen. This island makes an ideal stopping point between Noumea and the Isle of Pines to the south. The island, as does the mainland in this area, shows the distinct evidence of mining. In fact, one of New Caledonia's three vast nickel mines is located near Prony Bay at Goro. The mine employs more than 6000 people and operates 24 hours a day.
Between Prony Bay and Ile Ouen is the Woodin Channel. As well as offering some great sailing, this is a favorite place for spotting humpback whales which migrate here between July and September.
Isle of Pines
This has been called the Jewel of New Caledonia and there is no doubt it is picture-postcard-perfect with gorgeous reefs, powdery white sand beaches, and almost impossibly turquoise waters. Its name was given by Captain Cook when he first visited here in 1774, from the unique pine trees that are seen prominently all over the island.
It is the most popular tourist destination in New Caledonia outside of Noumea and is increasingly visited by cruise ships.
The island is a good two-day trip (62 miles/100 kilometers) from Noumea and requires some careful reef navigation with a couple of tricky spots. Once there, though, it's simply a case of making your way around the island and dropping anchor at wherever takes your fancy.
The southern and western parts of the island are the most inhabited with several beautiful beaches. There is a five-star Meridian resort in Oro Bay (Baie d'Oro), the most upscale on the island and New Caledonia's leading resort for both its location and quality.
One of the best anchorages on the island is at Gadji Bay (Baie de Gadji) at the northern end. There are a number of small islands dotting the area and the beaches are gorgeous.
It's also quite deserted most of the time.
The Southern Lagoon
The large expanse of water to the west and south of the Isle of Pines extends to the outer reaches of the lagoon. It is a big area but it is one of the best-kept secrets in New Caledonia and even in sailing in the South Pacific. Not many boats come here so it's a completely pristine and magical area - and you're probably going to have every anchorage to yourself.
There are numerous small islands and reaching them is limited only by the time you have and how far you want to travel. In saying that, distances are not absolutely vast and from Ilot Koko at the southernmost point it is about three days' sail back to Noumea.
Some of the highlights of the Southern Lagoon sailing area are:
Ilot Koko: A tiny and remote island at the southern extremity of the lagoon. This and the Belep archipelago to the north of mainland New Caledonia are the only homes in the world to the magnificent seabird, the Fou Ra Pieds Rouge (which translates as the "crazy bird with red feet").
Ilot Tere: Don't tell anyone about this island! The anchorage to the north of the island is an incredible spot with a break in the reef creating a gorgeous white sandy beach and crystal-clear water.
The Five Islands: This is a cluster of five small islands, Ilot Ua, Ilot Uatio, Ilot Uaterembi, Ilot N'ge and Ilot Gi. All offer safe anchorages and shelter - and yet more beautiful beaches and coral reefs.
Ilot Kouare: This is another wonderful reef-fringed island and a good overnight anchorage (on the northern side). It is within a day's sail of Noumea.
Other Cruising Areas
If you have more time, other sailing areas are the eastern side of Grande Terre (including the Loyalty Islands), the Belep Islands to the north and even Vanuatu (this is included in the charter area by New Caledonia yacht charter companies). But the areas listed above have everything to keep you as occupied—and enthralled—as you could possibly want.