Highlights of Pacific
Polynesians invented surfing and yet, apart from Tahiti, Samoa and Fiji, the South Pacific remains largely unexplored by surfers. Intrepid board riders are making inroads into other Pacific islands and finding brilliant uncrowded waves in warm, crystal-clear tropical waters. In some places the swell is seasonal: the cyclone season from November to April brings waves from the north, and during winter (May to August) low pressure systems in the Southern Ocean and Tasman Sea bring big swells to islands with exposed southern coastlines.
New Caledonia Coasts
With New Caledonia’s sunny bays for swimming in, waterside restaurants and resorts for living it up, and a thumping, invigorating nightlife, Noumea is a city of stylish splendour. Nearby, Île des Pins is the place for authentic seafood feasts, dining under the trees after a wind-in-your-hair scoot on a bay in a traditional pirogue (outrigger canoe). Smell the vanilla on the lovely Loyalty Islands; stay in tribal accommodation by white-sand beaches and sparkling blue waters and soak up the rich, friendly and relaxed Kanak culture.
Beach Fale in Samoa
It’s a brilliant idea: elongated, wall-free huts on stilts take in the entire view of the luscious turquoise sea and glowing white sands while letting in cool breezes. Few other South Pacific countries have retained their traditional architecture to the point that it’s what they offer tourists, without design or modern fanfare, but Samoa does this, making for one of the most authentic sleeping experiences in the region. Pull down the thatched louvres for privacy or rain protection. Fale are rustic but the surroundings are pure luxury.
Up there with kangaroos and Akubra hats, big-hearted Byron Bay (just Byron to its mates) is one of the enduring icons of Australian culture. Families on school holidays, surfers and sunseekers from across the globe gather by the foreshore at sunset, drawn to this spot on the world map by fabulous restaurants, a chilled pace of life and an astonishing range of activities on offer. But mostly they’re here because this is one of the most beautiful stretches of coast in the country.
Windy Wellington lives up to the mantle by keeping things fresh and dynamic. It’s long famed for a vibrant arts-and-music scene, fuelled by excellent espresso and more restaurants per head than New York, but a host of craft-beer bars have now elbowed in on the action. Edgy yet sociable, colourful yet often dressed in black, Wellington is big on the unexpected and unconventional. Erratic weather only adds to the excitement.
Fabulous festivals and food provide visitors to Fiji with a peek into Indo-Fijian culture. Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated nationwide in October or November. It’s ushered in with nightly displays, from multicoloured spotlit extravaganzas to delicate candlelit driveways and households. Fireworks are obligatory. Fire of another sort takes centre stage during the remarkable fire-walking festival at Suva’s Mariamma Temple in July or August. And fantastic curry feasts and an astonishing array of sweetmeats accompany all Indo- Fijian events.
Definitively Sydney and irresistibly hip, Bondi is one of the world’s great beaches. Surfers, models, skate punks and backpackers surf a hedonistic wave through the pubs, bars and restaurants along Campbell Pde, but the beach is a timeless constant. It’s the closest ocean beach to the city, has consistently good (though crowded) waves and is great for a rough ’n’ tumble swim. Don’t miss a jaunt along the Bondi to Coogee Clifftop Walk, kicking off at the southern end of the beach.
Lush green rainforest replete with fan palms, prehistoric-looking ferns and twisted mangroves tumble down towards a brilliant white-sand coastline in the ancient, World Heritage–listed Daintree rainforest. Upon entering the forest, you’ll be enveloped by a cacophony of birdsong, frog croaking and the buzz of insects. Continue exploring the area via wildlife-spotting night tours, mountain treks, interpretive boardwalks, canopy walks, selfguided walking trails, 4WD trips, horse riding, kayaking, croc-spotting cruises, tropical-fruit orchard tours and tastings…Whew! If you’re lucky, you might even spot a cassowary.
Easter Island’s Moai
The strikingly enigmatic moai are the most pervasive image of Rapa Nui . Dotted all around the island, these massive carved figures on stone platforms emanate a mystical vibe, like colossal puppets on a supernatural stage. It is thought that they represent clan ancestors. The biggest question is, how were these giant statues moved from where they were carved to their platforms? It’s a never-ending debate among specialists. Never mind the answer, they have plenty to set your camera clicking without it.
Indigenous Australian Art
Immersed in ‘The Dreaming’ – a vast unchanging network of life tracing back to spiritual ancestors – Indigenous Australian art is a conduit between past and present, supernatural and earthly, people and land. Central Australian dot paintings are exquisite, as are Tiwi Island carvings and fabrics, Arnhem Land bark paintings, Torres Strait Islander prints, weavings and carvings, and creations from Aboriginal-owned art cooperatives in the Kimberley. Most large galleries around Australia have indigenous collections. You can make an informed purchase at commercial galleries or (even better) direct from Aboriginal communities.
Any of these countries could be that place on a ‘Travel to Paradise’ poster that makes you want to leave your job and live in flip flops forever. But the South Pacific isn’t just a homogenised string of palm trees and blue water. The cultures and landscapes that spread across the Pacific Ocean’s vastness hold an incredible diversity, from rugged atolls to mangrove encircled high islands and from Euro-chic capitals to traditional tribes in jungles. Each island group is home to its own sort of wonderful.