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The new 'it' spot

With coral-spotted ocean, powdery sand and French charisma, New Caledonia is an ideal Pacific escape you may not have considered.

Any destination that pairs island relaxation with provincial French flair is pretty hard to beat. Waking up to a breakfast spread of pain au chocolat, croissants, tropical fruits and soft French cheeses can really only be topped when followed promptly by a short stroll to a resort pool or impossibly translucent ocean. Add to that tropical weather, island hopping and a vast and varied mainland, and it's hard to fathom all the choices available. Indeed, as I sit here typing this with my skin still warm from the island sun - even after visiting in 'winter' - it's impossible not to ponder all the reasons why this French South Pacific gem is a prime choice for sun-seeking Aussie families.

1. Convenient paradise
It's a short 2.5-hour flight from Sydney into New Caledonia. Comparative to the four it takes to fly to Fiji, it feels as though you're touching down just moments after takeoff, so kids will hardly have time to grow restless after the inflight meal has been served! It's definitely a 'so close, yet so far' situation because, though the flight is short, you arrive at the other end and immediately sense that unmistakeable Pacific vibe. The sky is inky blue, the year round temperature is steadily above 20 degrees, and the dramatic mountains encircling the airport make you long to get outdoors and begin adventuring pronto. Oh, and everyone is speaking French.

2. Family ties
If you're looking for a land of kids' clubs, New Cal might not be your cup of tea. But if you want a holiday that encourages families to explore together as they spend time out on the ocean with boats, paddleboards or snorkels, 4WDing through mountainous countryside, or seeking out the best bakeries... you've hit the jackpot. While there is a fantastic kids' club at the new Sheraton Deva three hours north of Noumea in Bureil - along with a golf course, beachfront and stunning bungalow accommodation - outside of that you can expect to be languishing in resorts with family-friendly two- or three-bedroom suites (or interconnecting rooms) that are in prime position for local attractions. For those with studious young French speakers, this island nation is also a perfect getaway choice. Many parents enrol older kids (and possibly themselves) in intensive - and fun - language courses during the days, such as the ones run by CREIPAC, making it not only a holiday, but educational, too.

3. Variety: From land to sea
The saying 'variety is the spice of life' certainly rings true across this diverse nation. The main island, Grand Terre, boasts a mix of tribe stays, cowboys and stunning coastline, while the Loyalty Islands of Lifou, Ouvea and Mare contain some of the world's most spectacular corals and untouched white-sand beaches.
Wherever you plan to voyage, you'll always fly into the capital, Noumea, where you'll find a quaint trove of museums, shops, modern conveniences and accommodation of all shapes and sizes. One popular way to get your bearings is with a ride on the Tchou Tchou Train, a petite locomotive which drives you around town as you're taught all about the region's history - and the novelty of it all is fantastic for kids.

4. Isle of Pines
While all islands here are fringed with corals that form vibrant aquamarine rings, the island that undeniably stole my heart was Ile des Pins (or, for us English-speakers, Isle of Pines).
It’s a 20-minute flight from Noumea's domestic airport, and seats aren't allocated so don't dillydally when boarding as you'll want to score a window seat - the view is truly something special. As our plane descended we were lost in conversation trying to aptly describe the 'green' of the isle. "It's forest green." "I think emerald." "That there is definitely more viridian..."
The island of just 2000 inhabitants, 15km long and just 13km wide, gets its name from the towering pines everywhere you look. While our secluded bayside accommodation at both Oure Tera and Le Meridien was almost too enticing to leave - things such as snorkels, kayaks, cocktails (or mocktails) and stand-up paddleboards were abundant - each outing held a plethora of new wonders. On one day we sampled local delicacies at the village market, paid a visit to Queen Hortense Cave which is formed entirely from coral, and snorkelled through colourful fish in a natural 'swimming pool'. The next we embarked on a boat and fell in love with Nokanhui Island, a pearlescent stroke of sand amid the bluest water I've ever seen. That day will also be remembered as the first time I sighted a giant turtle in the wild - its flippers and head bobbing beside the boat as if just wanting to say "hello".
Each day is whatever you make it in New Caledonia, and having fit in turtle sightings, more crayfish and pastries than my stomach knew what to do with, and plenty of beaching, I'd say it's a place that's hard to do wrong!

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