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May 28, 2008

Island of Surprises

Discover New Caledonia, French Jewel of the South Pacific

   
Planning a Visit

When: Good fishing should be available anytime, though look for more chance of rain January through March and July through August. Cooler, windier weather occurs in winter here, June through September. (All eight days we fished in October were perfectly dry.)
 
How to get here: Several airlines serve Noumea, though none directly from the United States. We flew to Auckland on Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.com), which has regular service from there into Noumea (a 2 1/2-hour flight).
 
What to bring: Passport - but the good news is that no visa is required generally. Both outfitters can lend some fishing gear but emphasis is on "some": Bring some good gear with you, depending on your preferred fishing style/species. We had no chance to buy any      tackle so what we brought was critical. By the way: These bones seem to have been pursued so far almost exclusively with fly; it could be productive indeed if someone went after them with soft plastics such as Gulp! tails on light jig heads. A light jacket and long-sleeved shirt are warranted much of the year, especially early or late in the day when breezy.
 
Cost: You want cheap, fish closer to home. It'll cost you plenty to get here and a fair amount to be here. Prices in New Caledonia are decidedly not third-world; there's not much at the bargain level. On the other hand, the facilities are generally not third-world, either, and as noted, the cuisine is memorable. Plan to spend some money (and gain some weight).
 
Other activities: New Cally is a great vacation spot for many things, especially those water-based, and a great place for a combination family/fishing vacation, with truly world-class conditions for diving, windsurfing and kiteboarding, plus wonderful kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, deer hunting and more. Noumea has great, scenic jogging and biking paths. Its new public aquarium is modest but very nicely designed.
 
Who: Two major outfitters offer their services: New Caledonia Fishing Safaris (www.fishinpeace.com), with whom we fished, and Le Poisson Banane (www.lepoissonbanane.com). We stayed at Malabou Beach Hotel at Poum, way up north, and Le Surf Hotel in Noumea - both are part of the NC Grand Hotels chain (www.grands-hotels.nc). At the Isle of Pines, we stayed at the Hotel Oure (at press time, the website was not working - but the facility is marvelous). General information on New Caledonia and visiting here is available at www.visitnewcaledonia.com, which includes tourism contact information for the north island, the south island and the Loyalty Island group.
 
Flexibility: It's a good thing to have. In droves. Remote Pacific Island destinations for anglers can be unpredictable and squirrelly in terms of operations and logistics. Also, you may find claims of services on NC fishing operators' websites to be a bit optimistic. Things  may not go quite as planned/promised, and in fact, you can probably count on that, as we found many days. That may change as fishing operators get more experience and become more professional, but for now, consider it all part of the trip and part of the charm of visiting here; if you can't do that, better bring your blood-pressure medication.
 
Drink up! Unlike many remote-island destinations, New Caledonia's tap water is reputedly very safe. Everyone in our group drank local water from hotel taps in the north end, on the Isle of Pines and in Noumea with absolutely no problems.
 
Future development: Richard Bertin, with New Caledonia Fishing Safaris, has big plans - plans that involve a mothership, a fleet of Boston Whalers and more. But for now, simply putting together a short trip to wade the flats seemed to be a major undertaking, so the realization of grand schemes may be a long time coming. That said, who knows? An efficient, properly equipped and staffed operation will take the guesswork out of fishing New Caledonia and make it a world-class destination.