by Ben Horvath
If you think Bali is crowded, The Maldives are exy and The Ments are a bit of a “jock fest” then make sure you consider New Caledonia. New Cal is an extremely interesting nearby alternative, minus the crowds and hype of the aforementioned locations.
New Caledonia is only a two and a half hour flight from Sydney and yet it remains relatively isolated and will likely remain so in the foreseeable future. Boats are essential, and a local surf guide an absolute must.
New Cal has a warm, temperate, semi or sub – tropical climate with water temps that average 21 to 23 degrees during our winter. It is a civilized western style Island, yet you still experience a pleasant cultural hit with a potpourri of French speaking/ Euro and Melanesian locals and their different customs and lingual tastes.
There is no shortage of reef pass options all within a day or so travel by Cat. There are all sorts of nooks and crannies and reefs facing different directions to accommodate most wind, swell angles and variables.The surf is generally pretty uncrowded. The fishing, diving and food are mental. Most surf breaks are reef passes on the outer atolls so they are exposed to any wind. Any breeze over 20 knots can blow out the outside reefs and also make travelling to more protected options on the Cat a tad uncomfortable.
To combat those minor hassles you can choose to stay on land camps at Ouano or Nekweta. Both have numerous quality reef pass options less than a few kms offshore accessible by camp-based speed boats. Both options have their pros and cons.
May we suggest you could do worse than combining the two? Make your first few days or first week a boat trip on The Black Lion or Kuare and then settle at Ouano or Nekwetta or both, for the remainder of your New Cal stay.
How to get around
Perhaps the most critical piece of information regarding any New Cal trip is – You cannot possibly expect to access most of the reef passes or indeed either surf camp without hooking up with Sebastian from Nautilus Tours. Seb was our host, our cook and surf guide all rolled into one. Seb and his team (Manu, Pierre, Fabricio, Dominique and Gill all went out of their way to accommodate every little request our crew of six– Jamie, Matt, Charlie, Josh, Ken and Ben threw at them).
If you are planning a surf trip to New Caledonia make sure you call us on 1300 009283 and we will hook you up with Seb from Nautilus or even Gill if you wish to have your trip documented by a pro photographer.
During autumn and winter in the the South Pacific, storms charging through the Roaring Forties push swells up through the Tasman Sea and beyond, directly towards the SW Pacific islands like New Caledonia.
Strong storm activity in the Southern Ocean extending into the Tasman Sea delivered a solid eight foot SW swell to New Cal’s offshore reef passes during the second week in June when we visited. It was the same swell that delivered fifteen foot plus Cloudbreak and eight foot Restaraunts during The Volcom Fiji Pro. The long 15 to 18 second swell period ensured the swell wrapped into all sorts of reef passes up and down the New Caledonian coast.
Open to swell from the Tasman and Coral seas. All of the surf spots are at least a few kilometres from land and so are well and truly at the mercy of local winds. The predominant wind in winter is SE. Most south-facing Pacific coasts are onshore or cross-shore in these conditions. However most of the quality reef passes on New Caledonia are on the west coast which means the majority of set ups are offshore or at least side/offshore in SE trades. The same trades that effect SE Qld. This, combined with the fact that New Caledonia picks up mostly SW to SE swell makes it a pretty enticing autumn/ winter and even early spring surf destination.
The Best Lagoon Ever
New Caledonia is home to the largest reef lagoon in the world, which is populated with heaps of uninhabited islands, reefs and all sorts of fish. If there is no swell your options are fishing, island hopping, snorkelling or swimming. Fishing and snorkelling gear is provided on the Cat free of charge. If you’re hardcore into either, maybe bring your own gear, but casual fishermen or divers are covered.
When and how
The best time to go is from March to late September; Roaring Forties swells push up between Australia and New Zealand, via the Tasman Sea before unloading on New Cal’s southwest-facing reef passes. Prevailing SE trade winds are side/offshore.