Just about everyone knows of Bora Bora and Tahiti, but what about the lesser-known islands in the South Pacific? For those who are looking for a crowd-free retreat with stunning landscapes fantasies are made of, you might want to consider something a bit more off the well-beaten path. These options are just about guaranteed to make you feel you’re living in a dream world.
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Funafuti Atoll, Tuvalu
The tiny South Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is made up of a collection of small islands and coral atolls totaling just 10 square miles. An average of just 1600 tourists visit Tuvalu each year, so it will definitely feel like you’re way off the beaten path – but, there is little tourist infrastructure, meaning no visitor center, tour guides or organized activities, though Funafuti Atoll has an airstrip. There is a hotel and a few guesthouses that provide accommodation along with friendly people, beautiful scenery and delicious if simple food, like fresh fish, fried chicken, pork and taro, papaya and coconuts.
Niue is one of the world’s smallest countries yet it’s the largest raised coral atoll on the planet, with many creatures from the deep coming closer to shore than anywhere else. It sits at the heart of a triangle of island nations, Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands, about 1,500 miles north-east of New Zealand. While there’s little tourist infrastructure, it’s ideal for fulfilling a Robinson Crusoe fantasy. With the water very deep close to the shore, when humpback whales migrate by between July and October, they’re usually just 65 feet or so from land. You can hear them slapping their tails against the water at night, and during the day you can even jump in and swim with them. And, the island is filled with secret beaches, rocky coves and caves, some of which have yet to be explored.
Uoleva Island, Tonga
Uoleva Island is located in Tonga, an archipelago of 169 islands, 96 of which are inhabited. They’re ringed by strikingly white sands and clear aquamarine waters, with Uoleva often said to be the most photogenic. It’s virtually uninhabited, other than by hotel staff and their guests providing the ultimate tropical fantasy island getaway. Visiting is like a step back in time, with no tourist shops or even roads. Outstanding snorkeling can be enjoyed right from the beach, and between July and November, humpback whales are often spotted just offshore.
While the occasional cruise ship makes fleeting stops on one side of the main island in Vanuatu, this archipelago is rarely on tourists’ radar. Located just south of the Solomon Islands, here you can experience traditional culture and island life. The highlight is the underwater world with its remarkable visibility of 165 feet, including endless schools of colorful fish darting around vibrant coral reefs and an array of submerged wrecks from World War II. The land itself may be even more mesmerizing with dramatic volcanic peaks providing a breathtaking backdrop to the cerulean sea.
Papua New Guinea
Considered one of the world’s last true frontiers, Papua New Guinea is truly a place where you can get off the beaten track, way off. The rugged natural beauty and anachronistic lack of infrastructure, mean that it certainly isn’t easy to get there, but you’ll be able to enjoy a place with remarkable cultural and biological diversity, famous for its spectacular beaches and coral reefs. On land, you’ll discover traditional tribal villages, dense rainforest, active volcanoes and granite Mount Wilhelm, with meandering trails like the Kokoda Trail providing a popular way to explore. There are few roads beyond Moresby, its sprawling capital, just flora and fauna that can be found nowhere else on Earth.
Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands are made up of nearly 1,000 islands that are spread across just over 960 miles in the Pacific just three hours from Australia’s east coast. The largest, Guadalcanal, is home to a number of well-preserved World War II relics and beaches along its northern coast. The Guadalcanal American Memorial, which sits high above Honiara, the capital city, overlooks the Iron Bottom Sound, a graveyard for sunken American and Japanese ships – it’s also famous for its outstanding diving. Outside of the north coast, the island has the feel of a lost world.
Huahine, French Polynesia
While French Polynesian islands like Moorea and Bora Bora are famous among honeymooners and romance seekers of all types, there are islands nearby like Huahine that are every bit as picturesque with virtually no other visitors. Just a 40-minute flight from the island of Tahiti, it offers lush forests, unspoiled landscapes, charming villages and the opportunity for authentic experiences. The crystal-clear turquoise lagoon surrounds the two islands that make up Huahine, while pristine white sand beaches complete the tropical paradise package. It’s been little changed by the modern world, providing a slower, more laid-back pace of old Polynesia, with just eight small villages home to friendly locals.
Rarotonga, Cook Islands
The Cook Islands are made up of 15 islands with only 15,000 residents spread among them. Even its most popular island, Rarotonga, sees relatively few visitors – and it’s tiny, taking just a little over a half an hour to circumnavigate. It not only boasts wonderfully gregarious and friendly locals, spectacular beach, ocean and lush inland scenery but fascinating insights into the Polynesian culture by attending “island nights,” when beautiful local women dance or visiting the Cultural Village.
Kadavu and Ono, Fiji
Kadavu and Ono are two rainforest-filled, nearly road-free islands that are encircled by the Astrolabe Reef, one of Fiji’s best yet rarely visited fishing and diving destinations. While there are resorts, each one is isolated providing a far less “touristy” feel than popular Fiji Islands, with a feeling that you’ve journeyed to the edge of paradise. Enjoy world-class snorkeling offshore, including a number of hotspots for manta rays, look forward to watching rare, colorful birds and visiting interesting traditional villages too.
Rock Islands, Palau
The Republic of Palau is an archipelago made up of 500 islands in the Micronesia region. In the Southern Lagoon are the Rock Islands, which lie between Koror and Peleliu. They offer some of the world’s best diving and are filled with surprises like the Milky Way, a magnificent bay with white limestone known for rejuvenating the skin.