"In the South Seas," Rupert Brooke wrote in 1914, "the Creator seems to have laid himself out to show what He can do." How right the poet was, for all across the South Pacific lie some of the world's most dramatically beautiful islands. In my opinion, the best of the lot have jagged mountain peaks plunging into aquamarine lagoons. Here are some of them:
- The Yasawa Islands (Fiji): This chain of long, narrow islands off the northwest coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's main island, ranks as the South Pacific's hottest destination of late, and in all price ranges. The Yasawas have some of the region's best beaches. Despite the inroads of tourism, however, the group remains mostly populated by Fijians, who live in traditional villages.
- Ovalau (Fiji): The sheer cliffs of Ovalau kept the town of Levuka from becoming Fiji's modern capital, but they create a dramatic backdrop to an old South Seas town little-changed in the past century. Ovalau has no good beaches, which means it has no resorts to alter its landscape.
- Qamea and Matagi Islands (Fiji): These little jewels off the northern coast of Taveuni are lushly beautiful, with their shorelines either dropping precipitously into the surrounding waters or forming bays with idyllic beaches.
- Moorea (French Polynesia): I think Moorea is the most beautiful island in the world. Nothing compares with its sawtooth ridges and the dark-green hulk of Mount Rotui separating Cook's and Opunohu bays. The view from Tahiti of Moorea's skyline is unforgettable.
- Bora Bora (French Polynesia): The late James Michener thought that Bora Bora was the most beautiful island in the world. Although tourism has turned this gem into a sort of South Seas Disneyland, development hasn't altered the beauty of Bora Bora's basaltic tombstone, towering over a lagoon that ranges in color from yellow to deep blue.
- Rarotonga (Cook Islands): Only 32km (20 miles) around, the capital of the Cook Islands boasts the beauty of Tahiti -- with hints of Moorea.
- Aitutaki (Cook Islands): A junior version of Bora Bora, Aitutaki sits at the apex of a colorful lagoon, which, from the air, looks like a turquoise carpet laid on the deep blue sea.
- Upolu (Samoa): Robert Louis Stevenson was so enraptured with Samoa that he spent the last 5 years of his life in the hills of Upolu. The eastern part of the island is ruggedly beautiful, especially in Aliepata, where a cliff virtually drops down to one of the region's most spectacular beaches.
- Savai'i (Samoa): One of the largest Polynesian islands, this great volcanic shield slopes gently to gorgeous beaches on its eastern and northern sides. There are no towns on Savai'i, only traditional Samoan villages interspersed among rainforests, which adds to its unspoiled beauty.
- Tutuila (American Samoa): A primary reason to go to American Samoa is to see the physical beauty of Tutuila and its magnificent harbor at Pago Pago. If you can ignore the canneries and stacks of shipping containers, this island is right up there with Moorea.
- Vava'u (Tonga): One of the South Pacific's best yachting destinations, hilly Vava'u is shaped like a jellyfish, with small islands instead of tentacles trailing off into a quiet lagoon. Waterways cut into the center of the main island, creating the picturesque and perfectly protected Port of Refuge.
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.