The people of New Caledonia belong to 5 major ethnic groups:
the indigenous Kanaks
descendants of European and North African prisoners and settlers
people from other parts of France French mainland and overseas regions working in Noumea
descendants of earlier Asian settlers often Vietnamese and Indonesian
There is a general move towards more autonomy in New Caledonia and it was decided in the Nouméa Accord that the territorial Congress will have the right to call, at a time of its choosing, for a referendum on the future status of the territory including possible independence after 2014.
New Caledonia has a semi-tropical climate, modified by southeast trade winds. It is often hot and humid in January and February. The islands are subject to tropical cyclones, most frequent from November to March. During winter April to August the daytime temperature is around 22C. The water may still be warm, but it often feels too cool to really want to go swimming.
Settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island became a French possession in 1853. It served as a penal colony for four decades after 1864.
The islands have been an overseas territory of France since 1956.
The 1988 Matignon Accords grant substantial autonomy to the islands; formally under French law. Agitation for independence during the 1980s and early 1990s seems to have dissipated. A referendum on independence was held in 1998 but did not pass; a new referendum is scheduled for after 2014.
In New Caledonia, as elsewhere in France, the national holiday is Bastille Day 14 July.
The main island of New Caledonia is one of the largest in the Pacific Ocean and its terrain consist of coastal plains with interior mountains. The highest point is Mont Panie 1,628 m.
Grand Terre is rich in minerals, and is an important source of many ores, mainly nickel and chromium. There is a mountainous interior green with subtropical foliage. The outlying islands are coral-based, and have stunning white sand, and sport palm trees.