South Pacific Travel Guide

Three major groups of islands in the Pacific – Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, together with Australia and New Zealand make up a continental region called Oceania. With the least continental land area being spread over almost 1/3rd of the Earth’s total area, it’s easy to understand the reason for the diversity of the region, both geographically and culturally.

The Pacific Islands is home to some of the oldest cultures on earth as well as some of the most recent settlements on Earth making it as diverse as one can possibly imagine. An amalgamation of hundreds of native indigenous cultures and immigrants from around the world, Oceania claims a rich cultural and historical narrative based around migration, colonisation and the World Wars.

Geography has always played an important role in this diversity and continues to do so in recent times as it’s different cultures are come together to unite in the face of their isolated location and small populations to form a shared identity.

While new parts of Oceania are continually being discovered, and Australia and New Zealand make the top of the list for best destinations, there are a lot of options to explore if you’re looking for clear waters, white shores and a whole lot of adventure.

Explore the best of the Pacific – from laid-back beaches to sophisticated cities, from endless stretches of the desert to lush islands teeming with flora and fauna you cannot find anywhere else. Spend afternoons lazing on the beach or find yourself while diving the depths of the ocean, or scaling peaks which reach to the skies.

Two of the most important things to consider before travelling to the Pacific is the weather and the cost.

Keep in mind that traversing across large distances (from island to island or in the case of Australia, across the country) doesn’t come cheap, also keep in mind that not all the islands are directly connected with direct flights and you might have to connect in hubs such as Auckland, Sydney, Queensland, Tahiti or Fiji.

However taking onto considerations your interests, style and the duration of travel we can arrive at a solution to best suit you.

Destinations/Attractions

Some of the best regions that Oceania has to offer are –

Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia, Fiji (Melanesia), Vanuatu (Melanesia), The Cook Islands

Australia being the largest of the islands would require the most of your time, we would recommend a vacation of a minimum of two weeks to scrape the surface of this immensely diverse nation.

Full of adventure and equally breathtaking is New Zealand, asking for ten days of your time.

Island hopping to the smaller islands of the Pacific would take another two weeks.

Considering how difficult it is to stay away from our busy lives, we have recommended itineraries that do not span more than 15 days.

 

Australia

Great barrier reef_Australia_Mytraveljaunts

Fiji (Melanesia)

fiji

New Zealand

Queenstown

Vanuatu (Melanesia)

vanuatu

French Polynesia

moorea

Cook Islands

cook islands

Basics- Quick facts

Population – The total population of Oceania comes up to roughly 45 million, broken down Australia and New Zealand has a population close to 30 million, neighbouring Melanesia which has a population of around 10 million,  roughly six hundred thousand people live in Polynesia, and about five hundred thousand reside in  Micronesia.

The population of Oceania amounts to 0.54% of the total world population, of which 70.3% of the population is urban.

Language – Oceania is home to a diverse set of indigenous languages, including Malay (Indonesian), Tagalog (Filipino),  Polynesian languages such as Maori and Hawaiian as well as numerous Aboriginal languages in Australia and  New Zealand, in total adding up to almost two thousand languages.

The colonial age saw the decline in the use of native languages, making way for English in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and many other territories; French in French Polynesia, and Spanish on Easter Island.

Currency – Some South Pacific countries use US, Australian or New Zealand dollars, while in the Pacific franc (the Cour de Franc Pacifique, or CFP) is legal tender in the French territories (New Caledonia, French Polynesia).

Make sure to exchange currency in major gateway cities as you travel.

Interesting Facts

Oceania is made up of about 25,000 volcanic or coral tropical islands, scattered over a vast area of the Pacific Ocean.

The leading economies of the region are Australia and New Zealand.

Oceania’s biggest and most populous city is Sydney.

The highest mountain in Oceania is Mount Cook in New Zealand.

Fiji is an archipelago made up of 300 islands, of which only 110 of them are inhibited.

Bound by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, Oceania gives you unparalleled diversity.

Australia – Famous for its diverse landscapes and native wildlife as well as its vibrant cities, Australia offers the perfect blend of culture and adventure.

New Zealand – Translating into the land of the white cloud and home to the kiwis, New Zealand has a powerful historical narrative and beautiful geography.

French Polynesia – lagoons, mountains, waterfalls, black sand beaches, untamed jungles, deep valleys, a vivid marine life and full-body tattoos – what more could you ask for?

Fiji (Melanesia) – A tropical paradise, and home to the friendliest set of people with intriguing cultures, Fiji is welcoming to its visitors and a definite must while travelling the Pacific.

Vanuatu (Melanesia) – Feast on grilled fish and rice (Vanuatu has the best food in the region), as you plan to get up close to active volcanoes, and head out to the shore for a dive and a surf.

The Cook Islands – Home to tranquil beaches and vibrant corals the Cook Islands is a diver’s haven. Go whale watching and deep sea fishing. Do not forget to visit the local markets to check out local produce and crafts.

Food for thought

If you travel as far East as you can go in Oceania, you’ll cross the International Date Line. This imaginary line that determines the date.Which means that people living in Caroline Island, one of the Line Islands, are actually a day ahead of the residents of USA’s Hawaiian Islands.

The beautiful black pearls, cherished by natives and visitors alike, are found only on the Tuamotu Islands of French Polynesia.

Maoris, the original settlers of New Zealand, originate from the Cook Islands.

Food & Culture

Home to diverse landscapes and populations, the Islands of the Pacific are deeply rooted in history and tradition with an immensely immersive culture.

Religion

Pre-colonization, the region of Oceania was home to various indigenous religions. Oceanic religions tended to be polytheistic and deeply spiritual holding certain spaces as sacred, including burial grounds and battlefields and even assigned sanctity to various objects, relics, and symbols.

Today a majority of people profess to be Christians while Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims also make up a significant portion of the population.

Art and Architecture  

Considering the vastness of the region, both culturally and geographically. It is not surprising, that native art is equally diverse, with noticeable influences from the region of South East Asia.

Oceanic painting, sculpture and wood-carving were conceived as a significant part of the religious and social ceremony of everyday island life.and were elements of rituals indicative of ancestor-worship and spirit-worship.

Traditionally, the architecture of the Pacific Islands was varied and sometimes large in scale. Buildings reflected the structure and occupations of the societies that constructed them, with considerable symbolic detail.

In an era of increasing globalization, the architecture in the South Pacific is evolving to respond to the region’s contextual, geographical conditions, and the changing climatic and cultural factors while critically analysing the influences of colonialism and the elements of its traditional style.

Customs and Traditions

The vast repository of cultures across the Pacific was shaped by its geography to a large extent. Colonialism and changes in the socio-economic scenario have made this diversity vulnerable. To combat this, in recent times, both the locals and the government have taken initiatives to promote and protect their traditional culture, the Maori and Aboriginals being the main driving forces. Seen at national as well as regional levels, cultural groups are mobilizing to ask for equal rights for indigenous societies and for the protection of ancient art and culture.

Some traditions unique to the Pacific islands include the Kava ceremony found usually in the islands of Melanesia. A drink made from the crushed roots of pepper, though a social drink, a kava ceremony involves elaborate protocols.

Food

The diversity of the region is reflected in its cuisine, though some of the ingredients overlap, they differ greatly in flavour and texture.

Surrounded by the vast ocean, with seafood available in abundance, fish has become a huge part of traditional cuisine. Similarly, like all tropical countries, where coconut trees grow free and wild, the native has figured out a way to make the best of it.

The local cuisine has also been heavily influenced by colonisation, with new ingredients and cooking techniques being introduced.

Being heavily influenced by East Asian communities, rice is considered a staple in most of the island nations.

The islands of the Pacific, basking in the tropical sun is home to amazing seasonal produce such as Taro, breadfruit, bananas, plantain, sweet potato, cassava, taro leaves and stems, pandanus, coconut and sugar cane and many more. Seafood is a favourite, sheep; pigs and chicken are also popular.

Today the cuisine of Oceania is a narrative of its history and a true amalgamation of Eastern and Western cultures.

Clothing

Prior to colonization, that began as early as the sixteenth century, clothing in the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific was minimal due in part to the islands’ tropical conditions. Simple wrapped garments were worn primarily over the lower body, and some cultures occasionally wore unconstructed garments on the upper body as well. Dress included not only the wearing of bark cloth but also involved tattooing for both sexes.

After Western contact, island men rapidly adopted Western styles, however by the end of the 20th century, fashion activists and artists emerged using dressing styles to illustrate issues of conflicts regarding ethnicity, globalization, and post-colonialism.

As a visitor in the Pacific, you are free to wear whatever you wish to as long as it is decent and not too revealing, taking into consideration the local culture. However, there are exceptions such as Tahiti and Bora Bora, where the French influence has introduced topless beaches.

Additionally

Other customs include fire walking and the use of an earth oven in called ‘lovo’ in Fiji, stone fishing in French Polynesia, a traditional form of tattooing in Samoa and the use of shell money in the Solomon Islands.

 

 

How to go?

Following are the major airports for internation travel to popular Islands of the Pacific

Australia – Kingsford Smith International Airport, Sydney,Brisbane International Airport, Brisbane, Melbourne International Airport, Melbourne

New Zealand  –   Auckland  International Airport ,Wellington International Airport,Christchurch International Airport, Queenstown  International Airport,Dunedin International Airport

French Polynesia –  Auckland/Cook Island – Tahiti(Auckland Airport / Rarotonga International Airport – Fa’a’ā International Airport)

Fiji, Melanesia – Nadi International Airport, Nausori International Airport,Nausori

Vanuatu (Melanesia) – Baurfield International Airport, Efate,Santo-Pekoa International Airport, Espiritu Santo

The Cook Islands, Polynesia – Rarotonga International Airport, Rarotonga

*It is also possible to arrange a stopover in Fiji, Tahiti or Hawaii to connect to the islands.

*Sydney can also be reached by a cruise from New Zealand.

*Vanuatu can also be reached by a cruise from Sydney.

Best time to go

The months of April and May are generally cosidered the best time to visit the Pacific Islands but do not forget to regularly check on weather updates while planning your get away.

The seasons in Oceania

Summer – December, January, February

Winter – June, July, August

Rains – November and March

A good time to visit the islands would be during the dry season,when the temperature is a bit lower,but still warm enough to enjoy the beautiful outdoors.

The best time to visit – region wise –

Central and Northern Australia: April – August

Southeast and Southwest Australia: January – April / September – December

New Zealand: January – May/ August – December

French Polynesia: June – August

Fiji: May – October

Vanuatu: April to October

Cook Islands: March – September

Approximate Costs

Oceania spans across a vast region and prices vary greatly across the islands and sometimes from region to region within the same island.

Australia and New Zealand are relatively budget-friendly taking into account French Polynesia and Vanuatu.The average daily budget would be $119 to $136 in Australia and New Zealand for a mid-range traveller and could go up to $410 in islands like Vanuatu, averaging at $140 to $160 on most other islands of the Pacific.

Stay: Accommodation would vary with $60 being the minimum for a private double room and can go up to $300+, the average, however, remains at $70 to $90.

Food: food would be on an average $20 to $40 per meal with the average coffee costing about $3.50.

Local transport: transport within a city varies from as low as $20 for 10 rides to $45.Sightseeing: the cost of discovering local sights would vary from region to region and also depending on the type of activity involved. Adventure activities might be $100+ while visits to national parks etc would come in a range between $15 to $30/$50.

*Costs are mentioned in terms of USD.

*Costs mentioned are the average rates per day per person unless specified otherwise

Visa requirements

Countries which require prior approval for visa 

Australia – Only New Zealand passport holders can apply for a visa upon arrival. All other passport holders need to apply for a visa beforehand. *allowing to visit Australia for a period of 3, 6, or 12 months.

New Zealand – The proceedings of the visa will take about 15 working days. A general tourist visa will have a validity of 3 months.

French Polynesia – Applicants must apply in person at the nearest Embassy of French Polynesia. All travellers must have a passport that is valid for at least six months.

Countries which give visa on arrival 

The Cook Islands – An Indian citizen is eligible for obtaining a visa on arrival for a duration of 31 days.

Other

Fiji – Indian citizens are exempt from having to obtain a visa for a visit to Fiji for a period of up to 4 months. Visitors need a passport that is valid for at least 6 months from intended date of arrival into Fiji.

Vanuatu – Indian citizens can enter the country visa free up to a period of 30 days. Visitors need a passport that is valid for at least 6 months from intended date of arrival into Vanuatu.

Top things to do

With a whole lot to see, in such little time, here are a few of our recommendations,do not miss out on –

Visit The Great Barrier Reef,Australia to experience clear waters and vivid coral formations. Dive into the waters or enjoy a ride in a glass bottom boat.

Hike the Blue Mountains, Australia to discover the variety of landscapes that Australia has to offer. Visit the myriad of quaint towns which dot the mountainscape and enjoy the best panoramic views.

Head over to Bondi Beach,Sydney, Australia go for a walk along the golden coast and soak up the sun. Enjoy the surf, sit down on the ragged cliffs to catch mesmerizing views of the limitless ocean and wander down to the farmer’s market.

Venture into the great outback and discover ancient aboriginal cultures, visit the sacred Uluru – Ayers Rock,Australia see the sky change colours against the silhouette of the great monolith. Explore the heart of Australia.

Wai-O-Tapu,New Zealand – A geothermal wonderland, walk to explore the site of the most captivating thermal pools and volcanic lakes.

Catch a different side of New Zealand, Cruise Milford Sound to see some of the largest cliffs in the world.

Catch a glimpse of a wide variety of these amazing creatures goes whale watching at Kaikoura.

Visit Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua, New Zealand to understand the deep-rooted culture of New Zealand’s original settlers.

 

 

 

Kamuihei, Tahakia & Teiipoka, French Polynesia explore these three large excavated archaeological sites and immerse yourself in the local culture.

Tereia Beach, Maupiti Island, French Polynesia – spend a laid-back afternoon at this perfect lagoon with the tropical sun, clear waters and endless stretches of white sand.

Sample the culture in Nadi, Fiji,  explore this amazing island town, visit the open air market to pick up souvenirs that reflect the island colourful past, discover the Indian legacy left behind by plantation workers an end the day with a scrumptious meal at the curry house, a mirror to the medley of all these cultures.

Fly Over the Mamanucas, Fiji in a helicopter ride to experience the surreal pacific from a different vantage point.

Discover Pearls in Savusavu, Fijisee how one of the world’s most unique pearls are harvested in the Savusavu Bay.

Hike the Falls of Taveuni, Fiji – easily accessed by a grass trail, do not miss the trek to the Tavoro waterfalls, to see clear waters cascading into an emerald pool.

Aitutaki Lagoon, Cook Islands –a stunning experience of cobalt blue waters and white sands, teeming with tropical birds.

Attend the Te Vara Nui Village Tour & Cultural Show at Rarotonga, Cook Islands to learn about the history and culture of the Cook Islands, in this guided tour of the village.

Head to Aroa Marine Reserve, Rarotonga, Cook Islands for an amazing snorkelling experience and spot various unique species of marine life. With the lagoon off limits for motorized boats, it is perfect for children. Kayaking is also a popular activity.

Itinerary Suggestion by destination expert

Head to the tropics, discover some of the oldest cultures of the world and revel in their hospitality. Soak up the sun, walk along turquoise shorelines and experience the captivating spirit of life that only the Pacific has to offer.

Being the 6 th largest country in the world, Australia has a lot to offer its tourists. With most of its most significant landmarks being along the coast, sandwiching the great outback, it would take longer than a week to cover most of its metropolitan hubs and even longer to explore towns off the main tourist grid. ( 12- 15 days)

Take a week or two to explore the North and South Islands of New Zealand. Add to this a trip to the Cook Islands. Let time slow down for at least 10 days as you discover blue lagoons, white sands, and the laid-back culture of the islands.  (10 – 12 days)

A combined tour of Australia and New Zealand can be experienced as well, taking about 12-15 days, visiting the best of both countries.

Island hop to see the best of the Cook Islands, Fiji and French Polynesia (Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea), journeying for 13-14 exciting days to discover amazing natural diversity and culture.

The duration and the combination of destinations of these vacations can be tweaked according to interests and convenience.

Travel Tips

Oceania is extremely huge and diverse, Australia alone needs more than 6 weeks to be covered properly, so don’t cram too much in to one trip, choose a few destinations and explore them to the fullest.

The South Pacific cyclone season begins on 1 November and runs until 30 April each year, closely monitor the weather across Australia and the Pacific before travelling.

Most regions across the pacific tend to be socially conservative, take care not to offend local sentiments.

Learn a few things about the culture you would be visiting and pick up a few phrases in the local language; they would come a long way while interacting with the locals.

Pack for all types of weather, making sure to bring plenty of water and food, and  a first aid kit.

Do not forget to pack Sunscreens, brimmed hats, sunglasses, swimsuits, reef-walking shoes, and bug repellent.

 

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