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New Caledonia is a mid-sized island territory in the South Pacific. The island covers 7,360 square miles (18,580 sq. km). New Caledonia is located in Melanesia, near Vanuatu, and about 750 miles (1200 km) east of Australia.
Records of early settlements in New Caledonia date back to around 1500 BCE, when the Lapita group first arrived. The early Laptia settled most of Melanesia, and introduced fairly-sophisticated agricultural techniques to the region. Sometime in the 11th century Polynesian groups began arriving on New Caledonia as well, intermarrying with the existing Lapita people. The cultures merged as well, forming a new and distinct culture.
Near the end of the 18th century New Caledonia was first sighted by the British. The British began to trade with the existing population on New Caledonia, often introducing disease and hardship to the people of the island. The locals became increasingly hostile towards the British, and at times this hostility broke out into violence, as when the crew of a British vessel were killed by a local clan in the mid-19th century.
Around this time New Caledonia began to be raided by blackbirders, slavers capturing the locals to work sugar plantations in Fiji and Australia. Blackbirding would continue intermittently for more than a century. During that same period missionaries began arriving in New Caledonia to convert the locals to Christianity, in many cases subverting local culture and heritage to do so.
In the mid 19th century Napoleon III claimed the island, hoping to established a foothold in the South Pacific to counteract the British holdings in New Zealand and Australia. For the next seventy years France used the island as a penal colony, sending more than 20,000 felons to serve out sentences. With these new inhabitants came many new diseases, greatly reducing the native population, and at times coming close to completely eradicating them.
Since the mid 1980's New Caledonia has had a strong independence movement. During the late 1980's the issue of separation from France at times boiled over into violence, including one particularly drastic hostage situation. Since then New Caledonia has been granted some degree of autonomy. In the late-1990s further autonomy was achieved, including provisions for Caledonian citizenship, a territorial flag, and a further move towards complete independence. The issue remains a fairly volatile one, although for now it appears the matter will be resolved via political, rather than violent, channels.
One of the most fascinating tourist destinations on New Caledonia are the various tumuli that dot the island. These large mounds are of an unknown origin, with some people believing that they are evidence of early settlements and use of a man-made cement, while others believe they were created by a 6 ft. (2m) tall bird that inhabited the island more than 5000 years ago. Whatever their origin, the mounds are unique and fascinating.
Other than the tumuli, New Caledonia offers many of the same attractions as other islands in the region. There is amazing diving and snorkeling, good surfing, and beautiful flora and fauna throughout the large island.
Flights arrive daily in New Caledonia from a number of international hubs, including a few in North America, with most planes coming in from Japan, Australia, and France. Yachts and cruise ships also regularly make port at a number of harbors on New Caledonia, and arriving by ship, while a bit more costly, is scarcely more difficult.
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