Help has arrived for Kiwis trapped in New Caledonia amid intense unrest, with the first rescue flight leaving the country this evening.

“The plane has left New Caledonia after picking up the first tranche of Kiwis and it’s on its way back to New Zealand,” Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters confirmed in a post on X.

The Pacific territory has been overrun by violence for a over week amid protests against the French government’s electoral reform.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has been awaiting approval from French authorities before being able to deploy aircraft to begin evacuations – and now, approval has been secured. The first in “a series” of proposed flights left New Zealand this afternoon.

The plane departed for New Caledonia shortly after midday to pick up about 50 New Zealanders from the unsettled French territory.

The first NZDF flight to the archipelago left shortly after midday, with 50 people able to be carried on the return flight.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said around 290 New Zealanders are there.

“New Zealanders in New Caledonia have faced a challenging few days — and bringing them home has been an urgent priority for the Government,” Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement earlier today.

“We want to acknowledge the support of relevant authorities, both in Paris and Nouméa, in facilitating this flight.

“The situation in New Caledonia remains dynamic, and New Zealand officials are continuing to work with French counterparts and other partners especially Australia to understand what is needed to ensure the safety of our people there.

“In cooperation with France and Australia, we are working on subsequent flights in coming days.”

Today’s flight will evacuate Kiwis with “the most pressing needs”, Peters added.

“Passengers for subsequent flights will be prioritised by consular staff.”

Any New Zealanders in New Caledonia who hadn’t already registered with SafeTravel were urged to do so.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said: “We’ve received clearance for two Australian Government assisted-departure flights today for Australian and other tourists to depart New Caledonia.

“Passengers are being prioritised based on need. We continue to work on further flights.”