Noumea, New Caledonia
The capital of New Caledonia, Noumea is a little piece of France in the middle of the Coral Sea. Before World War II, New Caledonia was a little known and seldom-visited French possession known for its penal colony and its natural resources. (Nickel smelting still plays a major role in the island economy.) Today, travelers are drawn to New Caledonia for its scenic beauty. The island is famed for its white-sand beaches while its west coast is the site of the world's second longest barrier reef. The offshore waters also offer superb diving and snorkeling.
In 1774, James Cook thought the island's rugged hills resembled those of his native Scotland. Hence he christened the island New Caledonia. The island and its outlying groups became a French colony in 1854 and an overseas department of France in 1956.