The Climate

The South Pacific islands covered in this guide lie within the tropics. Compared to the pronounced winters and summers of the temperate zones, there is little variation from one island group to the next: They are warm and humid all year.

Although local weather patterns have changed in the past 20 years, making conditions less predictable, local residents recognize a cooler and more comfortable dry season during the austral winter, from May to October. The winter trade wind blows fairly steadily during these months, bringing generally fine tropical weather throughout the area. Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and Tongatapu in Tonga are farther from the equator and see cooler temperatures. Breezy wintertime nights can feel chilly in those islands.

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The austral summer from November through April is the warmer and more humid wet season. Low-pressure troughs and tropical depressions can bring several days of rain at a time, but usually heavy rain showers are followed by periods of intense sunshine. An air-conditioned hotel room or bungalow will feel like heaven during this time of year. This is also the season for tropical cyclones (hurricanes), which can be devastating and should never be taken lightly. Fortunately, they usually move fast enough that their major effect on visitors is a day or two of heavy rain and wind. If you're caught in one, the hotel employees are experts on what to do to ensure your safety.

Another factor to consider is the part of an island that you'll visit. Because moist trade winds often blow from the east, the eastern sides of the high, mountainous islands tend to be wetter all year than the western sides.

Also bear in mind that the higher the altitude, the lower the temperature. If you're going up in the mountains, be prepared for much cooler weather than you'd have on the coast.

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The Busy Season

July and August are the busiest tourist months in the South Pacific. That's when Australians and New Zealanders visit the islands to escape the cold back home. It's also when residents of Tahiti head to their own outer islands, in keeping with the traditional July-August holiday break in France. Many Europeans also visit the islands during this time.

There also are busy miniseasons at school holiday time in Australia and New Zealand. These periods vary, but in general they are from the end of March through the middle of April, 2 weeks in late May, 2 weeks at the beginning of July, 2 weeks in the middle of September, and from mid-December until mid-January. You can get a list of Australian holidays at www.oztourism.com.au (click on the "Holiday dates" link); for New Zealand go to www.tourism.org.nz (the "Utilities and Holidays" link).

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Some South Pacific hoteliers raise their rates during the busy periods.

Christmas through the middle of January is a good time to get a hotel reservation in the South Pacific, but airline seats can be hard to come by, as thousands of islanders fly home from overseas.

Holidays & Special Events

I list each country's festivals and special events, which can change the nature of a visit to the South Pacific. The annual Heiva Nui in French Polynesia, the Heilala Festival in Tonga, and the National Self Governing Commemoration in Rarotonga are just three examples, and every country has at least one such major celebration. These are the best times to see traditional dancing, arts, and sporting events. Be sure to make your reservations well in advance if you want to visit at celebration time, for hotel rooms and airline seats can be in short supply.

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When the Moon Is Full

The islands are extraordinarily beautiful anytime, especially so at solstice time in late September and late March, when the sun's rays hit the lagoons at just the right angle to highlight the gorgeous colors out in the lagoons. The play of moonlight on the water, and the black silhouettes the mountains cast against the sky, make them even more magical when the moon is full. Keep that in mind when planning your trip -- especially if it's your honeymoon.

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.