Nokan Hui islet, New Caledonia.
Courtesy New Caledonia Tourism Bureau

Where to go in the South Pacific

For the ultimate dream trip, most people head to Tahiti or Fiji. Since few ever travel beyond those well-known destinations, dozens of remote island nations in the Pacific Ocean are just waiting to be uncovered. Perhaps it's time to seek out these five authentic spots and see what everyone else has been missing.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands.
Courtesy Cook Islands Tourism Corporation
Cook Islands
What: The Cook Islands consist of 15 islands scattered over some 770,000 square miles of the southern Pacific Ocean. Although each island has palm-tree-lined beaches, Aitutaki is arguably the most beautiful. With its massive lagoon and turquoise waters, the island is ideal for snorkeling, feeding fish by hand, and exploring the coastline. Lodging is limited to a handful of resorts and a number of guesthouses and bungalows.

Where: Between Samoa and Tahiti

How: The capital of Rarotonga is accessible by flights from New Zealand, Tahiti, and Australia. The flight from Auckland, NZ is less than four hours. The flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki is less than one hour.

When: Throughout the year, but December to May is the preferred season.

More Info: Cook Islands Tourism Corporation (www.cookislands.travel); Pacific Blue www.flypacificblue.com); Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.com); Air Rarotonga (www.airraro.com); Petero's Place (www.peterosplace.com)
Net fishing in New Caledonia.
Courtesy New Caledonia Tourism Bureau
New Caledonia
What: Known as the Pacific's Cote D'Azur, this little piece of France is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, mainly due to its 300 species of coral. The fact that it has the world's second longest reef and largest lagoon doesn't hurt. A haven for amateur and professional divers alike, New Caledonia is also a foodie's paradise with a unique blend of traditional French and Melanesian cuisine.

Where: Noumea, the capital, is just two hours from Brisbane, Australia, or two-and-a-half hours from Sydney.

How: Fly from Australia to Noumea on Aircalin, and then take a short flight or a three-and-a-half hour catamaran ride to Maré, one of the Loyalty Islands.

When: It's best to visit from April to October (rainy season is November to March).

More Info: New Caledonia Tourism Bureau (www.newcaledoniatourism-south.com); Aircalin (www.aircalin.com); Loyalty Islands (www.loyalty-islands.com).
Women on the island of Vanuatu.
Courtesy Vanuatu Tourist Office
Vanuatu
What: The Melanesian nation of Vanuatu is made up of 83 small islands with the typical mix of rainforests, beaches, volcanoes, caves, waterfalls, and hot springs. But the real attraction lies in the surrounding waters. Coral reefs abound, as do World War II wrecks, including the SS President Coolidge. Stay on the island of Espiritu Santo, the inspiration behind James A. Michener's novel "Tales of the South Pacific."

Where: East of Australia, northeast of New Caledonia, west of Fiji, and south of the Solomon Islands.

How: Vanuatu is a two-and-a-half hour flight from Brisbane and three-and-a-half from Sydney. It's a little over two hours from Auckland. There are regular flights from New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, Australia, New Caledonia, and Fiji.

When: April to October is the best time to visit, as January to March can bring wet (even cyclonic) weather.

More Info: Vanuatu Tourism Office (www.vanuatu.travel); Deco Stop Lodge (www.decostoplodge.com)

Tuvalu in the South Pacific
Courtesy Tuvalu Tourism
Tuvalu
What: Experience Polynesian culture in one of the world's smallest and most remote nations. Nine coral islands form a chain surrounded by lagoons and reefs. There are only 16 hotels and small guesthouses here -- the largest is the government-owned Vaiaku Lagi Hotel, which only has 16 rooms. This is probably the least commercialized island, so if you want to get back to basics, this is it.

Where: About 600 miles north of Fiji

How: You can only reach Tuvalu by flying from Fiji. Both Air Pacific and Air Fiji operate regular (weekly and twice weekly) flights to the capital, Funafuti.

When: April to October

More Info: Tuvalu Tourism (www.timelesstuvalu.com); Vaiaku Lagi Hotel (tel. +688/20500; e-mail vaiakulagi@gmail.com)

Mary Island, Solomon Islands.
mjwinoz
Solomon Islands
What: Almost 1,000 islands make up the archipelago of the Solomons, where you can spend your days diving, surfing, fishing, kayaking, and swimming with dolphins and turtles. You can also visit World War II sites on Guadalcanal, as well as countless waterfalls and volcanoes. By night, wine and dine under the stars. With only around 15,000 international tourists per year, you won't need to share your deserted stretch of beach. For the ultimate escape, head to one of the smaller islands of the Western Province.

Where: Northeast of Australia and southwest of Hawaii

How: Five airlines fly into the capital, Honiara, on a regular basis (Solomon Airlines, Pacific Blue, Air Niugini, Air Pacific, and Our Airline). From there, Solomon Airlines flies to Gizo in 90 minutes.

When: July to September has the best weather.

More Info: Solomon Islands Visitor Bureau (www.visitsolomons.com.sb); Solomon Airlines (www.flysolomons.com); Pacific Blue (www.flypacificblue.com); Air Pacific (www.airpacific.com).
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