Although this name is linked to the Orient and evokes images of precious woods, Hindu or Chinese temples buried in the vapours of incense, sandalwood does not grow in the Far East but in the Indo-Pacific region.
The sandalwood from New Caledonia, Santalum Austrocaledonicum, is indigenous and grows especially in the southern part of Grande Terre, in the Ile des Pins – (Isle of Pines) and in Iles Loyauté (the Loyalty Islands).
Small and unimpressive, this tree is difficult to identify and does not stand out in the landscape. The essence of sandalwood sometimes called « Or liquide » - (i.e. "liquid gold") is a precious oil used in perfumery, cosmetics or aromatherapy.
As a business represents a new page in the history of New Caledonia.
Its intensive use by countries where it does not grow, such as China, was partially responsible for the systematic exploration of the Pacific Ocean by traffickers.
Since 1841, the sandalwood of New Caledonia - in abundance on Ile des Pins – (the Isle of Pines) and in the Hienghène region - was the subject of the greed of the merchants coming from Sydney. Cutting, collecting and storage were organized with the help of Melanesian people in exchange for tools, tobacco and textiles. This was a start of a large triangular trade between New Caledonia, Chinaand Australia. Australians merchants bartered the Caledonian sandalwood for Chinese tea. 10 000 tonnes of sandalwood were exported as well, depleting the resource in a decade.
Today in Noumea, the Ouen Toro, full botanical reserve, is characterized by the presence of the most important stand of sandalwood in Grande Terre – i.e. the Mainland. It is still abundant in the Iles Loyauté (Loyalty Islands) and the Ile des Pins- (i.e. Isle of Pines).