SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Holidaymakers can now catch direct flights between Singapore and New Caledonia, an idyllic group of islands in the Pacific Ocean known for their pristine blue waters.
Flights to the French territory, which is about eight and a half hours long, are on sale by its carrier Aircalin, starting at 1,143 euros or S$1,660 for a round trip.
This is the first time in more than 25 years that it is possible to fly direct from Singapore to New Caledonia, roughly two and a half hours by plane from Australia, said executive vice president of Changi Airport Group Tan Lye Teck on Saturday (July 2).
In the 1960s, the French airline Union de Transports Aeriens (UTA) operated a service between Singapore and the territory's capital Noumea, he added in an address to Singaporean and New Caledonian media at Jewel in Changi Airport.
This service - which was part of a multiple-part service to Paris - was taken over by Air France in 1992, which stopped the route in 1995.
Tan's address came a day after the first Aircalin plane touched down at Changi on Friday (July 1).
The territory is an archipelago made up of several groups of islands. The main island is known as Grand Terre and is where its capital Noumea is located.
The French overseas territory has a population of about 270,000, made up of various ethnic groups including the indigenous Kanak, French, as well as various others such as Javanese and Japanese.
The islands are sparsely populated with 14 residents per sq km, and not heavily visited by tourists, said the general manager of New Caledonia Tourism Julie Laronde.
The archipelago saw about 130,000 tourists a year before the Covid-19 pandemic, she added.
Her agency has divided the main island into four distinct areas based on their draws for tourists.
The east coast is known for its "Kanak spirit", the culture of the indigenous Kanak peoples who make up slightly less than half of the population; the west coast is known for its "cowboy" culture; and the capital Noumea is said to have a similar culture to the French Riviera region.
The "great south", or the tip of the main island, is good for adventure-style holidays, and many of the smaller islands of the territory have lagoons rich in biodiversity, she said.
Due to its proximity to Australia and New Zealand, English is widely spoken in New Caledonia - meaning Singaporeans should have little problem communicating, she added.
The flights will be on the Airbus A330neo, which has a capacity of 291 seats.
The French Ambassador to Singapore Marc Abensour, who also spoke on Saturday, said the direct air link will serve both Singaporeans and French citizens in Singapore and the region, as France seeks to strengthen its connectivity to the Indo-Pacific region.