South Pacific idyll

Imagine this: you’re stretched out, eyes closed, taking in the caress of the sun. The sound of the waves gently embraces you, and the pristine sand soothes your soul. This is the South Pacific.

Written by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

11 March 2024


The South Pacific is home to around 10,000 islands of pure relaxation, full of natural beauty and one-of-a-kind experiences. Scattered across the world’s largest ocean, some are lavishly slathered with five-star hotels, and while others may lack the champagne-style lifestyle and overwater bungalows, they are no less five-star locations with crystal-clear waters, swaying palm trees, and sunsets that go on forever.

The Solomon Islands is made up of an incredible 992 islands, while Fiji boasts 333 and Tonga 176. New Caledonia has a staggering 140 islands, and French Polynesia has 118. Vanuatu comes in with 83 islands, and the Cook Islands has 15 and Samoa has just nine.

These are the main tourist destinations, but there are many lesser-known island groups as well, such as Tuvalu, Wallis and Futuna, Niue and Kiribati, which are perfect for a flop-and-drop holiday.

And while you could spend your whole time lazing on the beach, there are also plenty of activities to keep you entertained on these enchanting coral cays. From surfing to spas and whales to wellness, it’s time to escape to the South Pacific.


Surf’s up

Some of the best surf breaks are found in the Pacific, including the killer wave Teahupo’o in Tahiti, which hosts the Billabong Pro. A similarly heavy wave, Cloudbreak in Fiji, is where the Fiji Surf Pro is held.

There are more sought-after heavy waves in Samoa, and waves for a larger variety of levels are pumping in New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands.

Fifteen years ago, I had the public relations contract for the Solomon Islands. As an avid surfer, I discovered it had the most incredibly unspoilt waves, especially in the North Pacific winter, and many waves had not been surfed by Australians. It was exciting to put this virtually unknown destination firmly on the surf map.

Surfers who like a challenging wave and enjoy comfort will love Bora Bora’s little sister, Mo’orea, where two new hotels are causing a stir. While not five-star resorts, the hotels offer luxury in terms of position with views of the sparkling lagoon.

The Cooks Bay Hotel & Suites opened in June 2023 after a two-year renovation, and the suites have been redesigned with sleek interiors. The hotel also has a large outdoor relaxation area and mirror pool, as well as a private beach.

The second hotel is the Niu Beach Hotel, which also faces the lagoon and is in the Hauru-Haapiti neighbourhood. It offers twelve bungalows and a family bungalow.

Opened in late 2023, the bar is a perfect spot to watch lagoon-soaked sunsets. Surfers staying at these hotels will need to organise logistics to get out to the reef for a surf – and don’t forget to hit up a friendly local for some secret tips about the best breaks.

Swim of your life

Tonga is one of the few places where you can swim with whales. Its waters are home to a specific population of humpback whales, which mate and birth in the area each year, ensuring a huge number of whales that stay for a long season. This makes it widely recognised as the best place in the world for whale swimming.

The season lasts from June to October. If you want to experience some magical moments, Majestic Whale Encounters is launching a range of new whale tours, including Women, Whales and Wellness.

Guests experience five days out on the ocean to swim with humpback whales, as well as kayak, paddleboard and snorkel – also included are daily yoga sessions, accommodation at the Fanifo Lofa Resort and authentic Tongan meals.

Tahiti’s Bora Bora has been home to shark swimming for decades, but there’s a new kid on the block in Fiji – Barefoot Shark Encounters. A new tour operator and part of the established Barefoot Collection, they offer some heart-pumping experiences. Barefoot Shark Encounters will have you up close and personal with various sharks either as part of a dive package or a snorkel encounter. There’s even a package for introductory divers.

Set sail

Cruising and the South Pacific go hand in hand like a martini and a British spy, but if you prefer to be stirred rather than shaken, avoid the cyclone season. The best time for cruising in the South Pacific is from May to October. There’s a plethora of cruises visiting virtually every major South Pacific nook and cranny, but there’s always room for one more cruise.

Paul Gauguin Cruises has launched new ways to discover the South Pacific in 2025 with the first-ever overnight stay in Fakarava, Tuamotu Archipelago – a UNESCO-listed biosphere reserve renowned for its marine habitat. As part of the Tuamotus and Society Islands itinerary, the voyage also includes nights in Bora Bora, Papeete and the Society Islands, with visits to Rangiroa, Tuamotu Archipelago, Mo’orea, Huahine, Raiatea, and Motu Mahana (Taha’a).

Paul Gauguin also has a new itinerary encompassing the South Pacific highlights of Fiji, Tonga and the Cook and Society Islands.

In the Society Islands, make your way through Bora Bora, Motu Mahana and Mo’orea, where you’ll discover incomparable beauty, turquoise waters and a vanilla-scented paradise.

Windstar Cruises has sailed Tahiti for more than 35 years and is going beyond its usual itinerary with the new 14-day Tahitian Treasure and Magnificent Marquesas tour in 2024 and 2025. The cruise accesses the Tuamotu Islands of Fakarava and Rangiroa en route to and from the Marquesas, where the yacht spends time in Omoa, Fatu Hiva, Atuona, Hiva Oa, and Taiohae, Nuku Hiva, ending with the Society Islands of Taha’a, Bora Bora (an overnight), Mo’orea and Papeete.

Ready for action

With the Solomon Islands having recently staged the Pacific Games from 19 November to 2 December 2023, it’s a great time to visit this faraway nation. While there hasn’t been anything of note launched this year in terms of tourism products, there are still so many reasons to visit.

If you love diving, Uepi hosts one of the best dive sites in the world, although if you prefer to snorkel, you won’t be left out. The Solomons has wrecks so shallow you can swim just above them, and it’s where you can still find giant shells on beaches in Gizo and visit islands that are so remote visitors are rarely seen.

In some provinces, including Malaita, Makira and Guadalcanal, shell money is still used. If you’re one for war history, you’ll discover American Stuart tanks, Japanese cannons and US fighter planes gathering rust and integrating with the surrounding nature in the jungles on the outskirts of Honiara.

The Solomons is a rare place lost in time, where the people are friendly and the waters are crystal clear.

The best place to stay is Fatboys on Gizo. This trip is not for those who must have five-star accommodation – it’s about roughing it a little and appreciating the unspoilt environment and the natural beauty.

Speaking of which, for the more active, Talanoa Treks in Fiji celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2023 with a new Highland Escape itinerary. Launched on 27 May, the three-day and two-night experience takes travellers to the centre of Viti Levu. Stay in remote villages, trek along rugged trails with guides from local communities, and enjoy cooling rivers and big views.

Lastly, one of the most unusual things to do in the South Pacific is to visit the fishing pigs of Tonga. During low tide at the shallow inner lagoon near Mu’a, about 30 minutes east of Nuku’alofa, the descendants of Captain Cook’s globetrotting pigs can be found wading in the ocean with snouts underwater looking for crabs and shellfish. Told you there was something for everyone!

Feel the serenity

Fiji’s Savasi Island resort is nestled on a sprawling 52-acre private island with just 13 unique villas. Connected to the mainland of Vanua Levu by a private causeway, guests can be delicately pummelled and fragranced at the new spa and wellness facility here.

Converted from a three-bedroom villa, the spa is set within lush, landscaped gardens. It features a spacious welcome lounge, two couples’ treatment rooms and outdoor decks with ocean views.

Standout treatments include the Fijian Bobo Massage, a unique, traditional massage delivered with cold-pressed oils infused with tropical flowers that hydrate and nourish the skin, and the Island Facial, a powerful hydrating boost to skin with uniquely Fijian botanical extracts.

Fiji has even more enticing activities for the regular or even first-time traveller. The Sheraton Resort & Spa, Tokoriki Island, has a new offering, Yoga at Sunrise, held at the resort’s highest peak. They’ve also introduced a Garden to Glass upcycled cocktail-making masterclass using fresh herbs and fruits from the resort’s chef’s garden.

Seventh Heaven Fiji, a luxury floating platoon surrounded by turquoise waters, has launched an exclusive overnight experience – private hire of Seventh Heaven overnight, an all-inclusive food and beverage package, a cocktail-making class, a seven-course sunset dinner, sunrise champagne breakfast, one massage per person, a private snorkelling tour, an iPad loaded with movies and a gift pack. What more could you want?

Rest your head

New Caledonia’s highly anticipated Intercontinental Lifou resort will open in late 2024. Snuggling next to Wadra Bay beach in hectares of luscious green gardens and untouched tropical forests, experience luxury with a fusion of French culture.

Meanwhile, Vanuatu’s Havannah Boat House opened last year. Offering just two villas, this beachfront retreat sits among palm trees, away from the hustle and bustle of Port Havannah. Choose from the Residence (for eight) or the Boat House (a couples’ retreat). Each is designed to sit lightly on the landscape and is built from local natural materials.

On an island off Fiji’s Taveuni Island, a solar-powered resort with residences for sale is being built by Silent Yachts.

Set alongside rugged jungle and sandy beaches, the emissions-free luxury resort will include an array of eco-conscious beachfront residences and a fleet of zero-emission vessels.

Owners will have exclusive access to a number of Silent’s solar–electric tenders, speedboats and catamarans. Residents will also have the complete run of the owners’ clubhouse, a bar and restaurant, a private beach club, and a fully equipped health and wellness centre.

The second Radisson Blu hotel in Fiji will open in 2026 on Naisoso Island. The 250-key resort will offer guests direct beachfront access from apartments overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The new resort will offer leisure facilities, including three beachfront swimming pools, a gym and a kids club. It will also include an all-day dining restaurant, a specialty restaurant, a swim-up pool bar, and event spaces for up to 150 guests.

In another first, IHG has landed its flagship Crowne Plaza brand in Fiji following a major signing with Wailoaloa Hotel. Opened in late 2023 following a multi-million-dollar refurbishment, the Crowne Plaza Fiji Nadi Bay Resort & Spa has converted from its previous life as Pullman Nadi Bay.

The existing 324 rooms have been refreshed with brand-new two-bedroom family rooms and ocean-facing king suites. The resort also includes a new day spa with six double treatment rooms, plus seven dining outlets, including a lobby bar, whiskey bar, all-day dining restaurant, Italian restaurant, a beach club and a nightclub.

Reminiscent of a traditional local village, The Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort on the beautiful Coral Coast of Viti Levu has a refurbishment program underway. Comprising 16 renovated premium bures and the creation of a new Premium Ocean View room category consisting of the 46 original Lagoon Wing rooms, you can be on holiday in no time with a private transfer, taxi, coach or helicopter from the airport.

Namotu Island has introduced The Cobalt Suite, a luxurious addition to the Namotu Villa.

This spacious suite, elegantly designed with natural stone and mahogany timber, has a large private balcony offering uninterrupted views of Namotu Lefts, a world-class reef break.

Namotu has also introduced The Cobalt, a 32-foot luxury World Cat – perfect for guests and others who want to charter a stable and comfortable vessel for fishing, surfing or exploring the Mamanuca Islands.

Offering secluded luxury, Nukubati, the South Pacific’s first solar-run resort, has undergone a transformation to become an exclusive Dive Resort. Guests will now be able to dive the world’s third-largest barrier reef system, the Great Sea Reef. You may never want to come home!

Finally, Six Senses Fiji reopened in March 2023 after a month’s refurbishment. The jungle gym and fitness centre have been extended to provide more space for group classes, and a new treadmill and rowing machine have been added.

All villas and residences have had a maintenance refresh with floor and deck re-staining, bathroom painting, deep cleaning, and soft furnishing upgrades and replacements. The Tovolea Bar and Restaurant has extended its shaded outside cover for sunny days.

Fly in, fly out

After its inaugural flight took off in late June 2023, Jetstar was the first Australian airline to fly to the Cook Islands in over three decades. Offering the only direct option between Australia and the Cook Islands, the trip is just a five-hour flight from Sydney. The flight is operated by new Airbus A321neo long-range aircraft three times a week.

The South Pacific islands are as varied as the many types of coral found off their pristine shores.

Direct flights with most major airlines depart all the major Australian and New Zealand cities. With flight times as short as three hours in some cases, your South Pacific dream can become a reality in no time.

  • Advertisement

  • Advertisement

  • Advertisement