New Caledonia plight ‘distressing’

Noumea, the largest city and capital of New Caledonia. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Noumea, the largest city and capital of New Caledonia. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Dunedin travel agents believe it could be at least another three months before events settle enough for it to be suitable to travel to New Caledonia.

The nation has descended into chaos, the violence bringing the capital Noumea to a total halt amid clashes sparked by French plans to impose new rules that would give tens of thousands of non-indigenous residents voting rights.

All international flights have been grounded after a state of emergency was declared by French President Emmanuel Macron last Wednesday.

However, Air New Zealand last night announced its next scheduled flight would be on Saturday — though it is not ruling out adding extra services.

Earlier in the day, Captain David Morgan said flights would only resume when they were assured of the security of the airport and safe access for passengers and staff. The airline then said its "next scheduled service is Saturday, May 25, however, we will continue to review this and may add capacity when the airport reopens".

AirCalin last night said the Noumea airport would reopen on May 23.

Vincent George Travel director Vincent George said although his firm did not have any clients in New Caledonia, the situation was "undeniably distressing".

"It seems to have come out of the blue.

"I don’t think it’s going to be properly resolved for some time.

"Some of the resorts haven’t been affected, but you really won’t be able to visit the place and experience the culture for at least another two to three months."

Mr George said New Caledonia was one of the islands that it sold package deals for quite regularly.

"It will take some time to get back to some sort of normality.

"The latest news suggests it has quietened down as the French military have come in to quell the unrest, but it’s going to take a major rebuild."

The unrest had added to an "unsettled" time for travel in the Pacific, particularly as a result of the collapse of Air Vanuatu, he said.

"Our insurance companies are treating the civil unrest as a ‘known event’ from May 14, and clients need to have been directly affected and have taken out a policy before May 14 in order to be refunded."

AirCalin has been keeping travel agencies up to date as to when it would likely resume flights from New Caledonia, he said.

House of Travel chief operating officer Brent Thomas said it was dealing with clients in New Caledonia on a case-by-case basis.

"The key thing for these situations of civil unrest is getting information through the official channels.

"Typically, the advice at this stage would be for people to stay at the resort."

People who had booked trips to New Caledonia over the next few months should contact their agent as soon as possible, he said.