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New Caledonia is a special collectivity of France located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, 1,210 kilometres (750 mi) east of Australia and 16,136 kilometres (10,026 mi) east of Metropolitan France. The archipelago, part of the Melanesia subregion, includes the main island of Grande Terre, the Loyalty Islands, the Chesterfield Islands, the Belep archipelago, the Isle of Pines and a few remote islets. The Chesterfield Islands are in the Coral Sea. Locals refer to Grande Terre as "Le Caillou", the stone.New Caledonia has a land area of 18,576 square kilometres (7,172 sq mi). The population (Jan. 2011 estimate) is 252,000. The capital of the territory is Nouméa.HistoryThe earliest traces of human presence in New Caledonia date back to the Lapita period. The Lapita were highly skilled navigators and agriculturists with influence over a large area of the Pacific.The British first sighted New Caledonia on 4 September 1774, during the second voyage of Captain James Cook. He named the territory New Caledonia, as the north-east of the island reminded him of Scotland. The west coast of Grande Terre was approached by Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse in 1788, shortly before his disappearance, and the Loyalty Islands were first visited in 1796. From then until 1840, only a few sporadic contacts with the archipelago were recorded. Contacts became more frequent after 1840, because of the interest in sandalwood from New Caledonia.

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