The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by the continents of Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east. The equator subdivides it into the North Pacific Ocean and South Pacific Ocean and all of its islands can be divided into three main groups known as Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. Micronesia includes the Mariana Islands, the Caroline Islands, the Marshall Islands and the islands of Kiribati. Melanesia includes New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, the Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia. The largest area, Polynesia includes Tuvalu, Tokelau, Samoa, Tonga and the Kermadec Islands, the Cook Islands, Society Islands and Austral Islands, the Marquesas Islands, Tuamotu, Mangareva Islands, and Easter Island.
With miles of ocean as far as the eye can see, there is no better way of exploring the South Pacific region than aboard a small ship cruise. Tiny islands separated by miles of ocean mean opportunities abound for interactions with local villagers, taking part in traditional song and dance performances and immersing yourself in island life. With a hugely varied landscape, geothermal and volcanic activity, exotic flora and fauna, stunning beaches and some of the best snorkeling on coral reefs, South Pacific region truly is paradise.
The most popular destinations of the region for small ship cruising include:
Fiji. Scents of Indian curries waft from city roti shops while in villages Melanesian families invite you in for a bit of 'grog'. Underwater you'll find seascapes of soft corals so dense they look like purple and white forests. Viti Levu, the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands have the best beaches and most resorts while it's easy to get off the beaten path on islands like the lush, dive havens of Taveuni and Vanua Levu or the near-roadless traditional escape of Kadavu.
Tahiti & French Polynesia. With over 115 islands spanning five archipelagos, French Polynesia has it all from the legendary, luxe Bora Bora and its over-the-water-bungalows to uncountable forgotten islands perfect for Crusoe wannabes looking for a basic beach bungalow. Dive with plentiful reef sharks and manta rays in the Tuamotu Atolls; hike to waterfalls and mountain ridges on Tahiti or Moorea; or watch professional surfers brave cavernous tubes at Teahupoo, Tahiti.
Raratonga & the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands mix Polynesian blue water and hospitality with New Zealand savoir faire. Sail to Aitutuaki atoll, with its low-lying coral islets curling around one of the world's most fantastic lagoons. When not diving, snorkelling or swimming in blue water, check out the atoll's ancient stone temples called marae.
Vanuatu. If you want rumbling volcanoes, kava bars, shipwrecks to dive on and wild jungles to trek but still want your roads paved and your cheese French, Vanuatu is the place for you. The main Island of Efate is home to the endearingly dusty capital of Port Vila but the real action lies on the outer islands. Tanna is dominated by fiery and climbable Mt Yasur. Espiritu Santo has upscale resorts and a tough trek to the massive Millennium Cave filled with waterfalls and bats. Dive and snorkel WWII wrecks to coral gardens.
Samoa & American Samoa. The Samoan Islands are divided into two countries – Samoa, which is independent, and American Samoa, which - you guessed it – is an American territory. Both however remain very traditionally Polynesian. You'll find some of the South Pacific's best and most pristine beaches, lots of smiles, flower-filled villages and a pace of life that stands out as slow even in this region.
New Caledonia. New Caledonia's massive Grande Terre is the third largest island in the Pacific (after Papua New Guinea and New Zealand) and is home to the second largest double barrier coral reef in the world (after Australia's Great Barrier Reef). Beyond the diving, wind sports and sailing in the lagoon, the land supports a mix of Melanesian and French cultures that bring an elegant balance to hospitality, cuisine and accommodation.
Tonga. The Kingdom of Tonga is a country of traditional values and strong Christianity backed by endless blue bays, sparkling beaches and ancient stone temples. The main island of Tongatapu is the seat of the monarchy but most visitors head quickly to the Vava'u Group. Here you'll find one of the best places on Earth to swim with or watch humpback whales.
Easter Island (Rapa Nui). Few places on the planet are as intriguing as this 164 square kilometer island so far east, it's technically a part of Chile. Giant, sober-faced stone statues called moai dominate the landscape here whether they are full-standing or still only partially carved from rock; their mystery is an even larger presence. Tourism is on the rise but the island remains personable and dedicated to eco-travel.
Solomon Islands. Arguably one of the wildest destinations in the South Pacific, the Solomon Islands host a traditional Melanesian culture and an ever-lingering WWII history. Guadalcanal, the capital island, is home to numerous historical war sites. For relaxation head to the New Georgia Islands, particularly Marovo Lagoon for its fish-filled lagoon dotted with small islands. Beaches are few but the kayaking, diving and traditional culture make it a true adventure.
Papua New Guinea. A remote and still relatively undiscovered destination, Papua New Guinea is one of the few places left in the world where you can truly go off the beaten track. Whether you’re trekking in remote mountain ranges, searching for the elusive bird of paradise in cloud forests or travelling to off-the-grid villages to get to know some 750 tribes who call PNG their home, you are likely to have the country’s wanders mostly to yourself and your fellow travellers. Papua New Guinea is a world-class diving & birding destination as well.
If you’re after a small ship cruise or an expedition ship cruise to the Islands of the South Pacific Ocean Wild Earth Travel can help you find a trip of a lifetime. We are ready to guide you through our range of different options with impartial advice so you can experience the very best of this unique destination. Our team are all passionate expedition & small cruise ship travellers and our knowledge and stories come from our own personal experiences.