From Fiji’s coral forests to the volcanoes of Tahiti, we take a look at some of the most gorgeously indulgent shores in the crazy jumble of South Pacific Islands.The South Pacific confounds even the savviest map buffs with its splatter of dots spread across the world's biggest ocean. What you cannot tell from a map, or even most tourist brochures, is that these palm-laden pinpricks are as diverse as the region is. South Pacific islands are culturally and geographically divided into Polynesia (meaning 'many islands') and Melanesia (meaning 'black islands'). Polynesian islands include Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island while Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are Melanesian.
Here are a few of these magical islands:
Solomon Islands: For those seeking an authentic Melanesian experience or an off-the-beaten-track destination, the Solomons are hard to beat. From WW II relics scattered in the jungle to leaf-hut villages where traditional culture is alive, there is so much on offer. The visual appeal, reminiscent of a Discovery Channel documentary, includes volcanic islands that jut up dramatically from the cobalt blue ocean, croc-infested mangroves, huge lagoons, tropical islets and emerald forests are all present here.With only a smattering of traditional guesthouses and comfortable hideaways, it is a tailor-made for eco-tourists. For outdoor goers, opportunities exist to climb an extinct volcano, surf uncrowned waves, snorkel pristine reefs or kayak across a lagoon.
Vanuatu: This is a country well worth taking time to explore, especially when there is a volcano involved. The place is all thatched-roof accommodation in the outer islands but glitzy resorts abound on Efate and Santo. These islands also boast great roads, giving you round-island access on Efate and smooth access to stunning beaches and blue holes on Santo. Adding to that are scented balmy breezes and several best-in-the-world experiences that few people know about: a luxury liner shipwrecked in clear waters, gigantic banyan trees, pounding waterfalls, an ancient living culture with extraordinary ceremonies and picture-perfect beaches.
New Caledonia: New Caledonia is a dazzling lagoon surrounded by almost every shade of blue. The 2008 prestigious listing of the lagoon as a World Heritage site has brought people together to celebrate and protect it, from village level through to government. More than a tropical playground, New Caledonia is a charming mix of French and Melanesian; it is a place of warm hospitality sitting beside European elegance. Long gorgeous beaches are backed by cafes and bars, with horizons that display tiny islets to attract day trippers. Be lured into kayaks, sail, dive into a world of corals, canyons, caves and heritage shipwrecks, go whale watching or snorkeling, or relax on the warm sand of a deserted isle.
Fiji: With exquisite beaches, undersea marvels, lush interiors and a fascinating culture to explore, you will not want to rush while taking in the dazzling sands, perfect palm trees and waters so blue that they glow. While stunning stretches abound, it is on the islands of the Mamanucas and Yasawas that one can find Fiji’s most heavenly heavyweights. These beaches are a poster child for paradise, luring thousands of visitors keen to discover their own South Sea idyll. The appeal of the islands stretches beyond holiday happy snaps; their reefs, bays and sublime sands have provided cinematic eye-candy to films including Tom Hanks’ Cast Away and 1980 teen-dream classic The Blue Lagoon.
Tonga: The kingdom of Tonga is perched just east of the International Date Line. Several travelers tend to plan their entire trip around Tonga’s marvelous whale-watching. There are many opportunities to get right off the beaten track in Tonga’s 170-odd islands, with tiny forested islets calling your name left and right. The Ha'apai Group offers deserted white beaches, vibrant reefs and only a smattering of other tourists. For those seeking a genuine cultural experience, society in the Pacific’s only remaining kingdom has remained more impervious to outside influences than Samoa.
Raratongaand the Cook Islands: Scattered over a vast expanse of emptyocean the size of Western Europe, the tiny Cook Islands is a castaway’s dream come true. For those fantasizing about escaping to a remote desert island, far from the hustle and hum of the modern world, these 15 fascinating islands will provide you with a thousand years of Polynesian culture sitting side by side with some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the South Pacific. The jewel in the crown is Rarotonga, the largest island, a bewitching blend of craggy mountains, dense jungle and glorious bone-white beaches.
Tahiti and French Polynesia: Sculpted by sky-piercing, moss-green peaks and lined with vivid turquoise lagoons, sultry French Polynesia is a place to take it slow and experience warm, laid-back island chic. Resorts here are a honeymooner’s dream with private overwater bungalows, luxury trapping and spectacular views of the island’s iconic, square-topped peak. While there are plenty of slim stretches of white, pink and black-sand beaches, they are just pretty springboards into the real draw: the lagoons. Most high islands are surrounded by fringing reef that creates a protected swimming pool of the most intense hue of aqua imaginable. Coral atolls have this same caliber of lagoon minus the big clunky island in the middle. Fish, dolphins, rays, sharks, turtles and more inhabit these clear-water coral gardens that are as excellent for snorkeling as they are for diving and swimming.
Easter Island (Rapa Nui): Few areas in the world possess a more mystical pull than this tiny speck of land, one of the most isolated places on Earth. It is hard to feel connected to Chile, over 3700km to the east, let alone the wider world. Endowed with the most logic-defying statues in the world, the strikingly familiar moai – Easter Island emanates a magnetic, mysterious vibe.But Easter Island is much more than an open-air museum. Diving, snorkeling and surfing are fabulous in themselves, but on land, there is no better ecofriendly way to experience the island's savage beauty than on foot, from a bike saddle or on horseback. Although Easter Island is world famous and visitors are on the increase, everything remains small and personable because in the end, it is all about eco-travel.