Mama Nouvelle Caledonie, as I've flirtatiously come to know her, is a parent who cradles two children, forlornly looking at them as they sleep.

She, in all her 18,576 sq km squat in the Pacific Ocean, knows only too well that when the twins are aroused from their slumber one will be hyperactive and the other, more or less, a recluse, owing to the selective stimuli of an environment she has been unable to influence, never mind control.

If it sounds political then it is because it's impossible to differentiate mining from tourism. To hug one child and not the other as visitors will, inevitably, tear the very cultural tapestry that makes New Caledonia what she is — the maternal epitome that unashamedly champions compassion, courage and commitment.

The stretch marks of a trying childbirth are still visible on the red-soiled ravaged hills — the oxidated result of robust drilling, predominantly nickel, as the major income earner.

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The docility of the first born, for now anyway, is measured but the cries of distraction are mounting via a growing chorus of independence from France. There's no disputing tourism is behind the eight ball as the No 2 cash cow. But tourism is, blissfully, mindful that when her brother, mining, is spent, sooner or later, she'll assume the mantle of No 1 playmaker.

As I crane my neck from the front-row, economy-class window of the Aircalin International flight, I catch a glimpse of an endless turquoise trail of islets forming a runway of sorts with the promise of grandeur.

Even for a Fiji-born Pacific Islander, I feel like a child on the cusp of making potential friends but losing others, after switching to a new school.

The touch down at a modest but appealing La Tontouta International Airport, about 45 minutes out of Noumea, makes me realise the climes are similar to any other tropical one.

The French language barrier aside, I meet freelance photo journalist Ocean Patrice Belcher, of Auckland, for the first time after holding up proceedings at the luggage carousel for a good 15 minutes.

The 90-minute drive in a multi-seater shuttle van leads to the Sheraton Deva New Caledonia Golf and Spa Resort for the night and the best part of the next morning where we had put out our feelers. A trip that ended four days later, we caught our flight back to Auckland with a tinge of sadness but also a sense of awareness.

Our sojourn in south and southwest of the nation's main island turned out to be a full-on smorgasbord of tourism activities.

In all her modesty, Mama Caledonie didn't disappoint.

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Hawke's Bay Today sports editor Anendra Singh putts at one of the challenging 18-hole saucer bunker-laden course at the picturesque Sheraton Deva Resort in New Caledonia. Photo / Supplied
Hawke's Bay Today sports editor Anendra Singh putts at one of the challenging 18-hole saucer bunker-laden course at the picturesque Sheraton Deva Resort in New Caledonia. Photo / Supplied

From the Swedish resident, Oscar Martinsson, whizzing me around on the golf kart at the 18-hole saucer bunker-laden challenging course, to the French-born longtime resident, Axelle Battie, who drives a 4WD-guided tour, Toutazimut, to the off-beaten tracks of "The Deep South", there's a heightened expectation of growth and prosperity, especially in a time of lull during the cyclone season.

Like any country in its fledgling state of an industry, New Caledonia Tourism representative Aurelie Chenu readily accepts, akin to fledgling parents, they don't profess to have always mastered the art of burping a toddler or putting her to sleep with the onset of baby teeth.

With the push for independence nearing the 45 per cent mark after the latest referendum last November, it'll be interesting to see what unfolds in a French colony that has more than a geological commonality with Australia — France had deported common criminals and political exiles to New Caledonia in the 19th Century. Those banished descendants still feel disenfranchised from the outnumbered free-settler French population.

Some believe the indigenous Kanaks, who have a tribal presence modelled on customary authority of clusters of about 5000 family-based clans, cause more land destruction from slashing and burning hillsides through their subsistence existence than nickel mining.

It dawns on me, at the height of a tropical downpour on day three, at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, named after assassinated Kanak independence leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou, how its conical spires catch the eye but brazenly toy with the mind.

After a guided tour from Battie, I find the contemporary blend of architecture with the traditional thatched houses smacks of tokenism. The centre, offering a platform for airing indigenous concerns in the Pacific, lacks soul and allows other island exhibitions to camouflage the Kanak identity.

Perhaps the talented indigenous carver, seeking shelter from the rain under the umbrella of populated native trees, can be employed to fill some of that cultural void.

From a tourist perspective, it's hard to go past the lure of a 2.5-hour flight from Auckland for an intriguing holiday that promises not just a point of difference from the other South Pacific nations but also creates a state of awareness, especially for the big boys of Australia and New Zealand.

You see, a doting Mama Caledonie will simply have to carry on changing those red-stained nappies for now in her quest for cultural authenticity that the nation desperately needs to brand its tourism.

GETTING THERE: Aircalin flies direct from Auckland to Noumea.
nz.aircalin.com
ONLINE: newcaledonia.travel

The statute of Kanak independence leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou punctuates the peninsula where the entrance to Tjibaou Cultural Centre grounds in Noumea, New Caledonia. Photo / Anendra Singh
The statute of Kanak independence leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou punctuates the peninsula where the entrance to Tjibaou Cultural Centre grounds in Noumea, New Caledonia. Photo / Anendra Singh