The Road Less Travelled: Pacific Islands
Here in Australia, we consider ourselves fortunate to be near some of the region’s best-known tourism hotspots. However, few of us realise the numerous hidden gems situated in the Pacific Islands, just a stone's throw away from Australian’s east coast capital cities. If you’re keen to take the road less travelled, it’s time to get your holiday on and check out some of Australia’s spectacular Pacific Ocean neighbours.
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
How to get there: direct flights from Auckland with domestic Australian connections from Virgin Australia ports
Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands with a landscape dominated by volcanic peaks, rainforest and ridges, creating an island paradise like no other. The island is small, taking only 45 minutes to circumnavigate, yet is filled to the brim with culture and adventures waiting to be had. Rarotonga is an adventurer’s playground; visitors who love to hike can take the cross-island trails to climb the pointed peak of Te Rua Manga (otherwise known as the Needle). There are also action activities aplenty; try your hand at kite surfing, diving, snorkelling and fishing or take a cycling or quad bike tours of the island. Muri beach is the most famous beach on Rarotonga; located on the south east coast, the beach is a hub lined with cafes, restaurants, and resorts. If you have the time, head out to Aitutaki, a 50 minute flight north of Rarotonga and home to what some say is the most beautiful lagoon in the world. Back on the main island, take in the unique Polynesian culture of the island with a village experience. Head out on an authentic village tour or attend an ‘Island Night’ cultural show, usually considered to be a highlight for visitors where locals share their culture through music, dance and food. If your visit crosses a Saturday morning, take a trip to the Punanga Nui Markets for local food stalls, drinks and souvenirs. There’s also the Muri Night Markets on every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, where you'll find cheap, authentic island food. Rarotonga also has an exceptional nightlife scene for the young and young at heart, with open air bars and nightclubs making the most of the island’s warm, balmy nights.
How to get there: direct flights from Sydney with domestic and international connections from Virgin Australia ports
Apia is the capital of Samoa and its largest city. Located on the central north coast of Upolu, Samoa's second largest island, Apia is home to spectacular natural wonders and delightful cultural experiences, yet remains somewhat of a hidden treasure for tourists. Experience Samoan culture and way of life at the Samoa Cultural Village, located in the heart of Apia. Visit local markets and pick up traditional, handmade craft and exceptional, locally sourced produce; try the Old Apia Market, the Fugalei fresh produce market or the Savalo Flea Market. Visit the Robert Louis Stevenson’s Museum and the Vailima National Reserve, located about 5 kilometres from Apia, and tour the home of the famous Scottish author who spent his final years in Samoa. Visit his grave located at the top of Mt Vaea along a hiking trail named by the locals, ‘The Road of Loving Hearts’ and enjoy a stroll through the Vailima Botanical Gardens. For those keen to get out and explore Apia’s lush natural surrounds, head to Palolo Deep Sea Marine Reserve for a spot of snorkelling; the reserve is located a short, 5 minute walk from Apia and is home to a diverse array of coral and fish species. There are national parks and walking trails galore for visitors keen to explore on foot. Head to O Le Pupu-Pue National Park, where you can walk through rainforest to the Togitogiga Falls, and inland to Pe’ape’a Caves. Lake Lanotoo National Park, home to Samoa’s largest lake, is a sight worth seeing; a stunning volcanic crater lake positioned amongst lush rainforest with spectacular views. There’s also the beautiful rainforest of Mount Vaea Scenic Reserve to explore. For the surf lovers, Apia is home to some excellent beaches, with terrific surf conditions; head to Cape Utumauu or Matautu if you’re keen for a paddle. Enjoy some time at the marvellous stretch of beach between Lalomanu and Lotofaga on Upolu’s south-east coast , or head out to Namu’a, a small island just off the east coast of Upolu, where visitors can swim, snorkel or sea kayak amongst the island's resident turtles.
How to get there: direct flights from Brisbane with Australian domestic and international connections from Virgin Australia ports
Port Moresby is the capital city of Papua New Guinea and is best known as the base town from which to embark on the legendary Kokoda Track. The city is best explored with local experts so be sure to find a guides before embarking on your adventure. Start your exploration of this lush tropical location with a tour of the stunning Sorgeri Plateau, home to the Varirata National Park and Rouna Falls. Take in stunning views of the area’s volcanic landscape from the Rabaul Volcanic Observatory. In town, explore the diverse tribal and indigenous culture of PNG with a trip to the National Museum and Art Gallery, and check out the unique building styles of the local people at Parliament Haus. Stop in at the Ela Beach Craft Market and pick out some locally made wares while enjoying traditional dancing and delicious eats. Pay your respects to over 4,000 unknown PNG and Australian soldiers who died during World War II and are buried at the beautiful memorial of Bomana War Cemetery. Nature lovers will delight in visiting the Rainforest Habitat and the Tari Basin, both known as homes to a spectacular array of wildlife. For an easy walk through lush rainforest, head to the Port Moresby Nature Reserve. See stunning floral displays and bird life at National Orchid Gardens and adjoining aviary. Find a local guide to take you to the over-water stilt villages of Hanuabada or Koki and see firsthand the traditional way of life still observed by the local indigenous people who call the villages home.
Honiara, Solomon Islands
How to get there: direct flights from Brisbane with domestic Australian and international connections from Virgin Australia ports
Honiara is the picturesque capital city of the Solomon Islands, situated on the north western coast of the main island of Guadalcanal. The Solomon Islands are a diver’s paradise; while many divers head out to surrounding islands, there are also plenty of opportunities for excellent diving accessible from the capital, including numerous wrecks from submarines involved in World War II. Explore the stunning local marine life by kayak or boat, or hire a guide to take you on a day hike to some of the city's lush natural surrounds. Head out to the spectacular waterfalls at Mataniko Falls or the Borare Cascades, or hike along the Kakabona River to the Kahove waterfall. While you’re in town, stop in at the Central Market, which offers a huge selection of fresh, locally sourced produce and traditional craft. Visit the US War Memorial and learn details of the battles fought during the Guadalcanal campaign during World War II. Visit the small but interesting National Museum or stop in at the city’s Botanical Gardens for a fresh breath of nature in the capital.
How to get there: direct flights from Sydney with connections from Virgin Australia domestic ports and Auckland.
The capital of the proud island nation of Tonga is located on the main island of Tongatapu and offers visitors the opportunity to experience Tonga’s unique and diverse culture and beautiful surrounding landscape. There’s plenty to see in the town itself; visit the Royal Tombs, the resting place of Tongan royalty since 1893 before heading over to admire the Basilica of St Anthony of Padua, Nuku’alofa’s most distinctive building. Peak through the gates of the Royal Palace and admire the stunning Victorian-style building and expansive place gardens. Stop in at the Talamahu Market and find locally sourced fresh produce in abundance lying side by side with beautiful Tongan art and craft. Head a little further afield to Ha'atafu Beach; located approximately 20 kilometers west of the capital, the beach is home to some of the best surfing waves on Tongatapu and is also the island's most popular swimming and snorkelling beach. If you’re visiting between July and October, don’t miss the opportunity to swim with the Southern Hemisphere Whales that make their way through Tongan waters over this period.For a unique experience, explore the limestone caverns of Anahula Cave and swim in the cool pools at the base of the cave or head to Mapu’a ‘a Vaea and feel the explosive power of the spectacular blowholes which stretch across 5 kilometres of the southern coast.