Aim: To determine the soil characteristics of Nothofagus-dominated rain forests in an ultramafic region (i.e. soils having high concentrations of metals including Mg, Fe and Ni), and whether soil characteristics may explain the location of monodominant rain forest in relation to adjacent mixed rain forest and maquis (shrub-dominated vegetation). Location: New Caledonia. Methods: Soil characteristics were compared among six Nothofagus-dominated rain forests from a range of altitudes and topographic positions. At four of these sites, comparisons were made with soils of adjacent mixed rain forest and maquis. Results: Soil characteristics varied among the monodominant Nothofagus forests, largely due to differences between ultramafic soils and soils influenced by non-ultramafic intrusions. The soils of all vegetation types had low concentrations of nutrients, particularly P, K and Ca (both total and extractable/exchangeable), and high total concentrations of Ni, Fe, Cr and Mn. There were significant differences between the rain forests and adjacent maquis in soil concentrations of several elements (N, P, Ca, Mg and Mn), more so in surface soils than at depth, but much of this pattern may be caused by effects of vegetation on the soil, rather than of soil on the vegetation. However, there were no significant differences in soil concentrations of any mineral elements between Nothofagus forest and adjacent mixed rain forest. Main conclusions: We found no evidence for soil mediation of boundaries of Nothofagus rain forest with mixed rain forest, and little evidence for the boundaries of either forest type with maquis. We suggest that the local abrupt boundaries of these monodominant Nothofagus forests are directly related to temporal factors, such as time since the last wildfire and frequency of wildfire, and that disturbance is therefore a major causal factor in the occurrence of these forests.