Radio Scene on the Outlier Islands of New Caledonia in the South Pacific

The South Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia is a French territory with a Scottish name.  The first European to sight New Caledonia was the well known English explorer, Captain James Cook during his second voyage to the South Pacific.  He named the island as “New Caledonia” on September 4, 1774, because the northeast of the island reminded him of Scotland.

Map of New Caledonia (public domain)

Three quarters of a century later, the famous French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte ordered Admiral Febvrier Despointes to take formal possession of New Caledonia, which he did on September 24, 1853.  During the following year (1854), Captain Louis-Marie-François Tardy de Montravel founded the first community on the island, which has since become the national capital, Nouméa.

The main island is known locally as Grande Terre, and also included in the territory of New Caledonia are nearby island clusters that are identified as the Loyalty Islands, the Isle of Pines, the Belep/Daos Islands, and the Chesterfield Islands, together with a few remote and uninhabited islets.  We look at the radio scene in each of these islandic clusters, and we take them in the order of their population figures.

The Loyalty Islands lie 60 miles east of Grande Terre and they were named more than 200 years ago in honor of an English trading ship, the Loyalty.  Six of these islands are inhabited with a total population of 18,000 people, and the regional capital is We on Lifou Island.  Their chief export is copra.  Almost a year ago on February 11, (2021), there was a massive earthquake on Lifou measuring at 7.7 on rhe Richter Scale.

A total of 9 downlink FM relay stations have been installed in the Loyalty Islands, three each on the three larger islands; Lifou, Mare and Ouvea.  The three repeater stations on the three larger islands operate in the standard international FM Band 2, with a power level ranging from 800 watts up to  5.3 kW.  The program feed on satellite is uplinked from the government broadcasting service in the national capital Noumea.

Occasional amateur radio DXpeditions have been conducted in the Loyalty Islands, such as the 2010 event as FK/W3HQ.  There has been no significant radio event on any of the three smaller inhabited islands; Mouli, Tiga nor Falava.

Next, we go southeast from the main island Grande Terre, and 25 miles distant is the Isle of Pines, also named by the same Captain Cook during his second tour to New Zealand in 1774.  This island was a French penal colony back 150 years ago, and its current population is around 2,000 people. 

The Isle of Pines is a travel destination for large cruise ships, and the view of huge tidal worn rocks in Upi Bay is quite spectacular.  Upi Bay is a natural harbor that separates Pine Island from Kotomo Island.

Upi Bay, New Caledonia. Photo: New Caledonia Tourism
Oure Tera Beach Resort, Vao. Photo: Booking.com

There are just two FM stations on the Isla of Pines and they are installed near the capital village of Vao.  These two downlink transmitter operate on 97.0 and 101.0 MHz with 10 watts and 100 watts.

Just 25 miles northwest of the northern end of New Caledonia lie the Belep and Daos Islands, with no facilities for tourists or visitors.  Only two of these islands are inhabited, Art Island and Pott Island, with a total population of just 800 people.  Back in the early French colonial days, there was a leper colony on Belep Island.

Bélep archipelago, New Caledonia. Photo: New Caledonia Tourism

There are two FM downlink transmitters on Belep Island near the capital village of Waala, with 20 watts each on 96.0 and 100.0 MHz.

And finally we come to the Chesterfield Islands, a cluster of uninhabited outlier islands which are located 350 miles out west from New Caledonia itself.  In September 1944, American forces installed a temporary automatic meteorological station on Long Island which sent weather information at regular intervals by radio.  This weather radio facility was abandoned four years later (1948).

Interestingly, the French authorities installed a similar automatic weather radio facility on Loop Islet in November 1968.

Amateur radio was represented in the Chesterfield Islands by a twelve day DXpedition on Anchorage Islet in early October 2015.  The callsign on this isolated and featureless sand bar was TX3X.

TX3X QSL. Image: DXnews.com

This feature was written by Adrian Peterson and originally aired on Adventist World Radio’s “Wavescan” DX program of January 23, 2022

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