Better known as the holiday spot for newlyweds or the nearly dead, this idyllic speck of Aussie territory in the South Pacific has a new breed of young locals that have turned its incredible beaches into a party that can’t be missed. For the last three years, the Black Anchor bar in Kingston has started relocating its booze, staff and good times down to the water’s edge. The sunset parties and late-night DJ sets are the place to be for surfers, photographers, drone pilots, jewellery makers, fashion designers and digital nomads that all call the island home. But it’s during the annual simulcast of Triple J’s Hottest 100 that things step up a notch. That’s when a flotilla of eskies, rafts and half-naked bodies – all holding bottomless cocktails – spend dawn until dusk listening to music and floating in the gentle turquoise waters of Emily Bay. They proudly fly a pirate flag, but never fear, as there’s no chance of a mutiny here because outsiders are made to feel very welcome.
Forget about swimming with whales, if you’re after an animal encounter that is truly unforgettable, it’s time to go crab hunting. But we’re not talking about any old crustacean you might just stumble upon at the beach, oh no. The coconut crab – also known as ‘uga’ – is a large nocturnal land arthropod that can grow to one metre in length and weigh up to four kilograms. You’ll find these nightmarish creatures on the island of Niue (where they are actually considered a delicacy), and you can see them up close(ish) with Taue Uga Tours. A local guide will take you deep into the jungle, where you’ll learn all about the lifecycle of the uga and discover some of the methods used to capture them. And if you’re feeling really brave, you may even get to hold one. Just watch out for your fingers.
There are 83 islands in the sublime Vanuatu archipelago, but the relatively unknown Kwakea Island – a short charter flight north of Espiritu Santo – is the undisputed adventure utopia for thrill seekers who are desperate to live out their wildest shipwrecked dreams. Australian and Ni-Vanuatu citizen, Brett Kerr, has been coming to Kwakea with his family for over a decade. Setting up Kwakea Island Adventures in 2019 has given him only a limited chance to share this newly-opened slice of paradise with guests that are looking for a private surf break, daily spearfishing, scuba diving and hunting wild boar with locals. This place has certainly got a tinge of Lord of the Flies about it. Pass me the conch.
What do you get when you cross volleyball with murderball? Te Ano, the national sport of Tuvalu. This surprisingly brutal game is played with two balls and two teams made up of men and women of all ages. They line up on the malae (pitch) facing each other, before throwing the balls as hard as they can. Players must hit them back with their hands (in a volleyball style) to prevent them from hitting the ground, as only the designated catcher is permitted to catch the balls. Points are scored when the opposition drops a ball, and the first team to reach ten points wins. Sounds a bit crazy? You bet it is – especially considering the balls are made from dried pandanus leaves, making them super hard and heavy.
What’s better than a white-sand beach, we hear you ask? A pink one, of course! Les Sables Roses is located on the remote southeast corner of Rangiroa in French Polynesia, and is an Instagrammer’s dream come true. The sand gets its cotton candy-coloured hue from a mixture of crushed shells, eroded coral and foraminifera – a microscopic organism with a pale pink casing. When washed up on the shore and blended with normal sand, it creates the shimmering blush tone that people are so obsessed with. Aside from admiring the sand and taking a million photos of it, the beach is also a wonderful spot for snorkelling, with the nearby reef home to sharks and a vibrant array of tropical fish.
Picture the perfect swimming pool. Water so sparkling and clear you could read a book under it, fringed by flawless palms and a temperature so right that a cooling dip perfectly soothes the edge off the afternoon tropical sun. Imagine said swimming pool is on a tiny South Pacific island hundreds of kilometres from civilisation, and is considered crowded when two other people turn up. The stretch of water between Motu Piscine (Swimming Pool Island) and the nearby sandbar is as crystal clear as any pool cleaner’s pond. The fine, white-powder sand that lines the shores creates a blue hue that beckons from across the lagoon to the top of Mount Hiro, the peak of Raivavae Island, one of the more remote of French Polynesia’s Austral Islands. One of the few pensiones in the region will set up a picnic for you with cold beer and fresh fruit. It’s perfect here. Say hi to Eleanor, she’s awesome.
UNDER THE SEA
There are few cooler experiences than diving into the warm waters of Marovo Lagoon to swim with a fever of manta rays. This is exactly how a perfect day at Uepi Island Resort in the Solomon Islands begins. Luckily for Uepi guests, there is a manta ‘cleaning station’ just a three-minute boat ride from the jetty. Here, the mantas circle a coral bommie, while copepod parasites clean their skin and gills. This allows snorkellers to swim among these graceful giants as they go about their day spa. If you can hold your breath long enough, you can even swim below and almost touch their bellies. And best of all, yours is the only boat there. You’ll see more mantas than tourists.
A treehouse probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of accommodation options in Fiji. Overwater bungalows? Sure. Swanky resorts? Yep. But a treehouse? No way. Well, let us be the ones to introduce to you the incredible split-level treehouse bures of Matangi Private Island Resort. Nestled high up in the lush rainforest foliage, these three unique abodes all feature a king-size bed, outdoor lava rock shower and hot tub, spacious sun deck with ocean views and – wait for it – a daily supply of freshly baked cookies. If you can tear yourself away from this little slice of treetop heaven you’ll discover there’s plenty to do on this pristine 97-hectare island, including scuba diving, hiking, fishing and sailing.
FROM THE SKY
Soaring through a jungle canopy at high speeds – with nothing but a harness and some leather gloves – is not just a cool way to get from A to B, it makes you feel like Tarzan or an elite SAS soldier descending into a covert South Pacific mission. There’s no better way to see the dense rainforest of Vanuatu’s main island of Efate than on a Jungle Zipline tour. After a helicopter ride up to the island’s highest peak, you can spend more than three hours traversing between ridiculously high platforms, before zipping across a massive valley with panoramic views over Mele Bay. For the full experience, we recommend not holding onto your belt. You’ll look way cooler (and less petrified) with your arms outstretched.
The ultimate dream for all surfers is a perfect set of private waves. In the remote northern corner of Santa Isabel in the Solomon Islands, Kagata Surf Village boasts secret breaks, tropical waters, friendly locals and a slower pace of life. When at Kagata, you’re tech-free and living a simple back-to-basics existence. In the morning you’re out fishing for your dinner, snorkelling the reefs at sunset and filling in downtime by riding the most epic, hidden swell in all of the South Pacific. Breathe in the fresh air and forget about the last few years of lockdown life. A stay at Kagata is good for the soul.
Like everyone else in the world, you’ve probably heard of the Blue Cave in Vanuatu. But this secret spot in Tonga is so cool, and so different, it makes the Blue Cave look boring. Mariner’s Cave is on the west wall, at the north end of Nuapupu Island. The secret entry is between two and three metres underwater, so you have to hold your breath for a while to be able to come up inside the cave. Once inside, the only light is the bright turquoise blue tones that stream through the underwater entrance. Best time to snorkel or dive here is later in the afternoon when the western sun is stronger through the entrance you’ve just swum through. A warning: the swell can get pretty big in this cave, so take a buddy for safety.
OUTER BODY EXPERIENCE
Kava is almost ubiquitous with celebration in this part of the world, but the toxins from the root which make the questionable brown liquid in Vanuatu are known for being particularly potent. Maybe that’s the secret as to why the Ni-Vanuatu are so happy all the time? Nakamals (kava bars) dot the roadside of most major villages, but you know kava has been brewing come dusk when you see the prick of a red light bulb hanging in the darkness. In the capital of Port Vila, Ronnie’s Nakamal is an institution. If you’re a kava virgin, try gulping down just half a shell to start with. This stuff knocks your socks off.
A patch of palm-fringed infertile land on the island of Niue may seem like the last place you’d expect to find a sculpture park, but this tiny atoll in the South Pacific is full of surprises. Located just two kilometres from the village of Liku, the Hikulagi Sculpture Park was established in 1996 by members of the Tahiono Arts Collective – a group of local and New Zealand-based artists who wanted to create a space for people to showcase their work and also highlight environmental issues such as climate change and pollution. Most of the sculptures have been crafted using recycled objects, and visitors can even add their own touch to Protean Habitat – the centrepiece of the park and an ongoing, ever-changing project.
UNDER THE RADAR
Have you ever heard of the timeless South Pacific town of Taiohae in Nuku Hiva? Don’t worry, neither has the rest of the world. As sailboats bob in the harbour here, locals cruise through the town on horseback. Nuku Hiva is huge (the second largest island in French Polynesia after Tahiti) but it’s virtually empty. It’s most recognisable by the razor-edged basaltic cliffs smothered in green foliage, which plunge into the Pacific waves below. Inland, there are lush waterfalls and valleys which quickly rise into green, prehistoric plateaus. But Nuku Hiva isn’t just a hidden paradise, it’s also home to French Polynesia’s most mystical ruins. You could spend an entire day just wandering around the remnants of Nuku’s sacred marae (religious sites), picturing yourself mixing with locals on the shores of an ancient world.
Blue River Provincial Park is just 60 kilometres from Noumea, but on arrival you’d think you were entering another country, as the crimson red dirt and dense forest surrounding the valley is more reminiscent of inland Queensland. Grab a kayak from the lone adventure hire shack in Pont Perignon and paddle along the river, moving through the thousands of bleached gum oak trunks that have emerged from the creation of a dam upstream. You can even pull your kayak up onto the thick mud and wander the river’s banks. Don’t be surprised if you’re the only person here. Our pro tip is to make your way out at dusk, because nothing is more terrifying (or cooler) than seeing these eerie river ghosts in the moonlight.
Much like the mystery and intrigue that swirls around Stonehenge and the statues of Easter Island, Samoa also has its very own perplexing ancient structure: the Pulemelei Mound. Located deep in the overgrown wilderness of Savai’i, nobody can quite explain exactly when this huge, pyramid-like pile of basalt stones (it measures 65 by 60 metres) appeared, or even why it is there. Theories suggest it was used for religious ceremonies or as a burial monument or lookout platform, while recent excavations hint at some kind of settlement, with ovens and stone tools found dating back 2,000 years ago. Whatever its purpose, you can find the impressive mound slowly being swallowed by vegetation not far from Letolo Plantation, and if you climb to the top you’ll be rewarded with views of the ocean.
WELCOME TO THE SOLOMONS
The cool kids at school were always mysterious. There was an aura of unknown about them that continually surprised you.
Sure, there were more popular kids – the flashy wannabes that demanded all the attention and loved a crowd – but it was the cool kids that you really wanted to be friends with. They were the ones that took you to the unexpected corners of the playground and on adventures you never thought possible.
Welcome to the Solomon Islands, the coolest kid in the South Pacific. This is a country that in 2019 had less than 30,000 visitors, and we just can’t understand why.
Just a short, three-hour flight from Brisbane in Australia, the Solomons are made up of just under a thousand islands sprinkled throughout the clear Coral Sea. These islands are home to a range of low-key resorts, quaint village stays, private islands and experiences with locals that will change your life.
Before breakfast, you can be swimming with mantas in the world’s second largest lagoon, then in the afternoon you’re diving down to a Japanese troop carrier sunk by the US forces in World War II.
Why not hike into a dormant volcano or spend the night in a treehouse, overlooking a perfectly still, turquoise lake? Drink a Solbrew (local beer) in an overwater bar as local villagers dance to traditional music. Freedive through underwater caverns and into the bellies of ancient volcanic islands. Disconnect from the world and surf on private breaks with locals, rarely ever seen by the rest of civilisation. Or simply spend a day on your own island, in a hammock, watching the blues and greens of the sea change colour with the rising and setting of the sun.
If it’s high-rise resorts, club sandwiches and day spas you prefer, then this cool kid in the South Pacific is definitely not your friend. But if it’s boutique, barefoot, off-the-grid escapism that you’ve been craving over the last 18 months, then join the gang. This is seriously the place for you. Even the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spent their honeymoon at Tavanipupu Resort in Marau Sound. But let’s be honest, the Sollies are much more suited to the cooler prince. You know? The other one… We’re looking at you, Haz.
Amid the devastating tourism downturn experienced in Fiji, two mates who met at university, Gavin Statham and Simon Gelling (an Aussie expat from country NSW), have come together to create the Kailoma Brewing Company, a micro-brewery that produces Fiji’s first-ever craft beer range. Their new beer is called Mokusiga (mo-koo-sing-a) which is a colloquial term used by locals as an expression for killing time. The word is used to embody the very essence of relaxing in Fiji and not having a care in the world. For anyone who has ever visited Fiji’s Coral Coast, time here can feel almost elastic. Which is why right now – as we’re desperately counting the hours until we can travel again – we really like the idea of Fiji time in a bottle.
On a tiny atoll, hidden among seven hundred odd islands in the Solomons archipelago, is the South Pacific’s largest rookery of the critically endangered Hawksbill turtles. The Arnavon Islands are about as far off the grid as you can imagine, and it’s here that local rangers from the neighbouring islands of Kia, Katupika and Waghena work tirelessly to protect the turtles’ breeding habitats. A stay in the Arnavon Islands can include assisting these rangers with their nightly monitoring of egg laying and – depending on your time of visit – releasing the hatchlings into the sea. The water and corals here are untouched and truly spectacular, making for a great spot to go snorkelling, too. Our tip is to stay at Papatura Resort for a few nights and adventure up to explore the islands.
Markets in the South Pacific can cast a spell over you. They’re frenetic, friendly and an assault on the senses. But in New Caledonia’s capital, Noumea, Le Marché de la Moselle is a true microcosm of French and South Pacific culture. Here, fresh fish, fruit and vegetables are packed at almost shoulder height everywhere you look. Locals spruik and shout their discounts at you in French, but the pièce de résistance is the hexagonal (and very French-looking) creperie and breakfast bar. La Buvette du Marché serves delicious baked eggs, pastries, crepes and an espresso that wouldn’t be out of place in Le Marais. Come for the food, but stay for the conversation with local traders and fishermen.
Ben Wilson is best known for once kitesurfing the biggest wave in history at the iconic Cloudbreak in 2011. It was so big and so epic that car company Jeep turned the ride into a global television advertisement. Ben’s love for kiting all started on nearby Namotu Island, which is in the Mamanuca Island group, just off the coast of Nadi. Namotu gets surf and wind year-round, and has a wide variety of reefs for beginners and experienced surfers. The trade winds have made Namotu Ben’s playground and his place of work. He runs private and small-group kitesurfing experiences, including his infamous seven-day Kite Week. Beer yoga, paleo food, charter fishing expeditions, dedicated coaching and world-class equipment – this place seriously has it all.
It may not be the highest peak on Rarotonga, but Te Rua Manga (also known as The Needle) is certainly the most recognisable. Jutting out of the green jungle canopy like a – you guessed it – needle, the almost two-kilometre hike to reach this landmark starts south of Avatiu Harbour and follows a well-marked route through some of the island’s most rugged terrain. It’s pretty steep in sections and you’ll be scrambling over enormous tree roots and slippery boulders, so a good level of fitness (plus plenty of water and mosquito repellent) is required. When you reach the base of Te Rua Manga itself you’ll notice chains and ropes on the rock face – only attempt to scale the spire if you’re an experienced climber and have brought along the right gear. Besides, the spectacular views are pretty much the same anyway, so soak them in and enjoy!
Never heard of Wallis and Futuna? You’re not alone. Comprising three main tropical islands and a smattering of tiny islets, this French territory lies right in the heart of the Polynesia/Melanesia region, situated between Fiji, Tuvalu, Tonga and Samoa. But while all of these South Pacific hot spots are well and truly on the travel radar, Wallis and Futuna has somehow managed to keep a low profile. And that means its postcard-perfect beaches, untouched reefs and verdant jungles are waiting to welcome you. Just don’t expect any souvenir shops or crowded streets of tourists; the pace is far slower here, so be sure to indulge in French pastries and fresh seafood, chat to the (very friendly) locals and enjoy basking in the beauty of this pristine, raw paradise.
Papua New Guinea Walindi Plantation Resort in Kimbe Bay is in Papua New Guinea’s forgotten West New Britain Province, and despite being around for nearly three decades, it remains one of the best-kept secrets right on Australia’s doorstep. This family-owned dive resort somehow manages to provide its guests with that perfectly balanced flop and drop holiday, mixed with an adventure retreat and a true local villager experience. Walindi’s famous liveaboard dive boat, the MV Febrina, is known for searching out some of the best diving visibility on the planet. And for those looking for something even cooler, the abandoned Talasea Airstrip is a scene straight out of an Indiana Jones film. Several World War II planes, including an old American B-52 bomber lie in stasis beneath a tangle of jungle and time.