There’s nothing more exciting than planning an overseas holiday. But what if you could explore a tropical island and experience a taste of European culture without the dreaded long-haul flight?

Just a two-hour flight from Brisbane, the French territory of New Caledonia has become a popular destination for its culture, crystal-clear beaches and Instagram-worthy experiences.

If you thought this South Pacific island was just a cruise ship stopover, think again. Here are 12 reasons to add New Caledonia to your travel bucket list.

1. The Bourail lagoon

The largest lagoon in the world, more than half of the Bourail lagoon is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In New Caledonia, the sea is often referred to as a natural aquarium, making it the ideal destination for snorkeling and diving. The island also boasts the world’s second-largest barrier reef.

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2. The culture

The culture of Kanak, the island’s indigenous people, can be explored in museums, art galleries and festivals. A visit to the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Nouméa is a must.

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3. Little slice of France

From the local language to the European-influenced food on offer, New Caledonia is a tropical paradise with a French twist. We’ll take any excuse to eat cheese and wine on the beach!

4. The resorts

Move over, Maldives! New Caledonia’s L’Escapade Island Resort is one of the most impressive overwater bungalow resorts in the world. Your dream of waking up in a villa and diving out of bed into the crystal-clear ocean starts here!

5. The hidden beaches

New Caledonia’s beautiful beaches are becoming increasingly popular; Piscine Naturelle came in at number seven on TripAdvisor’s list of top beaches in the South Pacific for 2017.

6. The heart of the islands

Near the township of Voh, a swamp made up of two different types of mangroves grew together to form a natural heart shape. If you can’t afford to see the iconic sight from the air, a trek up Mt Kathépaïk offers incredible views.

7. The festivals

Every year, New Caledonia plays host to a number of a festivals. One of the most important events on the Kanak calendar is the Festival of the Yam, which marks the beginning of the yam harvest. Other significant events include the Giant Omelette Festival, Bastille Day, a Coffee Festival, and the Great Lagoon Regatta, which can pull in 15,000-strong crowds of locals and tourists.

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8. The markets

You’ll find locals selling their produce and crafts at various markets all across the archipelago, but the most iconic marketplace in New Caledonia is the Port Moselle Market. Fishermen unload their freshly-caught seafood, farmers deliver their fruit, vegetables and flowers, and local craftspeople will sell their wares. Be sure to visit the market early on a Saturday or Sunday morning to experience the bustling atmosphere in full swing.

9. The food

Fusing French food with local Melanesian dishes, it’s no wonder New Caledonia has gained a reputation for its cuisine. Paris may have some of the world’s best restaurants but nothing can beat meals prepared with freshly-caught seafood and local produce.

10. The Great Blue Hole

There are only two Great Blue Holes in the world and one of them can be found in the crystal-clear lagoon of New Caledonia. The Great Blue Hole can be seen from a helicopter on the same trip taken to view the Heart of Voh.

11. The adventure

TLC may have warned against chasing waterfalls, but the band obviously hadn’t seen the beautiful Tao Waterfall in New Caledonia. The hiking trail to find this beauty is not for the faint-hearted, but all doubts about the adventure will fade once you see the spectacular view.

12. The deals

If you’re dreaming of a five-star luxury experience, New Caledonia has plenty of accommodation options that won’t break the bank. Whether you enjoy the stunning ocean views and central location of Le Méridien Nouméa, or you’d prefer to explore the west coast with a stay at the Sheraton Deva Resort & Spa, there are many different ways to enjoy the tropical escape that is New Caledonia.

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