The islands of the South Pacific are packed with variety. The great distances between many islands mean that they spent centuries without much contact with one another, resulting in distinct cultures, fantastic cuisine, and arts and traditions unique to each island. Deciding which is the best to visit is really a case of ‘the more, the merrier’, so here are some islands worth exploring.
Viti Levu, Fiji
Fiji has a well-deserved reputation for luxury, gorgeous scenery and fantastic beaches - though that’s true of more than a few places in the South Pacific. What really makes Fiji stand out is how much diversity there is in one small country, though it does comprise more than 300 islands.
A great place to experience the country’s diversity is in Lautoka, the second-largest city in Fiji and home to the nation’s sugarcane industry, which means the town offers everything from rum tastings to cooking classes. Since it’s a city, you aren’t limited to just a few things to see and do.
You could opt to spend the day at one of the region’s high-end tropical resorts, sipping different house-made fruity cocktails while tanning on a pristine beach. Or you may want to venture into the smaller towns and get to know the locals.
Consider heading to Nawaka Village, which still practices a traditional Fijian way of life, though tourism is beginning to play a larger role. Here, you can experience a kava beverage ceremony, participate in a traditional dance, or just learn more about their daily life. Fijians are exceptionally friendly and love sharing their culture with visitors. There’s a mud spa near the village too - which is worth a visit.
If you’re more interested in natural history, visit the stunning botanical Garden of the Sleeping Giant which is filled with rare plants, lily ponds and short walks through tropical rainforest surroundings.
On the other side of Viti Levu is Suva, the capital of Fiji and a popular gateway to the island’s tropical adventures.
From Suva, head inland a few miles to the tropical Colo-I-Suva Forest Park. The park is home to colourful tropical birds and miles of walking trails, along with Waisila Falls, a waterfall surrounded by lush jungle with several natural swimming pools. If you’re dreaming of swimming beneath a jungle waterfall on your South Pacific holiday, this is the place.
Experience Fiji’s rich and flavourful cuisine at the Spice Farm and Nature Garden, where you can take a cooking class or learn more about the country’s most popular spices. Once you’ve learned a thing or two about cooking, you can swing by the Nausori Farmers Market to pick up a few spices to recreate your favourite dishes back home.
Lifou, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia
You’ve probably never heard of the Loyalty Islands, let alone Lifou, and that’s what makes it one of the best Pacific islands to visit. The Loyalty Islands are part of New Caledonia, just southwest of Fiji and Vanuatu. The province includes three islands Maré, Ouvéa and the most popular, Lifou - which is not overly developed and still has a tropical, natural feel, so you won’t find your tropical views blocked by any massive resorts or beach clubs.
The way of life on Lifou is still quite traditional, which has left the environment relatively pristine, and the island is exceptionally biodiverse. Go on an aromatic walking tour of a local vanilla plantation and try the island’s famous vanilla cake. Or go for a guided naturalist walk through the rainforest and let a local guide point out rare frogs, lizards, butterflies, birds and bats that you won’t find in many other parts in the world.
If you think Lifou is beautiful on the surface, wait until you go a few steps underground. On a tour into the island’s grottos, learn about medicinal and traditional plants as you walk to the cave and hear stories about the local culture and traditions. The scenery is beautiful and learning about the culture is fascinating.
Though all of Samoa is beautiful, Upolu is often considered one of the best Pacific islands to visit. The island was formed by an ancient underwater volcano, which resulted in dramatic terrain.
If you’re keen on seeing that terrain for yourself, plan to visit Papapapaitai Falls, the highest waterfall on the island with a drop of more than 300 feet. The water descends from high on the cliffs down into the crater of the ancient volcano. It’s a gorgeous spot for photos, especially since there isn’t much walking to get to the best vantage point.
Samoan cultural experiences are prevalent here. You could travel to Mulinu’uu, the burial grounds of Samoan royalty, or browse one of several Samoan food and art markets. You can visit tropical villages, learn how to cook or make traditional crafts, or discover the steps of the ‘Samoan Siva’ or ‘mosquito dance’.
Tourism hasn’t influenced the culture here as much as it has on more popular islands - yet another reason Upolu is truly a fantastic destination.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
For a truly luxurious experience, you can’t do much better than Bora Bora, part of French Polynesia. The island is elegant, romantic and laid-back - think of it as an upscale escape set against a sparkling blue ocean. You’ll find a bit of everything here, from snorkelling and hiking to shark encounters and indulgent spa experiences.
If you love wildlife, Bora Bora will undoubtedly be one of the best islands to visit since it has a healthy ecosystem both above and below the water. It’s a top choice for snorkelling thanks to its colourful reefs which offer fantastic views along the shore, especially at sites around Motu Tapu and the lagoons.
Healthy fish populations draw in larger animals, so adventurous travellers can get in the water with stingrays and blacktip sharks, or view them from a glass-bottom boat. You can also try exploring the underwater world via Aquabike or underwater ‘safari’ walk - oxygen provided, of course.
Though the natural world gets most of the attention on Bora Bora, history lovers should have a wonderful time too. There are dozens of ancient ceremonial sites and WWII relics across the island, and you can usually find tours to take you past some of the more well-preserved locations.
On the island of Aneityum in Vanuatu, development is sparse - the island had less than 1,000 full-time residents as of 2010. Most people here live in villages, which can be explored on a day trip. A local guide will show you around and explain meaningful aspects of local culture as you walk.
Vanuatu is known for its stunning beaches and marine life. Between the island of Aneityum and tiny Mystery Island, a massive bay provides plenty to do and see. Snorkellers can jump in the water nearly anywhere to see healthy reefs, sharks, rays and sea turtles, while the bay’s protected water makes it a fun spot to test your balance on a stand-up paddleboard expedition.
Grand Terre, New Caledonia
Many of New Caledonia’s islands are among the best Pacific islands to visit, but Grand Terre has a special claim to fame: it’s home to the capital city, Nouméa.
If you’re interested in exploring the island’s French-meets-Kanak (indigenous) food scene, you’ll love that the city is packed with French bistros and cafes, many of which serve foods that blend both cultures. If you’re tight on time, try to take a sightseeing tour that also includes a stop or two at one of the town’s many oceanfront restaurants.
For a little adventure, opt to see the rainforest canopy in Koghis Forest on a zipline tour, or explore a botanical garden on a Segway. You’ll see native plants and animals on either adventure.
If you’d rather explore the undersea world, you’ll find amazing snorkelling on places like Amedee Island and tiny Duck Island, both of which are protected. You can learn about the rareness of the marine habitat around Grand Terre even if you don’t want to get wet - just head to the Noumea Aquarium, complete with a room full of glow-in-the-dark coral.
Tutuila Island, American Samoa
Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, sits on Tutuila Island, which has a lovely harbour surrounded by a ring of lush mountains. You’ll score points with local residents if you know how to pronounce the name of the island – it sounds like ‘Pango Pango’ not ‘Pago Pago’.
The island has centuries of legends and history which you can learn about in the village of Fatumafuti, home of the stunning ‘Flowerpot Rock’ rock formation. From there, you’ll have great views of Rainmaker Mountain, which has several trails around the base.
Cultural and historical activities abound here. Learn more about island history at the JP Haydon Museum. Catch an evening fire dancing show on the beach or have a traditional afternoon tea as you listen to Samoan songs and dance.
If you’re intrigued by the beauty and uniqueness of the South Pacific’s islands, the next step is deciding how to get there. We recommend a luxury cruise with Celebrity Cruises so you can visit multiple islands while you sit back, relax and enjoy serene ocean views as you indulge in world-class dining and luxurious accommodations onboard. Ask us about a South Pacific cruise with Celebrity.
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For some, the best Pacific islands to visit are those known for high-end luxury and romance, like Tahiti and Bora Bora. For others, the sparsely populated rainforest islands of Samoa are just begging to be explored, while others can’t wait to see the rare and colourful marine life just off the coast of Fiji.