New Caledonia, is a "sui generis collectivity" (in practice an overseas territory) of France, made up of a main island (Grande Terre), the Loyalty Islands, and several smaller islands. It is located in the region of Melanesia in the southwest Pacific. At about half the size of Taiwan, it has a land area of 18,575.5 square kilometres (7,172 sq mi). The population was 244,600 inhabitants as of January 2008 official estimates. The capital and largest city of the territory is Nouméa. The currency is the CFP franc.
New Caledonia is located around 21°30′S 165°30′E in the southwest Pacific Ocean, approximately 1,200 kilometres (746 mi) east of Australia and 1,500 kilometres (932 mi) northwest of New Zealand. The island nation of Vanuatu lies to the northeast. It is made up of a main island, the Grande Terre, and several smaller islands, the Belep archipelago to the north of the Grande Terre, the Loyalty Islands to the east of the Grande Terre, the Île des Pins (Isle of Pines) to the south of the Grande Terre, the Chesterfield Islands and Bellona Reefs further to the west.
The Grande Terre is by far the largest of the islands, and the only mountainous island. It has an area of 16,372 square kilometres (6,321 sq mi), and is elongated northwest-southeast, 350 kilometres (217 mi) in length and 50 to 70 kilometres (31–44 mi) wide. A mountain range runs the length of the island, with five peaks over 1,500 meters (4,900 ft). The highest point is Mont Panié at 1,628 meters (5,341 ft) elevation. The total area of New Caledonia is 19,060 square kilometers (7,359 sq mi), 18,575 square kilometers (7,172 sq mi) of those being land.
New Caledonia is one of the northernmost parts of a (93%) submerged continent called Zealandia. It sank after drifting away from Australia 60–85 million years ago and from Antarctica between 130 and 85 million years ago.
New Caledonia lies astride the Tropic of Capricorn, between 19° and 23° south latitude. The climate of the islands is tropical, and rainfall is highly seasonal, brought by trade winds that usually come from the east. Rainfall averages about 1,500 millimetres (59 in) yearly on the Loyalty Islands, 2,000 millimetres (79 in) at low elevations on eastern Grande Terre, and 2,000-4,000 millimetres (79–157.5 in) at high elevations on the Grande Terre. The western side of the Grande Terre lies in the rain shadow of the central mountains, and rainfall averages 1,200 millimetres (47 in) per year.
There are two main seasons - a dry season, and a warm and wet season. The dry cooler months are from April to November with daily temperature ranges from 17-27oC. During the wet season (December to March) the temperature can get as hot as 32oC. The south-east trade winds temper the heat, and evenings are pleasantly cool. The wet season sees the occasional cyclone hitting the islands.
New Caledonia's Ecology
New Caledonia is considered one of the world's most botanically-important, and critically endangered hotspots. Unlike many of the Pacific Islands, which are of relatively recent volcanic origin, New Caledonia is an ancient fragment of the Gondwana super-continent. New Caledonia and New Zealand separated from Australia 85 million years ago, and from one another 55 million years ago. This isolated New Caledonia from the rest of the world's landmasses, and made it a Noah's Ark of sorts, preserving a snapshot of prehistoric Gondwanan forests. The country still shelters an extraordinary diversity of unique, endemic, and extremely primitive plants and animals of Gondwanan origin.
In the past, New Caledonia's wildlife was even more ancient, almost resembling throwbacks to the Mesozoic. New Caledonia was inhabited by Meiolania, a gigantic turtle resembling a dinosaur ankylosaur the size of a car. Another inhabitant of New Caledonia was Sylviornis, a huge bird with a long, reptilian tail that resembles a dinosaur, probably most closely resembling the oviraptors. The dominant predators of New Caledonia were mekosuchine crocodiles, specifically Mekosuchus. These crocs resembled armored, quadrupedal theropod dinosaurs, and fossil remains suggest they were terrestrial and partly arboreal. All of these creatures died out when humans arrived on New Caledonia.
Although the majority of the country's citizens are unaware of the extraordinary nature of their country's biological heritage, a few of the country's animals and plants have become somewhat emblematic in local culture. Among the best known is a hen-sized, flightless bird, commonly-known as the Cagou or Kagu, which has a large crest and an odd barking call. Its song and image are frequently seen as nationally-recognized icons. Another commonly used cultural emblem is the Columnar or Cook's Pine (Araucaria columnaris), an important symbol in Kanak culture. The Niaouli tree (also native to Australia and New Guinea), is of medicinal interest, locally and abroad. Its sap (which contains gomenol, a camphor-smelling compound), is used to treat head colds, and as an antiseptic. It also shows potential to treat other medical ailments.
Before the Europeans arrived, there was no mammal other than the Roussette (aka flying fox), a large vegetarian bat, considered a local delicacy. Less well-known by the native population is the fact their country is home to a species of plant, (Amborella trichopoda), believed to be genetically close to the ancestor of all flowering plants, or the fact their nation boasts the largest number and diversity of conifer species in the world, per unit of geographic area (a remarkable fact, given that conifers are usually relatively rare in tropical regions).
The islands contain two precipitation zones: Higher-rainfall areas (located on the Loyalty Islands, Isle of Pines (Île des Pins), and on the eastern side of Grande Terre) which support New Caledonia rain forests, and a more arid region, home to the now exceedingly-endangered New Caledonia dry forests, located in the rain shadow on the western side of Grande Terre. Europeans settled on the dry west coast of Grande Terre, leaving the east (as well as the Loyalty Islands and the Isle of Pines) to the Kanaks, and resulting in an ethno-cultural division which coincides with the natural one. Extensive farming by Europeans in the dry forest areas, has caused these forest ecosystems to virtually disappear.
It is a vast oversimplification, however, to merely describe New Caledonia's extremely important, complex and diverse ecology in terms of precipitation zones. Species and ecological diversity is further complicated by soil type (degree and type of mineralization), altitude, and geographic location (for instance, Loyalty Islands and Isle of Pines have flora that is distinct from Grande Terre).
In addition to the remarkable terrestrial environment of New Caledonia, the country is also home to important aquatic ecosystems. Its freshwater ecology also evolved in long isolation, and the New Caledonia rivers and streams are home to many endemic species. Moreover, the New Caledonia Barrier Reef, which surrounds Grande Terre and the Isle of Pines (Île des Pins), is the second-largest coral reef in the world after Australia's Great Barrier Reef, reaching a length of 1,500 kilometres (930 mi). Like its terrestrial counterpart, the Caledonian reef system has great species diversity, is home to endangered dugongs (Dugong dugong), and is an important nesting site for the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas). The Nautilus is a living-fossil species, once common during the age of the dinosaurs, and survives today in the waters surrounding New Caledonia.
In January 2002, the French government proposed listing New Caledonia's reefs as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO listed New Caledonia Barrier Reef on the World Heritage List under the name The Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems on 7 July 2008.
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Number of Species
Number of bird species: 134
National Bird - Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus
Number of endemics: 14
New Caledonian Lorikeet Charmosyna diadema New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar Aegotheles savesi Cloven-feathered Dove Drepanoptila holosericea New Caledonian Imperial-Pigeon Ducula goliath Kagu Rhynochetos jubatus New Caledonian Rail Gallirallus lafresnayanus White-bellied Goshawk Accipiter haplochrous New Caledonian Myzomela Myzomela caledonica Crow Honeyeater Gymnomyza aubryana Barred Honeyeater Phylidonyris undulata Yellow-bellied Robin Eopsaltria flaviventris New Caledonian Whistler Pachycephala caledonica New Caledonian Cuckooshrike Coracina analis New Caledonian Grassbird Megalurulus mariei
Fatbirder's very own checklists are now available through WebBirder
Field Guide to the Birds of the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
by Chris Doughty, Nicholas Day & Andrew Plant Softcover. A&C Black, 1999.
ISBN: 071364690XBuy this book from NHBS.com
Birds of Melanesia: Bismarcks, Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia
By Guy Dutson | 447 pages | 75 colour plates | colour photos | colour maps | black & white illustrations | tables | Christopher Helm | Softcover | 2011
ISBN: 9780713665406Buy this book from NHBS.com
Guides & Tour Operators
Kiwi Wildlife Tours
Birds & birdwatching in the South Pacific Islands…
We'll fly back to Honiara and take an international flight to La Tontouta in New Caledonia, via Port Vila, Vanuatu. In New Caledonia the big highlight is the endemic Kagu, which thrives (maybe 500 birds) in one location at Parc de la Riviere Bleu…
New Caledonia is a territory where you will observe rare and/or endemic birds (sea, bush and dry forest birds). Some species nest on sheltered lagoon's islands. Some of these islands are strictly…
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
2008 [09 September] - Mark Finn - Tahiti, New Calednonia & Fiji
This was the first Birdwatching Breaks tour of the South Pacific taking in the islands of Tahiti, Moorea, New Caledonia, Lifou and the two Fijian islands of Viti Levu and Taveuni. During the tour we recorded 128 species. We started by visiting Tahiti where we quickly located all the remaining endemic birds including the globally-threatened Tahiti Monarch and Tahiti Reed Warbler…
2009 [10 October] - Göran Pettersson
This visit to New Caledonia was a detour on a trip to SE Australia. The purpose of our visit was quite obvious – Kagu and the endemics. We also hoped for some good seabird watching (as we got on Lifou Island and in Nomuea)…
2009 [08 August] - Chuck Bell
…We were up early and had a good breakfast out on our porch in the dark. We ate cereal, yogurt, brie and bread. After being distracted by Rainbow Lorikeets in the trees over our hotel, as well as a small horde of noisy Common Mynas, we got on the road a little after dawn…
2013 [09 September] - Phil Gregory - New Caledonia, Fiji & Vanuatu
…The ancient monotypic family, Kagu, was great, showing really well, with 4+ birds the first day and lovely sightings of 7 on the second day. The gray ghost of the forest was again outright winner for bird of the trip….
2011 [09 September] - Phil Gregory
2012 [09 September] - Phil Gregory
…Kagu happily was great, showing really well, with 7 birds the first day and a lovely couple of sightings on the second day. The gray ghost of the forest was, as ever, a hands-down winner for bird of the trip…
2013 [09 September] - David Milton
...We then spent the rest of the morning walking around in this forest searching for the White-eye. Eventually heard the call about 11:30 and followed a mixed flock of White-eyes that included 1 or 2 Large Lifou White-eye. We all had reasonable views of one bird after chasing the flock through the forest for about 15 min. PM went back to the airport and visited the park to the east of the airport entrance trying to track down calling Red-bellied Fruit-dove that only Ron had seen briefly. After about 30 min searching for calling birds in dense mango trees in the park, we had good views of a pair calling from the dense vegetation....
2014 [08 August] - Mark van Beirs
Our New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa tour offers the best of South Pacific birding with well-behaved flightless, brilliantly-coloured or mega skulking species, comfortable lodging, smooth travelling, glorious scenery, lush lowland and dripping montane forests, turquoise seas, palm-lined white beaches, impressive shield volcanoes and a peculiar mix of Melanesian and Polynesian culture...
2014 [10 October] - Peter Marsh
...We visited Mt Koghis briefly. The restaurant appears to be back in operation. We walked into the forest past the flying-fox adventure park but only had time for a look. The area used to be known for Thicketbird but there did not appear to be much suitable habitat now. We had also hoped for White-bellied Goshawk but were disappointed...
2015 [08 August] - Tommy P. Pedersen
Sites and annotated bird list
2016 [07 July] - David Hoddinott & Rich Lindie - Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu & New Caledonia
...over a dozen of the region's endemics, including Barred Honeyeater, New Caledonian Friarbird, South Melanesian Cuckooshrike, Streaked Fantail, Melanesian Flycatcher, New Caledonian Crow and Yellow-bellied Flyrobin. Further down the road, outside the reserve...
2016 [08 August] - Janos Olah - New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu & Samoa
We managed to see most of our targets, doing particularly well on Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji where we cleaned up on all gettable specialties and only two special birds were missed on Samoa – which is a great result for a leaderless party! The total trip list was 141 recorded species with only one ’heard only’
Places to Stay
Accommodation in New Caledonia
A list of clickable links to various hotels in a number of locations.
Société Calédonienne d'Ornithologie
Protection des oiseaux de la Nouvelle-Calédonie…
Le Parc Provincial des Grandes Fougeres
At the crossroads of Farino, Moindou and Sarraméa, the Giant Fern Park is a welcoming and people-friendly environment, perfect for walking or riding mountain bikes. You can create your own itineraries from the many walking trails in the 4 500 hectare tropical rain forest, which is set in an altitude of between 400m and 700m...
Riviere Bleue Provincial Park
The Blue River Provincial Park was created in 1980 and stretches over 9,045 hectares. Lumber and mining operations at the turn of the century have left marks that are still visible. Learn more about the history of New Caledonian in this unique natural environment, where you can view the scrub that has grown back in the mining zones and the rainforest...
New Caledonia Sparrowhawk Accipiter haplochrous
New Caledonia became isolated about 100 million years ago when Gondwanaland separated into various continents including Australia. Its plants and animals are highly distinctive and unique. It is recognized by biologists as a cradle of evolution, a storehouse of faunal and floral antiquities…
Ouvea Parakeet Eunymphicus cornutus uvaensis
Species account and image…
Endemic Birds of New Caledonia
22 species of endemic birds are found on New Caledonia with a further 9 species of very restricted range…
Caledonian Nature - photos of many birds and other nature pictures…