Lying on a sandy beach, enjoying the warmth of the tropical sun and the soothing sound of ocean waves, is the kind of vacation people dream about. From the modern tourist facilities in Hawaii to more rustic accommodations on other islands, there are a number of tantalizing options for visitors in the South Pacific.
Archipelagos such as Tahiti, Fiji, French Polynesia, Micronesia, the Cook Islands, Samoa and the Solomon Islands offer more than just strips of sand. They also feature towering mountains and lush rainforests. Offshore lie colorful coral reefs that attract a wide array of marine life.
Of the thousands of islands in this corner of the world, a few have become favorite destinations for tourists. The following islands are among those places.
Though Oahu and Maui are more heavily visited, many people consider Kauai the most picturesque Hawaiian destination. The island’s jungle is teeming with volcanoes, rivers, waterfalls, wild animals and a dizzying variety of plant life.
Along the famous Na Pali Coast, kayakers and divers frequently spot dolphins, porpoises and whales. This shoreline’s cliffs, waterfalls and thick vegetation make it postcard-worthy. A few miles inland is Waimea Canyon, a gorge with 3,600-foot-high walls that runs through two state parks. A boat trip on the Wailua River passes impressive waterfalls and leads to the iconic Fern Grotto. Another recommended itinerary item is a guided tour of Polynesian temples.
There are many ways to see this tropical paradise. Adventurous travelers hike or ride bicycles on the numerous trails, while others take tours in land vehicles or boats. Many prefer helicopter flights.
While several places in French Polynesia attract people from throughout the world, Bora Bora is frequently described as the planet’s most beautiful island. It offers not only white-sand beaches, but also tours of turquoise-colored lagoons and an extinct volcano. At the Lagoonarium, it is possible to swim with sea turtles and see sharks.
Some travel experts recommend a Range Rover tour, a three-hour guided excursion to ancient stone temples and World War II sites. The most-visited strip of sand on Bora Bora is Matira Beach, on the south side of the island.
Those who want to escape the crowds might opt for Hiva Oa, an island in the remote Marquesas Archipelago. This is a classic South Seas location, with some of the most magnificent rainforests, volcanoes, cliffs, grottos and beaches on Earth. Getting there entails a flight of more than three hours from Tahiti. Boat passengers arrive at the Bay of Traitors, a lovely inlet surrounded by the 1,000-foot walls of the Temetiu volcano.
Among other Hiva Oa attractions are the black-sand Atuona Beach, the Taaoa Valley’s stone tiki sculptures, and a cultural center celebrating French painter and long-time Hiva Oa resident Paul Gauguin. Visitors hike through the jungle to waterfalls, and snorkel or dive to see manta rays and sharks.
Another destination in French Polynesia, this is the gateway to the largest coral-reef system in the world. Parasailing, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins and taking glass-bottomed boat tours are popular activities.
The coastline’s jaw-dropping beauty rivals that of any other place in the South Pacific. Hiking trails and a road along the shore provide access to lagoons, villages, temples, lookout points and pineapple plantations.
This island is called the “Paris of the Pacific” because of its natural splendor. A must-see site is Ouvea, which features soft white-sand beaches encircled by a pretty lagoon.
One of the most exciting things to do here is windsurfing, which gives people a chance to view sharks and other sea life. Roads and bike trails take visitors into the island’s interior.