By Anna Selby | September 2017 | 5 minute read
Jewel-like islands are strewn across this region, all offering the quintessential Polynesian paradise of white sand beaches, gin-clear waters and palm trees. Some offer gourmet Parisian food in luxurious, others simple island life and a basic beach hut – the trick is finding the right one.
“Landing in the South Pacific really does feel like you’ve landed on a tropical island paradise. You are made to feel welcome as soon as you step off the plane and instantly relax into ‘island time’. It’s a unique blend of the natural warmth of the local people and the islands’ pristine natural beauty and culture”
TUI DAVENPORT, ANZCRO
Finding the right one
Barefoot luxury abounds in Tahiti and its islands. You can find an over-water bungalow in truly magnificent settings in French Polynesian islands such as Bora Bora and Moorea, and enjoy local delicacies cooked and served with Parisian panache.
Fiji has its share of beautiful resorts, too, but also caters for those on lower budgets and adventure-seekers. You can try diving and snorkelling, trekking through the rainforest to pristine waterfalls, go white-water rafting, caving by boat or swimming with sharks.
Samoa offers the same mix of budget and luxury resorts as well as plenty of adventure. Highlights include surfing and diving with some extraordinary natural sites to explore such as the To Sua Ocean Trench.
These are islands full of natural wonders, from lava fields to blowholes; black sands to rainforest canopies. Samoa is considered the birthplace of Polynesia and the local way of life (fa’a Samoa) still follows 3,000-year-old traditions with village life at their heart.
Also a traditional island nation, Tonga offers village and family stays as well as simple hotel accommodation. Sailing to Tonga through one of the world’s most beautiful archipelagos is becoming a favourite with cruise lines. The capital Nuku’Alofa can be roughly translated as ‘Abode of Love’.
Weddings and Honeymoons are a growing sector for the Cook Islands. Why? “Great boutique hotels, breathtaking beaches, friendly locals and an authentic Polynesian experience,” says Ian Griffiths of Cook Islands Tourism. Top islands include Rarotonga, with its high peaks, rainforest interior and turquoise lagoon; geological wonder Aitu, with a population of less than 1000 and enough beaches to average out at one per visitor; and Aitutaki, with its stunning lagoon.
Marooned in the Cook Islands
Captain Tama has been under the water some time, without a snorkel, but somehow we aren’t worried. The lagoons of the South Pacific are things of wonder, with warm shallow waters so clear you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in an aquarium.
So it’s a bit of a shock when he emerges, wrestling an octopus which he flings unceremoniously on to the deck, to the open-mouthed amazement of my son, aged three.
This is not bound for our scheduled BBQ on a motu (a tiny island in the lagoon) but for his own supper. It doesn’t matter to my son, who is suitably impressed and stores the tentacled tale up for a rainy day back in dull England.
The rest of the day is spent snorkelling, swimming, exploring the uninhabited motu, singing and learning to dance Polynesian-style – it’s desert island discs, but live. And if there’s one thing the people of the South Pacific know, it’s how to throw a party. These islands offer the friendliest of cultures and a way of life where you can barely remember what stress means.
Island combos: Fiji is very affordable if you want to visit several islands on one trip. Most travellers go for three
Always summer: The islands of the South Pacific bask in warm temperatures all year round. April to October are cooler and drier than November to March when it’s warmer
Island culture: Visit the cultural centres of the Cook Islands either on Rarotonga or Aitutaki for an authentic insight into a culture of canoes and cannibals, tattoos and taboos
Extreme adventure: Fiji hosts extreme endurance events throughout the year including ocean swimming, championship surfing and Ultra Running (the Lost Island Ultra run takes place in April 2018)
Literary giant: Treasure Island lovers can visit Robert Louis Stevenson’s Samoan home, Vailima (and sample the island beer of the same name)
Island hopping: Tahiti and the Society Islands are ideal for island hopping as the islands are so close. Moorea is a ferry ride away and Bora Bora is a very short flight away
Happy talk: In world surveys Fiji usually comes top for the planet’s happiest people. Those who visit know why
Learn some new moves: Dancing is the South Pacific’s favourite pastime and visitors are very much encouraged to join in. Ladies should shake those hips! But for men, it’s really all about the knees
Sustainable Samoa: This year marks the 55th anniversary of its independence and celebrating the International Year of Sustainable Tourism as designated by the United Nations
Go to church: Even if you’re not a regular churchgoer you’ll love the unaccompanied four-part harmonies, with everyone dressed in their Sunday best
What the experts say
“There’s been real growth in the adventure and marine sector – including domestic cruising, crewed yachting, diving and river safaris. We are developing our online training for the autumn when we’ll also be launching a FAM incentive for agents”
JANE WEST, DIRECTOR, TOURISM FIJI
“The Islands of Tahiti roadshow will be visiting Manchester on September 21 for our agent evening, with opportunities to meet the tourist board and partners, plus an exciting prize, Tahitian-inspired cocktails and dinner. On September 22 our Product Managers lunch takes place in London. Next year we relaunch our online Tahiti Specialist Programme, with agent incentives and prizes”
JUNO THOMPSON, TAHITI TOURISME
Airlines: Air Tahiti Nui (airtahitinui.com) plans to unveil two brand-new 787-9 Dreamliners late next year.
Talofa Airways (talofaairways.com) launched last year and flies between Western and American Samoa.
Fiji Airways has started a twice-weekly direct services to Nadi from Adelaide – a new gateway to the United States (Los Angeles and San Francisco) via Nadi.
Moana Sands Lagoon Resort is due to open in Rarotonga in the Cooks later this year.
Attractions: UNESCO World Heritage status has been granted to the marae temple of Taputapuatea on the French Polynesian island of Raiatea.
Where to book it
Turquoise Holidays lets you combine Bora Bora with two Cook Islands: five nights at Bora Bora Pearl Beach Resort, five at Crown Beach Resort, Rarotonga and four at Pacific Resort Aitutaki. Prices from £4,795 including all transfers, international flights and breakfasts.
Anzcro offers four nights at the Sofitel Fiji Resort plus a four-day, three-day Fiji Princess Cruise from £1,414pp.