South Province (province Sud = the southern mainland). Provincial capital: Nouméa. Population: 164,113 inhabitants (2004).
North Province (province Nord = the northern mainland). Provincial capital: Koné. Population: 44,596 inhabitants (2004).
Loyalty Islands Province (province des îles Loyauté). Provincial capital: Lifou. Population: 22,080 inhabitants (2004).
Each of these provinces has its own flag and emblem and has considerable powers, including all powers that are not explicitly the prerogative of either the Territorial Congress in Nouméa or the French Republic in Paris.
The provinces are further subdivided into communes (municipalities) which in fact in most cases predate the establishment of the provinces, whose borders and powers were outlined in 1988 (see Matignon Accords). One commune, Poya, was then divided between the two mainland provinces.
This state of affairs continues to this day. The provincial seat of the North Province is at Koné (although physically located closer to the town of Pouembout). The South Province has its provincial seat at Nouméa, although La Foa also serves as the seat of some administrations (see Administrative subdivisions section below). The Loyalty Islands Province has its seat at Wé in the commune of Lifou.
Communal seats are shown in parentheses if different from the commune name.
¹Recently split off from Canala
²Located partly in two provinces
There also exist three administrative subdivisions, simply known as subdivisions in French, with exactly the same names and same boundaries as the three provinces, except that the commune of Poya is entirely contained inside the North Subdivision. Contrary to the provinces, which are full political divisions with provincial assemblies and executives, the administrative subdivisions are merely deconcentrated divisions of the French central state, akin to the arrondissements of metropolitan France, with a Deputy Commissioner of the Republic (commissaire délégué de la République), akin to a subprefect of metropolitan France, in residence in each subdivision's chief town.
The subdivision chief towns are the same as the provincial capitals except in the South Subdivision where the chief town is La Foa, whereas the capital of the South Province is Nouméa. Thus, although the provincial assembly of the South Province sits in Nouméa, the South Subdivision's Deputy Commissioner of the Republic is in residence in La Foa. This was decided in order to counterbalance the overwhelming weight of Nouméa in New Caledonia.
In addition, a parallel layer of administration exists for Kanak tribal affairs; these are called aires coutumières ("tribal areas") and are eight in number (see map of the tribal areas). Their jurisdiction does not encompass non-Kanaks living within these zones. The tribal areas more or less correspond to the indigenous language areas and/or areas of pre-French tribal alliances.