So we’re all settled in to 2023 and well into routine. Those of us with itchy feet have started planning our next short break – international, but not too far from the east coast of Australia. Suggested below are five idyllic South Pacific Island destinations each of which has something unique to offer besides the usual seaside holiday elements.
By air only three hours away from east-coast Australia, this island which has been held by France since 1854 is an ideal location to grab a taste of the French Riviera without travelling to Europe.
The unique feeling of being in a French territory starts immediately on arrival at capital Noumea when greeted with French vocabulary. That feeling only escalates upon driving in to town, where billboards and street signage are in French; Renaults and Peugeots occupying the roads; bakeries displaying long sticks of baguettes, and the aroma of garlic dominating the food. The French mood reaches its peak when some sporty visitors join locals playing ‘petanque’, a bowling game very popular in France.
Besides getting immersed in many things French, there are plenty of other attractions here – from swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing to touring Noumea’s downtown area that’s home to many museums and monuments (including some beautiful 19th century colonial architecture), and visiting Amedee Island, 45 minutes by boat, to see the 150-year-old, 56 m high stunning lighthouse built in France. Not to be missed, partying after sundown while trying authentic French culinary dishes washed down with the best of Bordeaux wines.
Located halfway between Australia and Hawaii in the heart of Polynesia, Samoa is an archipelago comprising ten islands. Two main islands are Savai’i and Upolu which is home to the international airport, and capital Apia where old and new collide seamlessly.
An ideal holiday here involves easy-going relaxation mixed with activities from water sports to island hopping and visiting picture perfect Samoan villages. Given it is located just west of the International Date Line, the sun rises here first on the planet – another great selling point!
Fresh air, warm water, lush green surrounding and engulfing serenity make Samoa a perfect place to live a healthy life. This inspired famous Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson to spend his final years here. His home in Apia is now a museum, where the first edition copy of his epical Treasure Island can be seen.
Less than 3 hours flight from Sydney or Brisbane, this idyllic nest is hyped as nirvana on an island. The surrounding vista of the pine-clustered landscape overlooking the turquoise blue ocean is wonderfully therapeutic. Also there’s nothing in this haven to create any sort of stress and strain, so relaxation follows almost naturally. Kingston the capital is where some loose urban touches can be found.
The history here is unlike anywhere else on the planet; seafaring Polynesians, daring British sailors, brutal penal commandments and cynical criminals have all left behind layers of captivating past to intrigue the modern generations. A sound-and-light show instils life into history, spilling shame on the British Empire.
The current inhabitants moved here about a century ago from Pitcairn Island, located 6800km away. They were the descendants of the famous Bounty mutineers, who found refuge in this unoccupied island to escape British justice. When that land became overcrowded, Queen Victoria granted them Norfolk Island. The new settlers brought with them their culture, all evolving from a unique mix of maritime English and Polynesian habits and practices.
Politically Norfolk Island functions as an external territory of Australia with her own flag, postage stamps, general rules and language, though this arrangement may change in future.
Located around 2000km northeast of Australia, this archipelago’s key lure is its laidback and slow-paced lifestyle, guarding a pristine and unspoilt natural environment comprising coral reef-rimmed lagoons and sandy coastline to tropical jungle, rainforests, waterfalls and volcanoes. A British protectorate until 1978, today it‘s an independent nation made up mainly people of Melanesian origin. Honiara is the capital city where traces of 21stcentury elements can be found, otherwise the setting is isolated and time-stopped.
Raw encounter with the sea is the key theme there. Underwater adventurers not only see a mesmerising galaxy of marine life but also submerged WWII relics such as battleships, bombers, fighters and many other dumps from wartime. This can’t be seen anywhere else in the world.
During WWII, the island was the stage for fierce combats between Japanese and Allied troops. Not many know John F Kennedy, the former President of USA, was then fighting in the region as a naval officer. When his patrolling boat PT 109 was sunk by the Japanese destroyer, he along with 11 others swam over 5km to a deserted island and then to another and survived for many days without food and water until rescued by two locals Eroni Kumana and Biuku Gasa. That island, still isolated, has been named after Kennedy – tourists are touched to learn about this interesting piece of forgotten history.
Comprising over 300 islands, this South Pacific archipelago is a popular holiday destination for Aussies. Their two main islands Viti Levu and Vanua Levu where 95% of the population live, are around four hours away from Australia. The nation’s three biggest settlements, capital Suva, Nadi (home to the main international airport) and Lautoka are located on Viti Levu. The best way to see Fiji is by opting for a cruise which goes around some of the major islands and brings alive scenes from the 1980 hit film Blue Lagoon.
While indigenous Fijians are of Melanesian roots, a large proportion of the population is of Indian origin, living mainly in Nadi and Lautoka. Besides playing with the sun, sea and sand at various seafront spots, a major attraction of Fiji holiday, particularly for the Indian diaspora from Australia and other parts of the world, is to follow the footsteps of their compatriots who made their home here, by visiting temples, museums, sari and jewellery shops and restaurants serving North and South Indian delicacies.
Read more: Bodh Gaya, the birthplace of Buddhism