New Caledonia profile

New Caledonia map

A French overseas territory in the Pacific, New Caledonia has seen deep divisions between its indigenous Kanak population and Europeans, most notably over the thorny question of independence.

Kanaks represent around 39% of the population, while Europeans, most of whom were born in the territory, make up about 27%.

Most of the remainder come from other Pacific islands, are of mixed heritage, or prefer simply to identify as "Caledonian".

In November 2018, voters rejected a bid for independence from France by 56.4% to 43.6%, on a turnout of about 81%.

As well as having one of the region's highest average incomes per capita, New Caledonia has around a quarter of the world's nickel deposits.

The archipelago's main island Grande Terre is ringed by a massive coral reef and is home to the capital, Noumea.

Mountains divide the lush east from a drier west, and the territory boasts an abundance of plant and animal life.

Colonial buildings and fine beaches contrast with the infrastructure of the nickel industry.


New Caledonia

French overseas territory

  • Population 259,000

  • Area 18,575 sq km (7,172 sq miles)

  • Major languages French (official), Melanesian and Polynesian dialects

  • Major religions Christianity, indigenous beliefs

  • Life expectancy 74 years (men), 80 years (women)

  • Currency Pacific franc



Head of state: The President of France

President of government: Philippe Germain

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Germain belongs to the anti-independence majority on New Caledonia's power-sharing executive

Philippe Germain was elected for a second term as president in December 2017, having first taken up the post in 2015.

New Caledonia has a power-sharing executive elected by the territory's Congress, which ensures that all parties on it are represented in proportion to their number of seats in Congress.

After being elected, the executive then chooses its president from among its members.

At a national level, New Caledonia is represented in the French parliament by two deputies and two senators.


Image copyright AFP
Image caption Established in 1971, Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes is the sole daily in the territory.

Private radio stations operate alongside TV and radio services provided by the French public overseas broadcaster, Reseau France Outre-mer (RFO).


1500 BC - First known inhabitants are the Lapita people, followed by the Polynesians in 1000 BC.

1774 - British explorer James Cook names the island New Caledonia after the Latin name for Scotland.

1853 - Annexed by France, which uses the territory as a penal colony. The discovery of nickel deposits leads to the development of the mining industry.

1878 - Kanak revolt - The territory's indigenous people clash with French settlers over their loss of land, heralding further repression by the French.

1980s - Fatal clashes between French forces and Kanak separatists.

1988 - Matignon Accord marks a reconciliation between Kanak and European communities by proposing an end to direct rule from Paris and a vote on independence in 1998.

1998 - Noumea Accord sets a timetable for the gradual transfer of responsibilities from France to the territory, and postpones a planned 1998 referendum on independence.

2006 - French parliament votes to restrict voting rights of French citizens in the territory - long sought by Kanaks.

2018 - Voters in the territory reject independence from France in a November referendum.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The cultural centre in Noumea, capital of New Caledonia

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