Here we explore five island nations that might not spring to mind immediately but absolutely deserve every traveller’s attention.
Beauty in this part of the world is a given but it’s the back-to-basics charm and friendly island spirit that epitomises these amazing places.
You could have breakfast at home and lunch in Honiara. The capital city of the Solomon Islands is just three hours flight time from Brisbane and three-and-a-half from Sydney.
This is a country made up of hundreds of beautiful islands, many virtually untouched. You won’t find high-rise resorts in the Solomons, this is an authentic tropical island experience where you rent a bungalow on the water’s edge and just take it easy.
While it’s a popular location for recreational scuba divers, history buffs can go one step further and explore the many World War II sites dotted around the region. Some of the undersea relics lie in water shallow enough to snorkel over. On land, you’ll find artefacts largely untouched since they were blown up or abandoned like the rusty jeeps and tanks now claimed by the jungle.
FLY: Solomon Airlines and Virgin Australia fly nonstop to Honiara from Brisbane. Solomon Airlines also offers one weekly nonstop flight from Sydney.
INSIDER TIP: Take a step back from the beach and you’ll find lush tropical rainforests filled with colourful bird life and over 3,000 native plant species.
Located just over the international dateline and halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, the Cook Islands are quite magical.
Whether it’s snorkelling in the dazzlingly blue waters, hiking through the rainforests or relaxing on a white sand beach, whichever way you look, there’s no doubt the fifteen islands that make up the archipelago can only be described as breathtakingly beautiful.
One of the best places to experience the ancient South Pacific culture, this island chain offers immersive village tours where local history and tribal customs are celebrated.
Aitutaki is the jewel in the crown of the islands and as close to tropical paradise perfection as you’ll get.
FLY: Air New Zealand and Jetstar offer non-stop flights to the capital Rarotonga from Sydney weekly. Connecting flights are available on Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand via Auckland.
INSIDER TIP: Looking for your own private island? Get away from it all at McBirney’s House on One Foot Island, Aitutaki. Overlooking a picturesque lagoon and white beach, the basic but comfortable two-storey cabin can accommodate up to 4 people.
Ten islands make up the Samoa nation and the Fa’a Samoa – or the Samoan way of life – can be felt wherever you go.
Samoa’s sparsely populated islands are a magnet for divers, surfers and holidaymakers looking for something different.
Savai’i, the largest island, has a population of 42,000 and is a wonderful place to explore thanks to the road that encircles the whole island. You’ll get a great insight into what Samoa is all about with easy access to amazing waterfalls, lava fields, blowholes, caves and rainforests and of course, an ocean teeming with tropical fish.
There’s a wide variety of accommodation options in Samoa from deluxe resorts to budget hotels on most islands.
FLY: Virgin Australia flies to Apia non-stop from Brisbane, Sydney and Auckland.
INSIDER TIP: Car rentals are readily available in Samoa, but visitors must first apply for a temporary driver’s license before hitting the road. A fee of $20 applies for one month or $40 for two months. Car rental agencies can help with this requirement.
The Polynesian kingdom of Tonga boasts 170 islands but less one fifth of them are inhabited.
There’s still a lot to see and do in Tonga but don’t expect name brand stores, high rise hotels or even fast food restaurants. What you’ll find is a genuine Polynesian experience with loads of cultural appeal.
Like their South Pacific neighbours, the focus here is on water-based activities thanks largely to the sheltered lagoons that feature on most islands. Sea-kayaking is a very popular way to make the most of your visit.
But Tonga also has a unique range of land-based tour options with four wheel-drive and self-drive kart safaris offered on the larger islands. Most journeys begin in the south at Tongatapu where the international airport is located and the Kingdom’s capital, Nuku’alofa.
FLY: Virgin Australia flies to Tonga non-stop from Sydney and Auckland.
INSIDER TIP: For a spot of history, head to Captain Cook’s landing spot in the village of Mu’a. A stone and brass monument marks the place where the explorer came ashore in 1773 and the banyan tree is still there where he is said to have taken shelter.
Published under license from Well Travelled