Still the most popular international destination for Aussies, the South Pacific’s wonderful white sandy beaches, clear blue waters and array of countries keeps drawing us back in.

South Pacific’s temperate climate makes it a year-round destination for Australians.

Fiji is one of the most visited destinations in the South Pacific and it comprises more than 300 islands, of which the two major islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. It has rugged landscapes, palm-lined beaches and some of the most pristine coral reefs in the entire world, where visitors love to snorkel and scuba dive. Aside from Indian-style curries and kava – a beverage banned as a drug in some part of the world – Fijian cuisine is similar to other South Pacific countries and includes seafood, taro, rice and coconut milk.

The French territory of New Caledonia has beautiful small islands, including the Isle of Pines, and is also known for its palm-lined beaches and the world’s largest lagoons, which is rich in marine life. An extensive barrier reef surrounds the main island and, like its neighbouring countries of Fiji and Vanuatu, New Caledonia is a scuba diver’s paradise. The capital Noumea is home to French-influenced restaurants and luxury boutiques selling Parisian fashion.

But there are smaller islands around the South Pacific to be discovered. Figure-eight shaped Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia. With black-sand beaches, lagoons, waterfalls and two extinct volcanoes, it’s a popular destination for remote travellers.

American Samoa

American Samoa is still a relatively exotic cruise port, generally only part of round-the-world or trans-Pacific itineraries. Its small capital, Pago Pago is a quiet tropical outpost with limited facilities. Locals will head down to the waterfront to set up an impromptu market when a cruise ship arrives. The National Park of American Samoa is spread over three islands and offers hiking trails through rainforest as well as snorkelling and diving to see more than 950 species of fish and 250 species of corals.

Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is a nation in the South Pacific which consists of 15 islands. Rarotonga is the largest island and is home to rugged mountains as well as the capital, Avarua. In the capital, travellers can shop for local handicrafts, perfumes as well as the black pearls, which the island is known for. The nation is famous for its snorkelling and scuba-diving sites because of its complex and diverse range of coral reef systems. Visit the Wreck of the Matai which is a popular diving site.

Fiji

It’s one of the most visited destinations in the South Pacific and Fiji has more than 300 islands. It has rugged landscapes, palm-lined beaches and some of the most pristine coral reefs in the entire world. The major islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Because of its reefs, snorkelling and scuba diving are popular activities for visitors.

Suva

Suva is the busiest and largest city in Fiji. The Fiji Museum has a fascinating collection dating back 3,500 years. The Colo-I-Suva Forest has hiking trails, swimming beaches and bird-watching spots. For handicrafts, woodcarving and woven items, visit the Government Handicraft Centre or the Bavari Handicrafts market where you can watch local artists making unique souvenirs. The beautiful Coral Coast stretches from Suva to Sigatoka, dotted with resorts, villages and beaches.

Best for: Families.

Papua New Guinea

The southwestern Pacific nation has some fantastic inland and active volcanoes. Like its neighbours, there are dense rainforests and hikinh routes, including the famous Kokoda Trail where many of Australian and Kiwi soldiers trekked during World War II. There are also some stunning coral reefs for divers and snorkellers.

New Caledonia

The French territory of New Caledonia has beautiful small islands including the Isle of Pines, and is also known for its palm-lined beaches and one of the world’s largest lagoons, which is rich in marine life. An extensive barrier reef surrounds the main island and like its neighbouring countries of Fiji and Vanuatu, New Caledonia is a scuba divers paradise. The capital Noumea is home to French-influenced restaurants and luxury boutiques selling Parisian fashion.

Noumea

Adventure seekers enjoy the Mont Koghi Nature trek, starting with a four-wheel drive ride followed by a walk in the rainforest. Take a Segway ride around Parc Zoologique et Forestier to see the cagou, a flightless bird which is the symbol of New Caledonia. Amedee Island Marine Reserve is a tiny coral atoll 18 kilometres south of Noumea where you can snorkel or see coral reefs and sea turtles from a glass bottom boat. The Tchou Tchou train traverses the city to Notre Dame de Pacific lookout, stopping at a couple of swimming hideaways including Lemon Bay beach.

Best for: Families.

Isle of Pines

Take a boat ride to Turtle Bay to see loggerhead and green turtles, swim in the clear waters or simply relax by the beach. The beautiful Cave of Queen Hortense is surrounded by rainforest and is one of the largest limestone caves on the island. Shop for souvenirs including sandalwood products at market stalls along Kuto Bay. The white sand beach and turquoise water of neighbouring Kanumera Bay is fringed by coral reef where snorkelers can view colourful fish.

Best for: Couples and families.

Samoa

This country in Polynesia has many island that has reef-boarded beaches as well as rugged rainforests with gorges and waterfalls. Some of the islands include Upolu which is home to most of Samoa’s population. Some of the highlights include Lalomanu Beach and there are excellent spots for fishing, diving and surfing all along the coast. Hike through the lush rainforests to some dramatic waterfalls.

Solomon Islands (Gizo & Guadalcanal)

Visitors can explore bustling waterfront markets, WWII historical sites and museums, or head inland for lush jungle, crashing waterfalls and ancient volcanoes. The capital, Honiara, is on the island of Guadalcanal and visitors receive a traditional welcome ceremony at Kakabona Cultural village. Gizo, the second largest town, is the hub of the Western Province. Gizo has excellent diving with clear water and brilliant coral. World War II sites can be visit by hiking or diving.

Best for: Divers and history buffs.

Tahiti

Tahiti is the largest island in French Polynesia and it’s shaped like a figure eight. With black-sand beaches, lagoons, waterfalls and two extinct volcanoes, it’s a popular destination for travellers looking for a remote holiday. Papeete, on the north of the island, is the capital of French Polynesia and features on longer cruise itineraries around the Pacific.

Best for: Nature lovers and couples.

Tonga

This Polynesian kingdom consists of more than 170 South Pacific Islands, most of them uninhabited. These islands are lined with white beaches and coral reefs and many are also covered in tropical rainforests. The capital, Nukualofa has many beach resorts as well as plantations to discover. There is also a stunning coral gate which dates back to the 1200s.

Vanuatu

Vanuatu is made up of roughly 80 islands. One of the main attractions is scuba diving in underwater caverns and wrecks from World War II. The country’s capital is Port Vila where downtown is home to colourful market stalls selling produce and local handicrafts. Just near Port Vila is the Erakor Lagoon which has sandy white beaches and idyllic resorts. The shallow lagoon is a popular spot for snorkelling and kayaking.

Port Vila

Port Vila’s bustling downtown market is a vibrant spot where local women in brightly coloured dresses shop for fresh produce including king-sized bananas, papayas and mud crabs. Handicraft stalls sell scarves, t-shirts and colourful sarongs. At Mele Cascades water crashes down into small pools, some deep enough to swim in. For traditional culture, visit the Ekasup Village to watch demonstrations on the old ways of cooking, singing and hunting. The villagers dress in traditional garments made of palm leaves and grass skirts.

Best for: families.

Mystery Island

This little gem at the southern tip of the Vanuatu archipelago can only be reached by ship. Surrounded by clear blue waters and sheltered by coral reefs, it is the perfect snorkelling and swimming hideaway. Ride a paddleboard and explore the surrounding bays. Enjoy a relaxing, traditional Vanuatu massage under a palm tree or in a thatched hut. Get your hair braided at a beachside village market which also sells trinkets and souvenirs. It only takes about 40 minutes to walk around the island.

Best for: Families with kids.

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