Escorted Group Tour 16-25 June 2020

New Caledonia: An alternative to the Galapagos Islands, a Darwinian archipelago, not a ‘Lost World’.

New Caledonia is an alternative version of the Galapagos Islands. Both are Darwinian archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean, places with varied landscapes and soils where life has been able to evolve in its own special way.

The Galapagos is famous for its giant tortoises, marine iguanas, Darwin’s finches and its endemic flora. Many plants in tropical New Caledonia depend on birds and flying foxes for pollination and seed dispersal. New Caledonia is home to the giant gecko; giant pigeon; the tool-making New Caledonian crow – a species as good at problem solving as a primate; the beautiful, flightless kagu; numerous endemic species of fish; and it is a stronghold of the nautilus, a complex living fossil related to ammonites that, unlike them, has survived five mass extinctions.

Much is made of New Caledonia being a ‘lost world’, an isolated fragment of ancient Gondwana set adrift in the ocean, however the truth is even more fascinating. New Caledonia’s geological history is linked to the largely submerged continent of Zealandia. Reaching its current position in the Eocene around 55 million years ago and carrying a slice of Gondwanan flora and fauna with it, New Caledonia sank.

If New Caledonia was underwater for 20 million years, how come the archipelago boasts the world’s most ancient flowering plant, the world’s only parasitic conifer, the world’s largest tree fern, and even plant families which occur nowhere else? How can there be so many species of ancient Araucaria, Podocarpus and other Antarctic lineages like Southern Beech (Nothofagus) that exist nowhere else?

Some islands, as Charles Darwin first observed, were never in contact with Australia or New Zealand, however these places ‘seeded’ New Caledonia with its biota. The ocean floor covered New Caledonia with its famously ultra-alkaline (ultramafic) rock. As it rose from the ocean it formed an incredibly diverse landscape with dense evergreen forests, maquis, dry sclerophyllous forests, wetlands, savannahs, and salt-tolerant vegetation. Many species have arisen from paleo-endemics (relicts) which, given isolation and time, have diversified into lineages of their own. Over millions of years, not only endemic species have evolved here, but entire genera, families, and even biological orders are unique to these islands.

The Lapita were the first New Caledonians and they settled the archipelago between 1,600 BC and 500 AD. Today, there are 4,000–5,000 family-based clans. Captain James Cook was the first European to sight and name New Caledonia on 4 September 1774, during his second voyage. In 1853, France took possession of this slice of paradise with the richest biological diversity in the world per square kilometre. Just 1,475km separates Brisbane from Noumea and probably one of the most surprising things about New Caledonia is that it isn’t more frequently visited.

Jerry Coleby-Williams 23 February 2020

Join Kew-trained horticultural botanist, conservationist and media personality Jerry Coleby-Williams on a fascinating small group tour to New Caledonia. During this unique adventure you will discover endemic flora, learn about traditional medicines from remote tribes and enjoy locally grown organic produce whilst being escorted by leading experts in their fields.

16 June 2020

Day 1 – 16 June 2020 | Arrive Nouméa

Bienvenue en Nouvelle-Calédonie! Upon arrival in Nouméa your English-speaking guide will meet you at the airport and transfer you to the hotel. This evening our group will enjoy a welcome dinner at L’Arlequin Restaurant – giving you the opportunity to mingle with Jerry and your fellow travellers. Rated as the #1 restaurant in Nouméa on Trip Advisor, L’Arlequin Restaurant is located in an old colonial mansion in one of Nouméa’s oldest neighbourhoods, Faubourg Blanchot. [D]

Overnight at Hilton Nouméa La Promenade Résidence (or similar)

Day 2 – 17 June 2020 | Nouméa

This morning you will be introduced to some of the different species of plants that can be found in New Caledonia during a 3-hour guided visit to Nouméa’s Zoological & Botanical Gardens. This excursion will be guided by Mr Bernard Suprin – a passionate local botanist who has been active for decades in New Caledonia, and who has written several books on the subject. Lunch today will be served at a pizza & pasta restaurant next door to the conference venue where we will spend the afternoon. The 2-hour conference will focus on local edible plants, with samples provided for you to taste, and will be held in a private room hosted by Mr Suprin. [B-L]

Overnight at Hilton Nouméa La Promenade Résidence (or similar)

Day 3 – 18 June 2020 | Great South

Today our group will be taken on a full day guided excursion to the Great South with expert local guide, Mr Sebastien Limousin. Here you will learn about the endemic plants which grow in the infertile, metalliferous soils named ‘maquis minier’ which are unique to New Caledonia. Expect to see a range of interesting plants including Nothofagus; Agathis ovata; Grevillea; Callistenon and Xanthosthemon amongst others. Enjoy a picnic lunch on the banks of the Riviere des Lacs (Lakes River). [B-L]

Overnight at Hilton Nouméa La Promenade Résidence (or similar)

Day 4 – 19 June 2020 | Blue River Park

Enjoy a full day guided tour to the Blue River National Park today with your expert local guide Mr Christian Laundereau – New Caledonia’s foremost expert on orchids, in particular endemic ones. After a quick visit to the arboretum at the entrance of the park, where Araucaria columnaris can be seen growing, we will be given a briefing about orchids which are endemic to New Caledonia before being escorted on a tour of the park. During the course of the day we will see a number of interesting plants including giant ferns and other endemic species from the wet forest environment including Parasitaxus, the only known parasitic gymnosperm, and Pycnandra acuminata – a fascinating nickel-rich, hyper accumulator that bleeds blue sap. A picnic lunch will be eaten on the banks of Riviere Bleue (Blue River). [B-L]

Overnight at Hilton Nouméa La Promenade Résidence (or similar)

Day 5 – 20 June 2020 | Dumbea

This morning’s activities will include a private guided visit to the farm belonging to Mr Mickaël Sansoni – a trainer and expert in permaculture farming in Dumbea, which is approximately 30 minutes’ drive from Nouméa. Mr Sansoni is a pioneer of permaculture farming in New Caledonia. Lunch today will be made from 100% local organic products sourced from the garden and served on the farm of Mr Sansoni. Later this afternoon, we will enjoy a private visit to the very innovative farm of Mr Jean-Christophe Niautou’s in Farino. Here Mr Niautou grows organic vegetables in greenhouses to provide his crops protection from the extreme winds which can be experienced during the cyclone season. [B-L-D]

Overnight in a bungalow at Lodge Terre de Soleil and Oasis de Tendea (or similar)

Day 6 – 21 June 2020 | La Foa

Today our group will be transferred to the La Foa and Farino region. On the way we will experience a full-day immersion (10.00am – 4.00pm) with a remote kanak tribe named Oui-Poin. The Oui-Poin reside in the heart of the central mountain range, roughly 1.5 hours drive from Nouméa. Both before and after lunch you will be taken on guided tours to different areas around the village to view the subsistence crops that the Oui-Poin cultivate. Your kanak guide, Marie-Helene, is very knowledgeable about traditional medicines and will share her wealth of information about the uses and healing properties of each plant. A swim in the river here is also possible so please pack your togs. For lunch we’ll be given the opportunity to sample the renowned local dish called “Bougna” – a stew of various meats cooked with root vegetables including yams, taros and cassava which is topped with coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an underground oven for several hours covered with hot stones and the paperbark of the niaouli tree (Melaleuca quinquinervia). [B-L-D]

Overnight in a bungalow at Lodge Terre de Soleil and Oasis de Tendea (or similar)

Day 7 – 22 June 2020 | Dogny Plateau

Today we’ll be given the opportunity to participate in a full day guided hike in the forests of the Dogny Plateau near Sarraméa – a short drive from La Foa and Farino. Here we will discover a number of endemic plant species which are completely different to those already observed in the much harsher environment of the Great South on Day 3. A picnic lunch is included. The hike will be guided by Mr Bernard Suprin, who will join us from Nouméa for this excursion. Those who do not feel that they’d be fit enough to do what is a fairly demanding hike can simply relax at the lodge today. One 9-seater vehicle will be at the disposal of the non-hikers. Later this afternoon, we will be transferred approximately 2 hours north to Koumac. [B-L-D]

Overnight in a bungalow at Hotel Karem Bay (3 star)

Day 8 – 23 June 2020 | Northern Province

Departing at 8.30am this morning we will embark a private guided tour of Ms Jeannine Bouteille’s gardens, located about 1.5 hours north of Koumac. Jeannine is regarded as the leading expert of medicinal plants in New Caledonia. In the past she has collaborated with the Paris Museum of Natural History and some of the plants that Jeannine has discovered were named after her. Lunch today is made of 100% local organic products sourced from the garden and served on site. This afternoon our group will transfer 2.5 hours to the Hienghene region. Numerous natural wonders can be found in this part of New Caledonia including the Tao Waterfall and the Brooding Hen rock formations. [B-L-D]

Overnight in a bungalow at Hotel Koulnoué Village (3 star)

Day 9 – 24 June 2020 | Bourail Region

Our day will begin at 8.30am with a transfer to the Bourail region – a drive of approximately 3 hours. Here we will enjoy a picnic lunch on Pierced Rock Beach in Bourail before taking a walk on a gentle trail through the dry forest (shlerophyl) environment with our guide. Later in the afternoon, we will return to Nouméa (approximately 2 hours). [B-L]

Overnight at Hilton Nouméa La Promenade Résidence (or similar)

Day 10 – 25 June 2020 | Depart Nouméa

This morning we will farewell New Caledonia as we transfer to the airport for our flight home. [B]

B = Breakfast / L = Lunch / D = Dinner

Please note: The prices quoted are based on a minimum group size of 15 people (plus Jerry). Should minimum numbers not be met we reserve the right to review full pricing of travel packages and registration costs.

  • Return airport transfers
  • 9 nights’ accommodation
  • 9 Breakfasts, 8 Lunches, 5 Dinners
  • Services of an English-speaking local guide
  • Transportation in an air conditioned vehicle(s)
  • Sightseeing as per the itinerary
  • Services of expert guides
  • Entrance fees as per the itinerary
  • Conference venue and bottled water
  • 1.5L of water per person per day
  • 4WD vehicles as per the itinerary
  • International flights
  • Drinks unless otherwise mentioned
  • Visas
  • Travel Insurance
  • Tips
  • Inoculations
  • Items of a personal nature
  • Anything not mentioned in the itinerary