Numerous voters have decided to decide whether the French Southern Pacific region of New Caledonia should liberate itself from the European land that claimed it in the mid-19th century.
The Territorial High Commissioner estimated that nearly three-quarters of New Caledonia's registered voters cast their votes one hour before the election on Sunday night – a far more robust turnout than in 2014 provincial elections.
Results are expected later on Sunday.
In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron will speak in a televised address about the future of the territory and its election.
The Independence vote marked a milestone for the archipelago to the east of Australia with sun-drenched lagoons and a mining for nickel, a metal used in electronics manufacturing.
More than 174,000 registered voters were asked to answer the question: "Would you like New Caledonia to gain full sovereignty and become independent?" In the 284 polling stations, they received two pieces of paper in which they could choose between yes and no.
Voter Monette Saihulinwa said she opposes independence.
"I do not necessarily want our lives to change," said the 50-year-old.
Others welcomed the ballot as a milestone.
"We have been waiting for this vote for 30 years," said Mariola Bouyer, 34. "This vote must show that we want to live in peace, regardless of our race and roots. It builds a country together. "
New Caledonia relies on France for defense, law enforcement, foreign affairs, justice and education, but has a high degree of autonomy.
New Caledonia receives around 1.3 billion euros in French subsidies each year, and many fear that its economy would suffer if relations were broken.
Around 270,000 people live in the archipelago. These include the native Kanaks, about 40% of the population; People of European descent about 27%; and others from Asian countries and the Pacific Islands.
The archipelago became French in 1853 under Emperor Napoleon III, Napoleon's nephew and heir, and was used for decades as a prison colony.
After the Second World War, it became an overseas territory. All Kanaks were granted French citizenship in 1957.
Most Kanaks tended to support independence, while most descendants of European settlers favored maintaining the French link. Under French colonial rule, the Kanaks suffered under strict segregation policies and were subjected to discrimination.
The referendum is the result of a process that began 30 years ago to end the violence between and against the separation from France.
The violence, which claimed more than 70 lives, led to an agreement in 1988 between rival loyalists and independence groups. Another deal a decade later included plans for a referendum on independence.
If voters say no to independence on Sunday, the 1998 agreement will allow two more self-referral referendums to be held by 2022.