The poll had a record-high participation rate of 80.6 per cent of registered voters - so many that some polling stations in the capital, Noumea, had to stay open about an hour longer than planned Sunday to handle the crush. Voters in New Caledonia are deciding whether the French territory in the South Pacific should break free from the European country that claimed it in the mid-19th century.
According to recent surveys, conducted on the island, from 63 to 75 percent of people are poised to vote against breaking away from France.
New Caledonia anti-independence leader Philippe Gomes. New Caledonia, an archipelago east of Australia, has a nickel mining industry as well as sun-kissed lagoons.
Most Kanaks have tended to back independence, while most descendants of European settlers have favored keeping the French connection.
The high commissioner's office reported limited outbreaks of unrest in Noumea as votes were counted, with seven cars set ablaze, some roads closed and two instances of stone-throwing.
New Caledonia's High Commissioner tweeted that Farino on the territory's main island voted by a margin of 9 to 1 against independence, and that almost 95 percent of the village's registered voters cast ballots. But otherwise the vote was overwhelmingly peaceful.
Accusing the United States of "turning its back on the region in recent months", Macron said China was "building its hegemony step by step" in the Pacific - suggesting an independent New Caledonia could be Beijing's next target.
Atención: el próximo martes no abrirán los bancos
En Rapipago se puede retirar efectivo sin costo, pero las terminales de Pago Fácil podrían cobrar una comisión por extraer cash. El mercado cambiario no operará, la Convención Colectiva estipula que se detenga la actividad bursátil, financiera y bancaria .
"I don't necessarily want our lives to change", the 50-year-old said. Native Kanaks represent about 40 percent of the island's population. New Caledonia receives about 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion U.S.) in French state subsidies every year, and many had feared the economy would suffer if ties were severed.
Others hailed the ballot as historic.
The referendum, the result of a 30-year long decolonisation process, is the first vote on self-determination to be held in a French territory since Djibouti in the Horn of Africa opted for independence during a poll in 1977.
"We've been waiting for 30 years for this vote", said Mariola Bouyer, 34.
It led to the 1998 Noumea Accord which paved the way for a steady devolution of powers, as well as Sunday's referendum and possibly two others before 2022. "It's building a country together".
The New Caledonia archipelago became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III - Napoleon's nephew and heir - and was used for decades as a prison colony. However, defense, foreign affairs, justice and higher education are still under French administration. It became an overseas territory after World War II, with French citizenship granted to all Kanaks in 1957. Under French colonial rule, the Kanaks faced strict segregation policies and suffered discrimination.
In 1988, the rival local forces signed a peace deal providing for autonomy and calling for a new referendum on independence within 10 years.