DATES: September 2019 (exact dates TBC)
LEADER: Mark Hanger
New Caledonia, an archipelago halfway between Australia and Fiji, is an extraordinary place.
While it has all the features of a tropical island - white sands, blue lagoons and graceful palms - it's also home to some remarkable plants and wildlife.
There are abundant conifers belonging to the ancient plant family Araucariaceae, including the Cook pines (Araucaria columnaris) which grow in the coral-derived soils along the coast.
New Caledonia is considered one of the world's most important and critically endangered places. It's an ancient fragment of the Gondwana super-continent and 76% of its flora is endemic. It differs from many of the Pacific Islands which are of relatively recent volcanic origin.
Climate, elevation and type of soil all contribute to the rich variety and diversity of plant life. The biogeography of the island chain has been shaped by a complex and fascinating geological history. But New Caledonia is mainly known for its lagoon. It's one of the three biggest reef systems in the world.
The New Caledonian lagoon contains a rare diversity of coral and fish species, with some of the most diverse reef structures in the world. It's home to unique marine biodiversity and a number of iconic or endangered species such as turtles, whales and dugongs. 15,000 of the 23,000 square km of this area have been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ancient plant families are more common on New Caledonia than their modern counterparts. The larger flora include Nothofagus, Beilschmiedia, Adenodaphne and members of Winteraceae and Myrtaceae. The angiosperms are also fascinating. Among them is Amborella trichopoda - the sole member of the oldest-living flowering plant lineage, Amborelleaceae.