Tourism is the largest industry in the Pacific paradise that is New Caledonia, a French colony offering the best of both Melanesian and French cultures in its own unique islander fusion. The other trend increasing on the islands is the ever rising interest in local real estate on the part of those that can afford to live here on a more permanent basis. Here are a few natural reasons why they would want do just that…
New Caledonia boasts the world’s largest bio-diversity per square kilometre. Much like in Australia, flora and fauna have developed here in virtual isolation, resulting in many species endemic to this remote corner of the world. For example, New Caledonia has 10 times more reptile species than Australia! They have overtaken the islands, as they thrive in tropical heat and do not require a large territory for survival. So if you’re keen, you’ll be able to count 27 species of skinks and 21 species of geckos while here! The largest gecko specimen, nocturnal Leaches Giant Gecko, can get to 40cm in length, and I suspect, has developed the fat gene! It’s a little tough to spot due to fantastic camouflage abilities, however if you’re lucky to catch one moving, you’ll be able to tell it’s there due to the vibrant yellow-coloured soles of its feet.
There are plenty of birds to spot on the islands but a few particularly stand out. The cute lime-green Uvea Parakeet lives only on Uvea Island. They are on the brink of extinction however, due to loss of natural habitat. The Cagou is New Caledonia’s national bird and again, a truly unique one at that. Although related to cranes, it bears some similarities to NZ’s kiwi, also facing endangered status due to its flightless nature, barking noises, one egg per year habit and nesting-on-the-ground preferences. However, it makes up for a totally impractical nature with looks and dancing abilities, boasting a lovely long crest which gets put to good use during complex courtship rituals. So consider traveling to New Caledonia to see this while you still can.
The Nautilus is truly a remnant of the dinosaur era, and has been around for about 100,000,000 years! Nautilus Macromphalus, is endemic to New Caledonia (of course), and is the only cephalopod with an external shell, up to 30cm in length. This fascinating and mysterious creature has its own propulsion system, as some of the sections of its shell are filled with gas and others with water or air to adjust buoyancy. The Noumea Aquarium managed to breed some, although scientists know zip about the nautilus reproductive system to this day! Cala, Stuckie and Nemo are doing well and can still be admired at the Aquarium.
The only land mammals you’ll be able to spot in New Caledonia are fruit bats and rodents, plus deer which were introduced by the French. However it is the amazing underwater world that attracts most visitors here. Although a snorkeller’s paradise, New Caledonia is also home to some dangerous creatures like the poisonous sea snake Tricot Rayé, characterised by beige and black stripes, and a bite that can kill you in 5 minutes. The Kanaks, indigenous people from the islands, have a good saying about them: “Leave them alone and they’ll do the same.”
If you are into sea slugs, you’ll love spotting the many colourfully spectacular species while snorkelling and scuba-diving. There are of course plenty of coral reef visitors to check out as well, including gorgeous tropical fish, dolphins, dugongs sharks and whales…
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Patricia Bieszk is a freelance writer who loves to travel around the world to admire creatures great and small.
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