EIGHT FAVOURITE SOUTH PACIFIC ISLAND HOLIDAY IDEAS
If you are not keen to jump on a long flight, a South Pacific island holiday gives you a chance to experience another culture, get in some awesome beach time and come home refreshed. There are plenty of islands to choose from and many smaller resorts if you want to stay away from the crowds.
Today we invited some of our travel writing friends to share their favourite spots in the South Pacific to help you find the perfect place for your next getaway.
This South Pacific beauty is a must-visit destination for so many reasons. The islands of Vanuatu each have their unique cultural attractions, they’re surrounded by vibrant coral reefs, and for divers, this is where you’ll find the world’s most famous WWII wreck: the SS President Coolidge.
Three things you must do when you visit Vanuatu
1. From wreck to reef: dive and snorkel Vanuatu
Encircled by, and in common with, its Pacific Ocean neighbours Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomons, Vanuatu has rich coral reefs, a wealth of wrecks, and some great snorkelling too. The islands of Tanna and Efate (including capital Port Vila) have beautiful fringing reefs where you’re likely to see abundant marine life; colourful reef fish, turtles, and, if you’re lucky, the occasional dugong.
Espiritu Santo in the north is most famous for its WWII wreck sites, the SS President Coolidge, the largest, most accessible wreck in the world, and Million Dollar Point, a graveyard of WWII equipment dumped into the lagoon at the end of the war.
2. Natural wonders: Blue Holes, Banyan trees and volcanoes
From active volcanoes to lush rainforest and impossibly blue, blue holes, Vanuatu’s natural wonders are both stunning and diverse. On the island of Tanna, Mount Yasur is one of few places on Earth you can safely visit an active volcano and look down into the fiery crater.
Tanna is also home to the largest banyan tree in the Southern hemisphere, as well as some spectacular waterfalls, and its Blue Cave is a beautiful spot to swim, an enormous seaside cavern lit from above through a hole in the ceiling revealing the rainforest above.
There are equally beautiful blue swimming holes on Espiritu Santo in the north, surrounded by lush rainforest, as well as perfectly curved white sandy beaches such as Champagne Beach and Port Orly.
3. Ni-Van culture – from water music to land diving
Ni-Vanuatu people are incredibly friendly and welcome you to enjoy their cultural heritage. At most resorts, you will be invited to join a traditional feast, kava tasting and dance performance. Throughout the year, there are several festivals, the most famous of which is the Land Diving Festival in Penticost Island.
Land diving (traditionally called Nangol) is a precursor to bungee jumping, a ritual performed by men who jump off wooden towers about 30 to 40 metres high, with tree vines strapped around each ankle.
In Espiritu Santo, take a day tour to experience ‘Water Music’, a hypnotic sonic and visual experience like no other anywhere else in the world. The songs are a collection of different movements performed in accordance with the waters’ surface, involving splashing, scooping, slapping, skimming, swirling… accompanied by the vocals of a group of female singers, all woven together in a rhythmic pattern.
Suggested by Deb from Diveplanit
Best time of year to visit Vanuatu: May to October when the weather is dry.
Flying time from Australia: Average 5 hours – 3hrs, 40m from Sydney or 7hrs from Perth.
Airlines with direct flights from Australia to Vanuatu: Qantas and Air Vanuatu
Papua New Guinea
Anyone with an adventurous streak looking for an under-the-radar South Pacific getaway should consider Australia’s closest neighbour: Papua New Guinea (PNG). Known as “the Land of the Unexpected”, PNG offers a great range of hiking, snorkelling, diving, history, and culture.
PNG’s stunning beaches and islands are the country’s calling card. Plonk yourself on a perfect white-sand beach for a few days or explore underwater to see colourful fish and World War II relics.
The twin towns of Kokopo and Rabaul (the latter now covered in thick ash after nearby volcano Mt Tavurvur destroyed it in 1994) are a stand-out tourist destinations. Here you can hike the volcano, go diving and snorkelling, or wander the open-air Kokopo Market. World War II buffs will appreciate the history to be found in the once-secret tunnels in which the Japanese hid their barges. Stay and eat at either Kokopo Beach Hotel or Rapopo Plantation.
Tufi is a diver’s delight, set in a striking location. Book a few nights at Tufi Dive Resort. In between dives, experience a local cultural show, go fishing or take a hike along the coast.
One of the best things to do in Papua New Guinea is to spend a relaxing few days in Kavieng. Hop a boat ride across the harbour to Nusa Island Retreat, an eco-resort radiating chilled vibes. The waterfront huts are the perfect spot to launch yourself for a day of sunbathing, snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding, surfing, and fishing. The nightly dinner buffets are outstanding.
Depending on how much of the country you want to see, you could pop over to one of these destinations for a long weekend, but better yet is to spend a week or longer to really immerse yourself in the natural beauty and rich culture of the country.
Suggested by Rebecca of Rebecca and the World
Best time of year to visit PNG: June to October is the coolest time (average 28 Celcius), warm and wet from December to February.
Flying time from Australia to Port Moresby: Average 6 hrs, 20 mins – 4 hrs from Sydney, 1.5hrs from Cairns
Airlines with direct flights from Australia: Qantas and Air Niugini
This small group of islands, about two hours flight north-east of Fiji, is the perfect South Pacific getaway if you want to get away from it all. It’s ideal for travellers who love nature focused destinations and don’t want to see other tourists.
Stunningly beautiful, these islands are full of gorgeous, trash-free beaches. Under the water is just as picturesque, with good diving and snorkelling. The interior is full of jungle ready to explore as well as waterfalls and sinkholes. The best part is that all of this is easily accessible.
It’s a very relaxed and safe country. The locals are very welcoming. It’s so relaxed that the country basically shuts down on a Sunday, so make sure you have organised where you’ll stay and eat in advance.
Your time is best spent exploring the two biggest islands, Upolo (home to the capital, Apia, and the airport) and Savai’i. There isn’t a list of must-do attractions. Your visit should be about enjoying the surrounding nature, especially the beaches. The top things to do are To-Sua Trench, a sinkhole that makes for a great swimming hole, and the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum.
I also recommend spending at least a couple of nights in the local style of accommodation known as beach fales. Pictured here, these are small, covered, raised platforms on beaches. There’s no better view to wake up to!
How long to stay depends on how much time you love being away from it all in nature. Within a couple of weeks, you could explore Samoa well. In a week, it’s easy to see the main island, Upolu.
Where to eat: Buffet at Taufua Beach Fales
Where to stay: Taufua Beach Fales on Lalomanu beach
Suggest by Sharon from Simpler And Smarter
Best time of year to visit Samoa: April and October are the least humid. It can be very wet in Feb and March.
Flying time from Australia to Samoa: Average 7hrs and 45 mins -5h 15min hrs from Sydney
Airlines with direct flights from Australia to Samoa: Virgin Airlines
An archipelago of picture-perfect islands that pepper the Pacific, the Cook Islands, offers an idyllic tropical escape of chilled-out charm and surreal beauty that is untouched and unforgettable.
A perfect playground for couples or families, the Cook Islands is bathed in chilled-out charm and natural beauty. The islands’ craggy volcanic mountains, dense green jungle, swaying palm trees and glorious beaches of white coral beaches and gin clear, coral-stuffed lagoons are a huge part of the appeal, though the lovely locals and their ancient Polynesian heritage are the Cook’s greatest treasure.
While the main island of Rarotonga and too-blue-to-be-true atoll, Aitutaki, receive the bulk of visitors, the islands of Mangaia and Atiu are highly recommended for those visitors keen on adventure and to a deeper dive into traditional Cook Islands culture.
Rarotonga’s weekly Punanga Nui Markets are a must for stalls of brightly coloured pareo (sarongs), black pearls, fresh flowers, and fruit. And a Sunday morning stop at one of the pretty whitewashed churches is a must for the uplifting musical improvisation of the Imene tuki (hymn of grunts) where the women fill the church with sweet melody and men interject with a rhythmic harmony to form a uniquely Cook Islands sound.
Those looking for a relaxing break can laze by resort pools, take a dip in luminous lagoons, or catch a jaw-dropping cultural performance. More adventurous travelers might prefer to trek the jungle-strewn terrain of the islands’ interiors, littered with ancient marae and World War II bunkers, explore the colourful underwater worlds on a diving expedition, or set sail for a voyage across the archipelago’s brilliant blue waters.
Where to eat: The Muri Night Markets are a great spot to join the locals for a feast with everything from fresh fruits and drinking coconuts to barbecue, seafood, local curries, and even pizza. The night markets are open Tuesday to Friday and Sunday evenings from 5 pm.
Where to stay: For families The Rarotongan Beach Resort & Lagoonarium, on the island of Rarotonga, offers a little bit of everything, including direct access to a brilliant blue lagoon. For an adult-only luxury break, head to the five-star Pacific Resort on Aitutaki, where 29 luxuriously appointed bungalows and villas offer uninterrupted views across the lagoon from a private sundeck.
Suggested by Aleney from Boy Eats World
Best time of year to visit the Cook Islands: November to April offers the warmest weather, but it’s comfortable year-round.
Flying time from Australia: 6 hrs from Sydney
Airlines with direct flights from Australia to Rarotonga: most flights go via Auckland, but Air New Zealand offers direct flights from Australia’s east coast.
Yasawa Islands, Fiji
What comes to mind when you think of Fiji? If you picture lounging on pristine white beaches while sipping a cocktail, you’re not alone. But, you might be surprised to hear that Fiji is a great destination for outdoor adventurers too!
Fiji comprises over 300 islands, and one of the most popular for visitors is the Yasawa Islands. Not only are the Yasawas easily accessible from the airport in Nadi, but they also offer incredible scuba diving, snorkelling, fishing, paddling, hiking, and more!
Most resorts in the Yasawa Islands are the only developed area for tourists on the island. So, meals and activities are typically only available through the resort. For this reason, many visitors choose to stay on multiple islands to experience more than one resort. Before booking, be sure to look into the meal plans and activities available!
Blue Lagoon Beach Resort on Nacula Island has something for everyone and every budget. They have incredible beachfront villas, more secluded villas, and even dormitory-style hostel beds. Blue Lagoon also has an onsite dive shop with access to about 30 dive sites as well as PADI certification for new scuba divers! If scuba diving isn’t your thing, Blue Lagoon also has kayaking, snorkelling, and hand line fishing as well as hiking trails to get views of the islands from above.
Whether you stay for a week or just a few days, the Yasawa Islands in Fiji provide the perfect mix of adventure and tranquillity!
Suggested by Susan of The Big Wild World
Best time of year to visit Fiji: You can visit year-round, although the wet season (November to March) can see cyclones. April and October are great months. July-August and Christmas are the most expensive.
Flying time from Australia to Nadi: 3-4 hours from the east coast of Australia.
Airlines with direct flights from Australia to Nadi: Virgin, Qantas, and Fiji Airlines from the east coast.
We also explored the Yasawa Islands on a seven-night Captain Cook Cruise
There are so many great South Pacific getaways, and Noumea, New Caledonia, is one. This French overseas territory has so much to offer!
Noumea is perfect for all kinds of travelers. Honeymooners can relax at one of the pristine beaches, while adventure seekers can hike one of the many trails. Moreover, Noumea is more budget-friendly than visiting mainland France.
Three to four days will allow you to see everything that Noumea has to offer. Go to the top of the Amédée Lighthouse because the views of the ocean are beautiful. If you want to go back home with some pretty souvenirs, you can get them from the Port Moselle Market. You can also buy local treats here.
You also can’t leave Noumea without learning more about the local culture at the Tjibaou Cultural Center. You can even learn about local marine life at Aquarium des Lagons Nouvelle Caledonie. Last but not least, spend some time in Coconut Palm Square. This is the heart of the city and is lined with shops and restaurants.
One of Noumea’s significant sites is Signal Island. You can get there in around 30 minutes from Noumea via boat. This island is uninhabited and has crystal clear waters and powdery white sand. Aside from major relaxation, people visit Signal Island to snorkel with hundreds of turtles. You can even see them from the shore!
Suggested by Disha Smith from Disha Discovers
Best time of year to visit Noumea: October and November for perfect daily temps in the mid-20s Celcius. Avoid March, which is usually quite wet.
Flying time from Australia: average time 4 hrs and 40 mins, from Sydney it’s approx 3 hrs.
Airlines with direct flights from Australia to Noumi: Aircalin and Qantas
Though Tonga is a small group of islands in the South Pacific, they punch well above their weight. Relatively undiscovered by tourism, these islands are still incredibly authentic, providing meaningful travel experiences. Best of all, though, the Kingdom of Tonga is home to one of the most incredible natural animal encounters in the world. From many of the Tongan islands, it is possible to swim with humpback whales!
Whale excursions run from early July to early November each year. The region provides some of the best chances to swim with whales at an affordable price. These two factors make Tonga the perfect destination to tick off this bucket-list adventure.
In addition to swimming with whales, the Tongan islands have beautiful beaches and several great restaurants serving up local fare. You’ll find fabulous resorts spread across the islands, too, each of them offering traditional Tongan hospitality. What they lack in infrastructure (compared to countries like Fiji), they certainly make up for with stunning backdrops and welcoming staff.
For us, Tonga provided a fantastic getaway from our daily lives and the opportunity to unplug whilst connecting with some of the most incredible animals on the planet. That’s a winning combination in our books!
Where to stay: Tanoa International Dateline Hotel in Nuku‘alofa is a lovely modern property with waterfront access and a great pool.
Suggested by Sarah from Exploring Kiwis
Best time of year to visit Tonga: October and November for perfect daily temps in the mid-20s Celcius. Avoid March, which is usually quite wet.
Flying time from Australia to Tonga: average time from Australia is 10 hours.
Airlines with direct flights from Australia to Tonga: Fiji Airways, Air New Zealand, or Virgin Australia offer some direct flights, but many go via Nadi.
The Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands is a tropical paradise with a rich history. From the early days of headhunting to its significance in WWII’s Pacific Arena and its present incarnation as a mecca for surfers and scuba divers, there are many reasons to visit. Here are my three top picks:
1. Snorkel and dive the fringing reefs and sea caverns.
At Uepi Island Resort, grab a snorkel and jump in by the jetty to be greeted by a wall of coral populated by schools of colourful fish, reef sharks, and manta rays.
In Gizo, at Fat Boys Resort, there’s great snorkelling under the jetty and at nearby sandy cays, and each evening, reef sharks come for a feed at the restaurant at the end of a jetty as the fish of the day are prepared for dinner.
2. WWII History, Guadalcanal and Iron Bottom Sound
The Battle of Guadalcanal was a turning point in WWII’s Pacific arena, and you can find relics from this mighty battle on most islands. Near capital Honiara, on Guadalcanal, there is a wonderful open-air museum, a collection of planes, guns, and tanks with a backdrop of vibrant hibiscus shrubs. From here, look out onto Iron Bottom Sound, a mecca for divers, so named for the many wrecked warships lying on the seafloor.
In the Western Provinces, Munda has a great little WWII museum run by a character called Barnie, who has a great collection of artifacts, while in Gizo, you visit Kennedy Island, where former U.S. president JFK was rescued during WWII when his torpedo boat was rammed and wrecked by a Japanese destroyer.
In Guadalcanal, Munda and Gizo, there are shallow wrecks to snorkel or dive – Allied and Japanese planes, ships, and even a submarine.
3. Unique local culture, from pan pipes to head-hunters.
If you stay long enough at any of the resorts, you’re bound to be treated to at least one cultural display of song and dance. The music of the Solomon Islands is unlike anything you’ll hear, featuring enormous bamboo pan pipes, blown through and played like a xylophone – often with old flip flops!
In Munda, take a boat trip across the Roviana Lagoon to Skull Island, where the skulls of former chiefs were moved to when the islanders converted to Christianity.
The local guides will tell you lots of stories of raiders attacking villages in dugout canoes to obtain skulls and slaves. The practise came to an end with the arrival of missionaries in the early 1900s.
Suggested by Deborah from Diveplanit
Best time of year to visit the Solomon Islands: With temperatures in the high 20s year-round, it’s always warm, but the dry season from May to September is considered the best time. You will find heavy rains from Nov-March.
Flying time from Australia: average time from Australia is 6hrs and 40 mins approx 3 hrs from Sydney.
Airlines with direct flights from Australia: Fiji Airways, Air New Zealand, or Virgin Australia offer some direct flights but many go via Nadi.
All of these options are only a short flight from Australia and make perfect quick getaways.