Travel

Discovering the magic of the Pacific islands by sea

There's something truly special about the Pacific Islands, a certain magic that can't be found anywhere else in the world. From the breathtaking landscapes of Fiji and Vanuatu to the vibrant cultures of Samoa and Tonga, these islands are a must-see for any traveller looking to add some adventure and relaxation to their bucket list.

An insider’s guide to the Pacific islands

By Margaret McKay

I had one of those milestone birthdays approaching, the one that used to sound old. I knew my partner was cooking up a surprise because he had that happy, smug, secretive look … you know the one. He told me to pack a bag and include a swimsuit. Like an eager puppy, I bounced off and did as I was asked.

Pinch me! Days later I was sipping on a pina colada, aboard a cruise ship headed through Sydney Heads. Three short blasts on the ship’s horn signaled our goodbye to the landlubbers. We were headed to the Pacific Islands. Around us were happy, excited people, all living their biggest and best dream. We met newlyweds on their honeymoon, retirees, first-timers like us, and seasoned cruisers, young, old, and in between. 

That was the first of several Pacific holidays. Since then, we’ve visited Rabaul (New Guinea), Tahiti, Bora Bora, Raiatea and Moorea (French Polynesia), Pago Pago (American Samoa), Apia (Samoa), Suva (Fiji), Noumea (New Caledonia), Vanuatu, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, and Hawaii. Every destination was exhilarating, with palm trees, grass skirts, coconuts, exotic seafood and turtles, stunning weather, each place similar but different.

There’s something about the people of the Pacific that’s impossible not to love. They’re relaxed, smiling, and happy to see tourists, calling out their greetings: bula, or malo.

Here’s my breakdown of the ideal Pacific getaway (hint: it's best seen from a cruise ship).

Fabulous Fiji

Source: iStock

One time we decided to fly to Fiji in March. The south-east trade winds cause Suva to have much higher rainfall than the western side of the island, and my experience was that even in March, the highest rainfall month, our time at a resort near Nadi on the west coast saw glorious days of blue sky and only the odd light rain shower. Maybe we were lucky.

The people of Fiji are a fascinating cultural mix of indigenous Melanesians, Indians, Chinese, and English from its colonial past, producing a rich cuisine and culture. I relished the delicious earth oven meal (lovo) of fish wrapped in leaves, and I was more than a bit interested to try their traditional kava drink, made from the root of a pepper tree.

I had only a tiny bit, which tasted slightly chalky, so I didn’t experience its renowned de-stressing, sedative effect, but then, I wasn’t the least bit stressed. How could you be, among those beautiful, lush rainforests, coral reefs, beaches with the whitest and finest sand? Snorkelling in Fiji’s warm waters was simply heaven.

Volcanic Vanuatu

Source: iStock

I learned that Vanuatu is considered one of the happiest places on Earth, and I found out for myself that it’s true. I discovered a deep sense of community within this exotic country with its volcanoes and lava lakes. Vanuatuans share respect for nature and their environment, and a beautiful cross-cultural respect for each other. Here, materialism plays a back seat to caring for others.

We went scuba-diving around WWII shipwrecks, lounged around on Champagne Beach, we hiked to the lip of an active volcano, and then, a long veg-out by the resort pool, sipping on something wonderful. There’s plenty to do, or not to do in Vanuatu.

Sensational Solomons

Source: iStock

The islands of the Pacific are alike with their coral atolls, abundant marine life, dancers, palm trees and coconuts. One thing that stands out about the Solomon Islands is its exotic birdlife. I lost count of the different species on our tour exploring caves and waterfalls, with small villages dotted here and there along the way.

My ultimate travel tip 

I now encourage all my friends to take a cruise if they want to visit the Pacific islands. Having travelled the Pacific in a myriad of ways, it was the best way to see several islands; to unpack once, sleep in the same bed each night, to have meals and entertainment all included in the tariff – when you add it all up, cruising is just so cost effective.  Yes you can fly to other Pacific destinations, but sailing is magical.

 

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