The people of New Caledonia are split into four major groups: The Kanaks, descendants of European and North African prisoners and settlers, people from other parts of France (French mainland and overseas regions) working in Noumea, and Polynesian immigrants. There is a general move towards more autonomy in New Caledonia and it was decided in the Nouméa Accord that the territorial Congress will have the right to call for a referendum on the future status of the territory (including possible independence) after 2014, at a time of its choosing.
Settled by both Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century, the island became a French possession in 1853. It served as a penal colony for four decades after 1864. New Caledonia has a semi-tropical climate, modified by southeast trade winds. It is often hot and humid in January and February. The islands are subject to tropical cyclones, most frequent from November to March. During winter (April to August) the daytime temperature is around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The water may still be warm, but it often feels too cool to really want to go swimming.