Scattered like jade-green jewels across the sea, washed by tropical waters and fringed with beaches shaded by coconut palms, the islands of the South Pacific are paradise in the raw. Each comes with its own secret treasures, and the ideal way to unlock those secrets is on an island-hopping cruise.
Best Secret Island Festival
At the extreme eastern end of the Papua New Guinea mainland, Alotau is a sleepy port set deep inside the jaws of Milne Bay, and a focal point for the people of the neighbouring islands of Kiriwina and Kitava during the annual mid-year Alotau Festival and Sing Sing. The Trobriand Islands, which these islanders call home, is the original South Seas paradise, a grass-skirted, thatch-roof, hibiscus-hung tropical heaven. The Trobriand Islands sing-sing is a hot-blooded affair, a nubile, hip-swinging romp through the palm trees, performed by adolescents with glossy black bodies polished with charcoal and coconut oil. The festival is also a retail experience. The people of PNG are expert carvers and craftsmen whose masks, drums, pottery and necklaces are powerful, haunting creations inspired by a rich culture of legends and dreams. Expect to find ebony carvings inland with mother-of-pearl and even carvings from ceremonial canoes decorated with cowrie shells. A highlight is the Trobriand Islands cricket match, played with a heavy, carved bat and an unlimited number of players, with plenty of riotous dancing and whistleblowing both on and off the field.
Best Secret Beach
On the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu, Champagne Bay is one of the most perfect beaches you’ll ever see, a crescent of crystalline white sand, cupped by thick tropical forest on the hills that ring the bay and washed by a Windex-blue sea. The name comes from a curious natural phenomenon. At low tide, when the sea water drops, it fizzes like Champagne as it passes through volcanic rocks on the sea floor. Chances are there will be a few lithe village children displaying their acrobatic talents in the water, and possibly offering to climb one off the coconut palms for the freshest coconut water you’ll ever taste. Take a long, slow stroll with the sand between your toes, relax in the shade of giant fig trees and take a dip in the translucent waters among the stunning coral and colourful marine life. Shop for one of the bright sarongs that flap in the breeze just behind the beach – perfect for a gift, or a souvenir for yourself, it brings back happy memories of an idle day spent in paradise.
Best Secret Island with a French Accent
Largest of the archipelago of coral atolls known as the Loyalty Islands, Lifou in New Caledonia is one of the best kept secrets in the South Pacific. Long stretches of white, coral-sand beaches and limestone cliffs that have been gnawed by the sea into caves and grottoes make Lifou’s coast among the most picture-perfect landscapes in the Pacific. Although it comes with a French accent – and croissants are standard breakfast fare – Lifou is a stronghold of Melanesian culture. Visit the chief’s village of Hnathalo to visit the chief’s hut – one of the largest in New Caledonia and see traditional cooking methods. Village walks can also let you in on the secrets of the medicinal uses of the native flora, and the forest is a virtual pharmacy, its cures unlocked over many centuries and passed down through word of mouth. Take a dip at Jinek Bay, one of the most pristine marine ecologies in the Pacific, with a treasury of coral and more than 2000 marine species. Luecila and Luengoni are Lifou’s trophy beaches, overhung by swooning palms and bracketed by tropical forest, and lapped by the serene waters of the Coral Sea.
Best Secret Adventure Island
Capital of Samoa, Apia lies on the island of Upolu, the second largest of the Samoan Islands. The sheer physicality of Upolu is staggering. At its centre, the volcanic peak of Mount Fito forms a waistband from which the island falls like a giant skirt, pleated with rainforest and ribboned with gushing streams, descending ever lower to a final frill of beach trimmed with coral reefs. Its coast is ringed with villages with names like Faleula, Falevao, Solosolo, Saanapu and Falease’ela, where a walk upstream from the river that exits at the beach leads through thick forest to a dramatically beautiful waterfall. Hospitality comes naturally to the Samoans, who think nothing of asking complete strangers along to sing in church with them, when the locals put on their finest and raise voices in harmonies that shame the angels. This is fa’a Samoa, “the Samoan way”. Old South Seas hands love it because it reminds them of how all the islands of Polynesia once were. Old Apia Market is the place to shop for fine woven mats and other Samoan handicrafts, some of them made on the spot by local women. The pilgrimage to Villa Vailima, the house built by Robert Louis Stevenson at the foot of Mount Vaea, where he dressed his Samoan servants in Stuart tartan, is a must for even the most languid of literature lovers. Energetic types might make the If you have energy for the steep hike up Mount Vaea to lay flowers at two lonely graves, those of Stevenson and his wife, Fanny.
From Australia and New Zealand through the Pacific, offering mini Sea Break getaways, and taking guests to celebrate Australia’s favourite events, including Melbourne Cup, P&O Cruises has been taking Aussies on their dream holidays for 85 years. Pioneering new destinations, including the South Pacific, and exclusive destinations such as The Conflict Islands, P&O is one of Australia’s favourite cruise lines creating unique experience on the perfect, stress free holiday for all travellers. 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.