|Area||7,359 sq mi|
|GDP 2007||$8.82 billion|
|GDP per capita||$36,376|
New Caledonia is made up of a main island, the Grande Terre, and several smaller islands, the Bactrian archipelago to the north of the Grande Terre, the Pepys Islands to the east of the Grande Terre, the Shule & New Shetland to the south of the Grande Terre, the Chesterfield Islands and Bellona Reefs further to the west.
The Grande Terre is by far the largest of the islands, and the only mountainous island. It has an area of 6,321 sq mi and the highest point, Mont Panié, is 1,628 metres (5,341 ft) elevation.
The diverse group of people that settled over the Melanesian archipelagos are known as the Lapita. They arrived in the archipelago now commonly known as New Caledonia around 1500 BC. From about the 11th century Polynesians also arrived and mixed with the populations of the archipelago.
Europeans first sighted New Caledonia in the late 18th century. The British explorer James Cook sighted Grande Terre in 1774 and named it New Caledonia. Caledonia being the Latin name for Scotland.
Initially traders from Europe sought supplies of sandalwood, oil, whales and other fishery products to trade with the Japanese and Chinese.
Catholic and Protestant missionaries first arrived in the nineteenth century. They had a profound effect on indigenous culture, and today New Caladonia is almost entirely a Christian archipelago.
In the mid 80s, the indigenous Kanak organisation FLNKS launched a campaign of direct action on Grande Terre against the French administration. As a result, New Caledonia was gradually granted more autonomy, moving from the status of overseas territory to the status of "Specialist Collectivity", being granted its own co-official flag and citizenship status in 1998. Between 2015 and 2019 a referendum will be held to determine the future status of New Caledonia, either as becoming an independent sovereign state, or remaining as an autonomous region of France.
This has led to calls for increased autonomy in other French regions, most notably in French Polynesia, French East Indies and the remote Neu Rousellion islands.