advertisement

The facts in this section apply to the region in general.

Camera and Film -- Color print film and processing is available in all the main island towns. On the other hand, digital camera batteries are difficult to find (I bring a spare). Make sure your digital camera battery charger will work on 220-volt electricity, which is common in the islands. Never pack film -- exposed or unexposed -- in checked bags, because the new, more powerful security scanners can fog film. The film you carry with you can be damaged by passenger scanners as well. X-ray damage is cumulative; the faster the film, and the more times you put it through a scanner, the more likely the damage. Film under 800 ASA is usually safe for up to five scans. On international flights, store your film in transparent baggies, so you can remove it easily before you go through scanners. On the other hand, digital cameras and storage cards are not affected by airport X-rays. Carry-on scanners will not damage videotape in video cameras, but the magnetic fields emitted by the walk-through security gateways and handheld inspection wands will. Always place your loaded camcorder on the screening conveyor belt or have it hand-inspected. Be sure your batteries are charged in all carry-on electronic gear, as you may be required to turn the device on to ensure that it's what it appears to be.

Electricity -- American Samoa uses 110-volt current and flat, vertical plugs identical to those in the U.S. and Canada. Electricity in the other countries is 240-volt, 50 cycles. French Polynesia uses round French-style plugs, while Fiji, the Cook Islands, and Samoa use flat, angled plugs like those in Australia and New Zealand.

Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen and file a report at the nearest police precinct. Your credit card company or insurer may require a police report number or record of the loss. Most credit card companies have an emergency toll-free number to call if your card is lost or stolen; they may be able to wire you a cash advance immediately or deliver an emergency credit card in a day or two.

Measurements -- All South Pacific countries except American Samoa are on the metric system.

Passports -- Allow plenty of time before your trip to apply for a passport; processing normally takes 3 weeks but can take longer during busy periods (especially spring). And keep in mind that if you need a passport in a hurry, you'll pay a higher processing fee.

For Residents of Australia: You can pick up an application from your local post office or any branch of Passports Australia, but you must schedule an interview at the passport office to present your application materials. Call the Australian Passport Information Service at tel. 131-232, or visit the government website at www.passports.gov.au.

For Residents of Canada: Passport applications are available at travel agencies throughout Canada or from the central Passport Office, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G3 (tel. 800/567-6868; www.ppt.gc.ca).

For Residents of Ireland: You can apply for a 10-year passport at the Passport Office, Setanta Centre, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2 (tel. 01/671-1633; www.irlgov.ie/iveagh). Those under age 18 and over 65 must apply for a 3-year passport. You can also apply at 1A South Mall, Cork (tel. 021/272-525) or at most main post offices.

For Residents of New Zealand: You can pick up a passport application at any New Zealand Passports Office or download it from their website. Contact the Passports Office at tel. 0800/225-050 in New Zealand or 04/474-8100, or log on to www.passports.govt.nz.

For Residents of the United Kingdom: To pick up an application for a standard 10-year passport (5-year passport for children under 16), visit your nearest passport office, major post office, or travel agency or contact the United Kingdom Passport Service at tel. 0870/521-0410 or search its website at www.ukpa.gov.uk.

For Residents of the United States: Whether you're applying in person or by mail, you can download passport applications from the U.S. Department of State website at www.travel.state.gov. To find your regional passport office, check the U.S. Department of State website or call the National Passport Information Center toll-free number (tel. 877/487-2778) for automated information.

Smoking -- Although antismoking campaigns and hefty taxes have reduced the practice to a large extent, cigarette smoking is still more common in the islands, and especially in French Polynesia, than in most Western nations. Most office buildings and the airlines are smoke-free, but nonsmoking sections in restaurants are rare. Not all hotels have nonsmoking rooms, so don't assume you'll get a nonsmoking room without asking for one.

Taxes -- Hotel rooms are subject to tax everywhere, and most countries impose a hidden "value-added tax."

Time Zones -- The International Dateline runs north-south through the region, placing Fiji and Tonga in the same day as Australia and New Zealand. French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, and the Samoas are a day earlier.

Tipping -- Although tipping is considered contrary to the Polynesian and Melanesian traditions of hospitality and generosity, the practice is widely practiced in the islands. (TIPPING IS NOT ILLEGAL proclaims a sign in a Tahiti restaurant.) Nevertheless, you don't have to tip out here. That's not to say that a gratuity isn't in order for outstanding service. I usually give a small tip to porters who wrestle with my heavy international bags.

Useful Phone Numbers -- U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory (tel. 202/647-5225, manned 24 hrs.); U.S. Passport Agency (tel. 202/647-0518); U.S. Centers for Disease Control International Traveler's Hotline (tel. 404/332-4559).

Water -- Water from the tap is safe to drink in the city of Papeete on Tahiti, on parts of the island of Bora Bora, on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, and in the main towns in Fiji. To avoid upsetting your intestines, buy bottled spring water at grocery stores (yes, Fiji Water really comes from Fiji).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.