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New Caledonia is a special collectivity of France located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, 1,500 kilometres (930 mi) east of Australia and about 20,000 kilometres (12,000 mi) from Metropolitan France. The archipelago, part of the Melanesia subregion, includes the main island of Grande Terre, the Loyalty Islands, the Belep archipelago, the Isle of Pines and a few remote islets. The Chesterfield Islands in the Coral Sea are also part of New Caledonia. Locals refer to Grand Terre as "Le Caillou", the rock.
New Caledonia has a land area of 18,576 square kilometres (7,172 sq mi). The population (2011 estimate) is 256,275. The capital of the territory is Nouméa.
New Caledonia is part of Zealandia, a fragment of the ancient Gondwana super-continent. Zealandia separated from Australia 60–85 million years ago. New Caledonia itself separated from Australia 65 million years ago, subsequently drifting in a north-easterly direction, reaching its present position about 50 million years ago.
The mainland is divided in length by a central mountain range whose highest peak are Mount Panié (1629 m) in the north and Mount Humboldt (1618 m) in the southeast. The east coast is covered by a lush vegetation. The west coast, with its large savannahs and plains suitable for farming, is a drier area. Many ore-rich massifs are found along this coast.
The Diahot River is the longest river of New Caledonia, flowing for some 100 kilometres (62 mi). It has a catchment area of 620 square kilometres and opens north-westward into the Baied'Harcourt, flowing towards the northern point of the island along the western escarpment of the Mount Panié. Most of the island is covered by wet evergreen forests, while savannahs dominate the lower elevations. The New Caledonian lagoon, with a total area of 24,000 square kilometers is one of the largest lagoons in the world. It is surrounded by the New Caledonia Barrier Reef.
The climate is tropical, with hot and humid period from November to March with temperatures between 27°C and 30°C, and a cooler, dry period from June to August with temperatures between 20°C and 23°C, linked by two short transition periods. The tropical climate is strongly moderated by the oceanic influence and the trade winds that attenuates humidity, which can be close to 80%. The average annual temperature is 23°C, with historical extremes of 2.3°C and 39.1°C.
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