It’s Australia and New Zealand’s number-one cruise destination. According to this year’s Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA) figures, 390,000 visited islands in the South Pacific – that’s 39 per cent of our burgeoning cruising market.
The attractions are plain to see: it is an affordable and close destination with many ships departing ports in Sydney and Brisbane.
And there is a familiarity with our close neighbours. Many of their economies depend on ours, and many cruise lines have invested in infrastructure to support tourism.
Now the word has spread. The South Pacific is also becoming a hot spot for internationally based ships.
Here’s our pick of the Pacific:
Moorea, French Polynesia
Known to the locals as Fertility Island, Moorea is about 17 kilometres from Tahiti.
The mountains are lush and the lagoon is turquoise.
For scuba divers and snorkellers, it is a paradise. It is home to tropical fish, bright corals, eagle rays, turtles and, if you go during the right season (July-October), you’ll be able to spot some whales.
Shore tours include 4WD trips up the island’s mountains and swimming with dolphins at the Moorea Dolphin Centre.
You’ll also be able to find French baguettes and cheeses on the island.
Visited by: Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Cunard, Holland America Line, Oceania Cruises, Paul Gauguin Cruises, Ponant, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn and Silversea.
Dravuni Island, Fiji
This idyllic island has no vehicles, no department stores and nothing from the 21st century. It is an unspoilt destination where you can mix with the locals and even challenge the villagers to a friendly game of volleyball.
There are fewer than 200 inhabitants so it feels like a castaway island. You can also paddle along the Great Astrolabe Reef.
Visited by: Holland America Line, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and Seabourn.
Honiara, Solomon Islands
Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, is rich in history – many Allied and Japanese warships were sunk here during WWII including the Australian
cruiser, HMAS Canberra.
While cruise lines don’t offer shore tours, they will tender you to shore where you can book your own private adventure.
Visit historical sites on a battlefield tour or take a cultural tour of Honiara. There are also handicraft markets where you can shop for shell items and other souvenirs.
Visited by: Crystal Cruises, Princess Cruises, Seabourn and Silversea.
Isle of Pines, New Caledonia
The Isle of Pines is one of the most popular destinations in the South Pacific. With beautiful white sandy beaches surrounded by the New Caledonia Barrier Reef, the Isle of Pines is another perfect destination for snorkellers and scuba divers. Its rich marine life ranges from tropical fish to manta rays.
Visited by: Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, P&O Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn
Grande Terre, New Caledonia
The big island of New Caledonia is home to the capital, Noumea. It is a deep-sea port so guests can step off their ship and straight onto the island.
Just near the port are the city markets as well as major attractions such as the Coconut Square and Cathedrale St Joseph.
It is a French outpost so you’ll also be able to try the local croissants and cheeses.
Visit the Bay of Lemons, a beach surrounded by cafes and bars, go for a kayak or take the Tchou Tchou Train around the city.
Grande Terre is also home to the world’s biggest lagoon.
Visited by: Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Oceania Cruises, Paul Gauguin, P&O Cruises Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Seabourn.
There are no cars and no electricity on Wala so visitors get around on foot or in a dugout outrigger canoe. The locals are extremely friendly and greet guests with singing and dancing, which gives people an insight into the island’s Nambus culture.
There is brilliant snorkelling over the coral between the shore and the dark blue waters of the channel separating Wala from Malakula Island.
Visited by: Carnival, P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises.
Pentecost Island, Vanuatu
This little island is famous for its land-diving ritual, which is believed to have sparked bungy jumping. The N’Gol tradition sees men and boys jump off structures as high as 30 metres with vines tied to their ankles to break their fall right before they hit the ground. Locals see the ritual as a rite of passage to manhood and is believed to help bring a good yam harvest. It is held between April and June.
Visited by: P&O Cruises.
Maré, Loyalty Islands
Maré is a coral atoll and one of the three main islands in the Loyalty group. It has a mix of French and Kanak culture.
At Yejele Beach, you can swim and feast on lobsters and traditional Melanesian-style dishes right by the water.
Maré also is home to the Bone Hole, a 40-metre deep sink hole. It also has a natural aquarium, a large shallow pool surrounded by lush bushland and full of fish and even a few turtles.
Visited by: Carnival, Crystal Cruises, Holland America, Paul Gauguin Cruises, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Seabourn.
Lifou, Loyalty Islands
Lifou is the largest coral atoll in the Loyalty archipelago and is home to six native tribes.
The coral reefs surrounding the island are home to more than 2,000 fish species and are another hot destination for snorkellers.
From Easo Beach, a track leads up to an old white church on top of a hill which offers a 360-degree view of the island.
Visited by: Carnival, Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Holland America Line, Paul Gauguin Cruises, P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Silversea.