There are several roads across Grande Terre from the west coast to the east, but the most beautiful yet least known one, not desribed in any guidebooks, is the one that branches off between Poindimié and Touho to go across the mountains to Koné.
It passes beautiful lakes and forested hills with very few signs of human habitation, but has several roadside picnic stops and even a few marked hiking trails along it.
At 1628 metres the highest mountain in New Caledonia, Mount Panié forms the heart of a lush nature reserve housing some of the richest flora and fauna in the territory.
It's a rather steep and strenous climb to the top, and a permit is required - available from the Hienghéne Tourist Office for free.
Very few people seem to bother with the climb - I even met French living in nearby Hienghéne who go hiking in New Zealand but never climbed this mountain.
Too hard, they say... :-)
Not to be missed if you are a nature lover!
See my separate Mount Panié page for information on the area around the mountain, and the climb up to the peak!
North of Pouebo, the area of Balade is connected with several important events in New Caledonia's early history.
Captain Cook anchored here, the first Catholic mass in land was held under a banyan tree near the beach, and there is a beautiful church commemorating these historic events.
There is also an ugly monument for France's rule over the territory.
The stunning golden beach alone makes a visit worthwhile though!
See my Balade page for more on this remote area.
Inland from Hienghéne, there is a string of Kanak tribal villages stretching into the mointainous interior along this valley.
The special thing about them is that they encourage tourism by offering programs like horse-riding and even accomodation in traditional Kanak huts.
This can be a good way to experience everyday life of the Kanaks if you speak French - if not, it's still interesting to go hiking in the surrounding mountains for a day or two.
The North-East is Grande Terre's most beautiful region.
It is dominated by steep hills covered in lush, green forests, which overlook beautiful stretches of coast with Grande Terre's great barrier reef within sight.
The population here is mostly Kanak, with the Caldoche only living in the few small towns scattered along the coast.
A small town on a pretty bay with a good beach, Touho also has an old mission attached to it.
For budget travellers, it offers some of the best and cheapest campsites in New Caledonia - a good reason to make it a base for exploring the surrounding countryside.
7 kms north of the ferry crossing, the highest and most famous waterfall in the territory is actually visible from the road.
It is nevertheless well worth paying up the 200 francs to use the trail up to the falls' base through the jungle.
The track is very slippery so wear proper shoes!
The northernmost real township on the east coast, Pouébo has an old church and a windswept beach with free camping.
However it is mostly worth visiting for its yearly Mwata Festival, held in honour of a traditional banana cake. It features Kanak and Polynesian dances and a fair of local produce.
New Caledonia's premier nature reserve preserves some fine rainforest in the hills and valleys surrounding a large, ugly artificial lake in the south of Grande Terre.
It is the best place to spot some of the territory's unique fauna, notably the famous kagu bird.
Once popular with noisy groups of picnickers, these days the closure of the main road leading into it and a ban on camping inside has ensured it is again a quiet haven for birdlife and dedicated nature-lovers.
Up on the west coast of Grand Terre, New Caledonia's second largest town Bourail with its majority Caldoche population has the flavour of a typical small town in rural France.
It is an almost inevitable stop on a tour around Grande Terre and is by no means unpleasant, althought sights are limited to a museum.
There are also some good beaches nearby.
The last real township up the west coast of Grand Terre, Koumac's main landmark is its curiously shaped church that started life as an aircraft hangar. This church has some fine woodcarvings inside, and during my stop here was also the scene of a very impressive religious procession.
There are also some interesting caves and beaches out of town.
The North-West coast of Grande Terre is the most desolate part of the island.
The plains are here mostly grasslands used for grazing cattle and the hills are marred by mining. The population is mostly Caldoche, but there are Kanak villages, too - especially in the interior. There are a few interesting towns on the way up north, but otherwise this is a region best passed through quickly.
Poindimié is the main urban centre of the North-East coast.
Much to my pride, its main tourist attraction according to both English-language guidebooks on the country is this somewhat simple mosaic by Hungarian abstract artist Vasarely.
It decorates the town's swiming pool.
There is some good hiking to be had around the town, but most people head straight on northwards.
If you have time in NC I would definately reccommend visiting the northern part of the island. The southern part of La Grande Terre has most of the Resorts, the white population and the Capital, Noumea - but the lesser visited Northern Part, I think is pretty cool as well. On My last trip we hired a car , and drove basically around the whole island , staying at local villages - which can be organised in Noumea through the tourist board. The further North you travel especially on the east coast, the more traditional the villages and lifestyle- with some people never having visited the south let alone Australia or somewhere. This view is on the road between Hienghene and Poum on something of a rainy day - but amazingly dramatic scenery.
Just north of Poindimié, this small mission settlement is typical of many others up the north-east coast. They are all centred on an old, quiant church and were established to concentrate the surrounding Kanak population who were losing their lands to French settlers in the 19th century.
143 Route de l'Anse Vata, Noumea, Grand Terre, 98845, New Caledonia
Good for: Couples
Kanumera Bay, New Caledonia
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Solo
Paita Rue De Gadji, PAITA, New Caledonia, 98890, N
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Business