The South Pacific Islanders are proud of their ancient Polynesian and Fijian cultures, and they eagerly inform anyone who asks about their ancient and modern ways. Here are some of the best ways to learn about the islanders and their lifestyles:
- Fijian Village Visits (Fiji): Many tours from Nadi and most offshore resorts include visits to traditional Fijian villages, whose residents stage welcoming ceremonies (featuring the slightly narcotic drink kava) and then show visitors around and explain how the old and the new combine in today's villages.
- Tiki Theatre Village (Moorea, French Polynesia): Built to resemble a pre-European Tahitian village, this cultural center has demonstrations of crafts and puts on a nightly dance show and feast. It's a bit commercial, and the staff isn't always fluent in English, but this is the only place in French Polynesia where one can sample the old ways.
- Rarotonga (Cook Islands): In addition to offering some of the region's most laid-back beach vacations, the people of Rarotonga go out of their way to let visitors know about their unique Cook Islands way of life. A morning spent at the Cook Islands Cultural Village and on a cultural tour of the island is an excellent educational experience. For a look at flora and fauna, and their traditional uses, Pa's Cross-Island Mountain Trek cannot be topped.
- Samoa: The entire country serves as a cultural storehouse of fa'a Samoa, the traditional Samoan way of life. Most Samoans still live in villages featuring fales (oval houses), some of which have stood for centuries -- although tin roofs have replaced thatch. The island of Savai'i is especially well preserved. A highlight of any visit to Savai'i should be a tour with Warren Jopling, a retired Australian geologist who has lived on Samoa's largest island for many years. Not only does he know the forbidding lava fields like the back of his hand, but everyone on Savai'i knows him, which helps make his cultural commentaries extremely informative.
- Tongan National Cultural Centre (Nuku'alofa, Tonga): Artisans turn out classic Tongan crafts, and a museum exhibits Tongan history, including the robe worn by Queen Salote at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953; and the carcass of Tui Malila, a Galápagos turtle that Captain Cook reputedly gave to the king of Tonga in 1777, which lived until 1968. The center has island-night dance shows and feasts with traditional food.