Drinking Kava

Drinking Kava in New Caledonia

History of Drinking Kava in New Caledonia

New Caledonia Beach

Drinking kava in New Caledonia has been a way of life for nearly 300 years. When you think of New Caledonia, you probably think about beautiful beaches and waterfalls. But did you know that kava is native to this part of the world?

In fact, it was introduced by French sailors who were sailing from Bordeaux to south-east Asia. They were on the Gauloises sailing ships (named after the French brand of cigarettes), and they accidentally introduced kava to New Caledonia in the 1730s.

The sailors left their ships at a port on Lifou, an island in New Caledonia, and they took some kava plants with them when they went ashore. The plants grew well in the moist soil there, so they continued growing and spreading throughout much of the area.

It’s said that these days there are more than 60 different kinds of kava grown in New Caledonia!

Banning Kava and Demand Out-stripping Supply!

Bastille day

Whilst having 60 kava varieties, New Caledonia imports most of its kava. This is because of 3 reasons.

The first reason kava is so scarce in New Caledonia is because of the French colonisation of the island in 1853. During this time, the French government banned kava use and cultivation because they thought it was an intoxicating drug. The ban on drinking kava in New Caledonia lasted until 1984. Consequently, during this time, kava was unable to become an agricultural force in New Caledonia.

Caledonia Landscape

Secondly, the majority of New Caledonia’s soil and landscape is unsuitable for kava growing. Certainly, there are areas that are perfect for kava as the temperature fluctuates between about 25°C and 30°C, with an average of 27°C. It’s also a very rainy place, with more than 3,000 mm of rain per year on average. However, there are large tracts of land which have a clay base unsuitable for kava plants.

new Caledonians drinking kava

The Third Reason is the demand for kava on top of the above reasons. The demand for kava in New Caledonia is very high. In fact, it’s one of the highest in the world from a population-to-kava drinkers’ perspective.

Where to drink kava in New Caledonia

There are kava bars all over New Caledonia, and they serve a variety of different types of kavas. In the smaller villages, you’ll find that the kava is often more traditional, but in larger cities like Noumea, you can find several different types of kava.

Either way, if you keen on drinking kava in New Caledonia, you have plenty of options.

Traditional Kava Bar

New Cal kava bar

These traditional bars are usually small, family-owned businesses that have been passed down from generation to generation. They’re often located on the beach or in a park, and you can sit at a table outside or inside if it’s raining. The drinks served at these bars usually include fresh fruit juice and water (or sometimes beer). Prices are typically very low—you can get a mug of traditional kava for about $2 USD!

Kava Bar with Food

New Cal kava bar

The second type of kava bar is one where alcohol is served alongside your glass of kava root drink. These bars tend to be larger than traditional ones because they serve food as well as drinks. A glass of kava will run you around $3 USD when combined with food; however, if you order only an alcoholic drink then expect to pay closer to $5 USD per drink!

Where does New Caledonia get their kava from and what type of kava do they drink.

Vanuatu kava exports

Fortunately for New Caledonian kava drinkers, whilst their own country does not grow much kava, their neighbouring country is Vanuatu. As covered on drinkingkava.com.au, Vanuatu is the ancestral home of kava and the second largest exporter of kava in the world. In 2020, Vanuatu exported $7.8 million worth of kava to New Caledonia.

Lawena kava juice in a kava shell
Lawena Kava Juice

New Caledonia kava drinkers are very fond of the Lawena (commonly referred to as stump) root kava. Lawena kava is creamier and smoother to taste than some other types of kava, which means it goes down easier—and it tastes better! In fact, unlike Fiji and countries that import most of their kava, i.e., Australia and the US, Waka is considered an inferior kava in New Caledonia. This is because of its bitter taste and stronger effect which the New Caledonians believe is contrary to a good sitting of kava!

How to visit New Caledonia from Australia

New Caledonia is often overlooked as a tourist destination for Australians, even though it is one of our closest neighbours. If you are interested in booking a trip here is how to get there.

If you’re looking for the quickest and easiest way to get there, you can fly into Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. There are several airlines that operate flights between Australia and Noumea, including Jetstar and Air Calédonie Express. The flight will take just under two hours.

Another option is to fly into Sydney or Brisbane, then take a connecting flight on Air Calédonie Express or Transports Aerians Interinsulaire (TAI). The flight will take approximately 2.5 hours. If you choose this route, be sure to check with your airline as far in advance as possible because seats fill up quickly!