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The Ultimate Oceania Travel Guide
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Five ‘must do’ but unusual Pacific travel experiences

Updated

Travel doesn’t always have to be conventional, and while a typical holiday promises idyllic beaches and fun in the sun, there’s so much more to experience in the vast arena of the Pacific Islands including swimming with whales, watching crocodiles or witnessing the raw power of traditional tattooing.

From primal company to sacred customs and even a bit of Hollywood, there are some truly memorable discoveries for travellers to the Pacific who want something different.

Niue

With borders recently reopened, lucky visitors are just in time for whale watching season in the “rock of Polynesia.” Niue may be one of the smallest countries in the world but it’s also one of the largest coral islands and one of few global destinations where you can legally swim with humpback whales!

A close encounter with humpbacks. Picture: Niue Blue

The island spans a radius of 261 sq.km and its whale watching season typically runs from about July 15 to September 30, when humpbacks migrate from Antarctica to nurse their calves in Niue’s beautiful ocean until they’re strong enough to travel.

Humpbacks also feature in Niuean culture and mythology and the country upholds stringent whale regulations to protect both people and the animals. As long as you’re with licensed operators such as Niue Blue, you can enjoy close up interactions and encounters.

An image taken in July 2022. Whale watching season begins in July and is an annual highlight. Picture: Niue Blue

“Every interaction is different, but if the whale’s behaviour is calm and resting then customers have the opportunity to snorkel just 20m away from these beautiful animals while they rest, sing, dive and play – all with unparalleled water clarity and visibility up to 80 metres,” they shared.

“We are only allowed to snorkel on the surface with the whales and are prohibited from diving down when observing them.”

Whale watching in Niue, one of few global destinations where it’s legal to swim with humpbacks. Picture: Niue Blue

Visit Niue via weekly flights from New Zealand.

Solomon Islands

The Solomon’s reopened for international travel on July 1 and while crocodiles don’t typically come to mind when thinking of a South Pacific getaway, these saltwater creatures are a definite head turner.

Crocodiles are a protected species in the Solomon Islands. Picture: Bilikiki Cruises

Offering a unique element to tropical destinations, crocodiles are known to be found in the larger of the Solomon’s nearly one thousand islands, including Taro in Choiseul Province, Munda, and the Vonavona Lagoon mangrove areas of Western Province, including Marovo, home to the world’s largest saltwater lagoon. Western Province is one of the country’s most biologically gifted ecosystems and like most travellers, you’ll likely have to view crocs in the wild instead of a dedicated facility. Crocodile tourism is still relatively untapped, and this should only add to the adventure!

The Solomons is one of the world’s most biologically diverse countries. Picture: UW Images

These reptiles are also culturally revered as totem animals and feature on the country’s national flag. Since 1993, they’ve been a protected species to sustain their numbers, and were once culled for their skin for the lucrative export market.

Crocs aside, there’s plenty to see for ecotourism and marine enthusiasts as the Solomon’s is part of the Coral Triangle, a marine region spanning six countries and home to the world’s highest coral diversity.

The Solomons is part of the Coral Triangle and a mecca for diving. Picture: Tourism Solomons

With quarantine-free arrivals, you can fly to the Solomons from destinations including Australia, Fiji, Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

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Samoa

One of the last great bastions of traditional tattooing customs, Samoa’s sacred body art is undertaken to signify varying milestones. As a rite of passage, the pursuit of this painful exercise is meant to exude maturity and preparation for adult responsibility, and therefore worn with pride by many Samoans.

The traditional tattoo for Samoan women is known as malu. Picture: Samoa Tourism Authority

The “cradle of Polynesia” officially reopens for international travel on August 1 and visitors who wish to witness this revered ritual can do so at the Samoa Cultural Village, located adjacent to the Samoa Tourism Authority in the capital, Apia.

Women receive the malu, which stretches from upper thighs to below the knee, while men receive pe’a, covering their bodies from the upper waist to the knees. These intricate designs are inked into the body with traditional tools although contemporary times also see the use of more modern equipment.

The traditional tattoo for men is known as pe’a. Picture: Samoa Tourism Authority

With strongly retained customs and values, Samoa offers a culturally rich experience for travellers seeking a unique destination.

The Samoa Cultural Village is a great place to learn more about the country’s rich traditions. Picture: Samoa Tourism Authority

Visit Samoa via destinations including Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Pre-departure travel requirements include proof of full vaccination and a negative Covid test within 24 hours of departure to Samoa.

French Polynesia

In French Polynesia’s Society Islands, the atoll of Teti’aroa is a collection of several scenic islands leased by the trust of the late Hollywood actor, Marlon Brando.

Teti’aroa is home to French Polynesia’s largest bird reserve. Picture: The Brando

The American screen legend purchased a lease for Teti’aroa in the 1960s, after filming Mutiny on the Bounty in French Polynesia. He married his co-star Tarita Teriipaia, with the family operating a hotel on the atoll. Today his legacy has been retained as an exclusive eco-friendly retreat by Pacific Beachcombers and bears his name.

Opened in 2014, The Brando is an upmarket getaway of 35 villas constructed from local material and accessible by private charter. From solar power to ecological research, marine conservation, and wellness, much of the resort’s operations build on the late actor’s vision for sustainability and matching the star power of Brando, its guest book has logged quite a few famous names.

The Brando is named after the Hollywood legend and is located on the Teti’aroa atoll. Picture: The Brando

A culturally sacred place that was also a private retreat for high chiefs and the Pomare royal family, Teti’aroa is one of the largest natural reserves for birds in French Polynesia and sites are still recognised for their strong connections to spiritual and cultural beliefs. The resort notes that archaeologists determine it’s the only place to have temples from the country’s different archipelagos, signifying Teti’aroa’s spiritual revernace as a place of worship.

Federated States of Micronesia

Mystery and mystique collide at Nan Madol, an ancient fortification of nearly 100 artificial islands built atop a coral reef in the Federated States of Micronesia.

An aerial view of part of Nan Madol. Picture: Pohnpei Surf Club

Constructed of basalt slabs and covering some 200 acres, the sheer magnitude of this stone city makes it the only such location in the Pacific and it’s been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2016.

Travelling to Nan Madol. Picture: US Embassy Kolonia

These submerged ancient ruins are located on Temwen Island, over an hour’s drive from the capital city of Kolonia on the main island of Pohnpei. Open to visitors with guides on hand, travellers can park and wade to the site from Temwen Island at low tide or take a boat at high tide and cruise the canals of this ancient realm.

Archaeologists date Nan Madol’s creation to between 1200 and 1500 CE and with the hefty weight of its monolithic slabs, details of its exact creation largely remain an engineering mystery.

Travelling to Nan Madol. Picture: US Embassy Kolonia

The remains of tombs, temples, bath houses and palaces indicate Nan Madol’s use as a ceremonial, administrative and residential centre for the ancient Saudeleur dynasty. They were overthrown in the 1600s by the warrior Isokelekel, whose descendants occupied the fort until the 1800s. The district high chief, the Nahnmwarki Madolenihmw traces lineage to this warrior and today provides customary protection of Nan Madol.

Visit the FSM via Guam and the Marshall Islands.

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