When it comes to tropical islands, Australians are spoiled for choice. With so many beautiful South Pacific isles within easy reach, the biggest challenge is deciding where to start. Here are 8 of our favourites, each one offering a healthy dose of sun and sea.
The undiscovered gem: Conflict Islands
Want to know a secret? The Conflict Islands archipelago, located south of Papua New Guinea’s Milne Bay region, is set to be the hot new things for snorkellers and divers, thanks to its remarkably biodiverse reef. There are hundreds of different types of coral and an abundance of marine life to discover, from tiny seahorses through to turtles and reef sharks. You can even admire them from a glass-bottomed boat, if you don’t want to get wet. And about that name: it’s not what you think. The islands were named after the ship which first charted the area, the HMS Conflict.
Melanesian magic: Lifou Island
The spectacular scenery – check out those white cliffs of compressed coral! – is the first thing that you notice on arriving at this remote New Caledonian island. However, what makes Lifou a must-visit is the chance to explore traditional Melanesian culture. The colourfully-clad locals are happy to show you around their villages, complete with well-tended gardens and plenty of chickens. Traditional beliefs blend seamlessly with Christian culture: the path to the clifftop church of Notre Dame des Lourdes is lined with beautifully-carved tribal totems.
Convicts and cows: Norfolk Island
Covering just 40 square kilometres, Norfolk Island is nonetheless packed with attractions, from verdant forests and convict settlements to buzzing restaurants, not to mention golden beaches such as Emily Bay. Don’t miss the atmospheric convict graveyard and the fascinating museum devoted to the wreck of the HMS Sirius, an essential episode in Australian history. Remember that cows have right of way on Norfolk Island – and no, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Norfolk’s cows really are blue; the unique breed is found nowhere else in the world.
The home of bungee jumping: Pentecost Island
Ever wonder where that bungee jumping craze started? Right here on Vanuatu’s Pentecost Island, where the rite of nagol – also known as land diving – takes place each year between April and early June. This fertility ritual sees men climbing 30 metre high towers and diving headfirst towards the ground, with only a vine tied around their ankles to break their fall. Diving planks are nailed at various heights along the tower; the lowest is reserved for the youngest divers, those under 10 years old.
A whale of a time: Vava’u Island
If you love holidaying with humpback whales, then head for Tonga’s Vava’u Island between July and October, when large numbers of humpbacks congregate here. Not all the action is on the water, however. There is also plenty to explore on land, from vanilla plantations to traditional craft demonstrations to the lush Ene’io Botanic Gardens, home to over 500 species of tropical plants, many of which are used medicinally by locals.
French flair: Noumea
There is nowhere else in the South Pacific quite like the New Caledonian capital. Stop in for a café au lait in one of Noumea’s sophisticated cafes and you would be forgiven for thinking you were in a French provincial town – if more French provincial towns had palm trees, that is. Maintain the French mood with a touch of culture at the spectacular Tjibaou Cultural Centre, designed by Renzo Piano, before a spot of pampering at the Château Royal’s indulgent Spa Aquaotonic – oh la la!
What lies beneath: Gizo Island
There are more than 900 islands in the Solomons, but few are surrounded by as many superb snorkelling and diving sites as Gizo. If you love striking corals, amazing fish life and World War Two relics, this is your kind of island. Top dive spots include the magnificent Joe’s Wall, while the Toa Maru wreck dive lets you visit a Japanese transport ship littered with everything from motorbikes to sake bottles. Snorkellers will love exploring the vibrant coral surrounding Kennedy Island.
Into the Blue: Espiritu Santo
Bored with the beach? Then head to Vanuatu’s Espiritu Santo for a very different kind of swimming spot. The island has a number of swimming holes hidden in the jungle, each one a magnificent cobalt blue. We love Matevulu Blue Hole, which has a mighty rope swing: to reach it, you first have to climb the ladder which leans against an enormous banyan tree. The most memorable way to reach Matevulu is on a dugout canoe trip along the Riri River.
Discover these idyllic destinations with P&O Cruises, the best way to see the best of the South Pacific. With 85 years cruising from Australia, we have been going so often, we’re practically locals. We’ll take you to our favourite islands (and beaches) through New Caledonia and Vanuatu and also exclusive destinations such as The Conflict Islands in Papua New Guinea. Step off the ship, and you’ll find yourself in paradise every time. Whether you want to sit under a swaying palm tree, walk along stretches of white sand, soak up the culture, or even swim with turtles – it’s all good. A P&O Island cruise is the perfect, stress free holiday. We’ve got it all covered – from accommodation to included meals, entertainment and more. For more information visit pocruises.com.au, call 13 24 94 or visit your travel agent.