Lost in South Seas dreams? Beautiful palm-lined beaches bordering a vast lagoon, sensational diving on coral reefs and great sailing, plus a long tradition of French culture? No, we're not talking about French Polynesia, but the somewhat more-off-the-beaten-path islands of New Caledonia.
Located about halfway between Fiji and Australia, New Caledonia's main island is the third largest in the South Pacific (after New Guinea and New Zealand), but it's never been a major stop on the tourist trail. It's not all pristine paradise (nickel smelting has been the major industry), and the islanders themselves have not always been content with French rule (violence, including bombings and riots in the capital of Noumea, marked the 1980s), but these days there is a new burgeoning of attractions and activities geared to the visitor.Fishermen, for example, have discovered a bonefish paradise on miles of flats, and surfers are still exploring new breaks, while a major new cultural center in Noumea is a window to the local Kanak heritage. And there's no question that the islands retain a certain French elegance and style (yes, there is a Club Med), which suggests that even if travelers haven't really discovered the place yet, certain cosmopolitan comforts (i.e., fine cuisine, cabarets, and casinos) aren't hard to find.