Fiji, French Polynesia, Samoa, Yap, Tonga, the Cook Islands, New Caledonia, the Marshalls, Micronesia and the other islands of the South Pacific are more than dots on a map: they're places where natural beauty and cultural heritage come together in a way that is energizing and welcoming. While such larger neighbors as Australia and New Zealand could easily occupy several vacations on their own, they are also great starting points for a two-destination itinerary. If you can spend at least two weeks in the region, you'll find many pairings can add to the variety of your experience: Australia/New Zealand, Australia/Fiji, New Zealand/Fiji, New Zealand/Cook Islands—the possibilities seem endless.
The islands appeal to a wide range of travelers, and it's not hard to fit a client to a destination. "All South Pacific destinations are great for first-timers," says Amy Terada, vice president of marketing for Pleasant Holidays. She notes that active travelers and nature enthusiasts will find plenty to keep them busy in Australia and New Zealand, while Fiji appeals to couples and families because it has both couples-only resorts and family-friendly resorts with complimentary children's programs.
Vacationers making their first foray into the South Pacific should have Australia and New Zealand in their sights, says Max Aly, director of sales at SITA World Tours, either together or in tandem with a destination like Fiji or the Cook Islands. "On the other hand," Aly continues, "if they've already been to that region of the South Pacific, French Polynesia is the perfect locale to island-hop for two weeks."
Emma Cottis, Goway Travel's product and marketing manager, Australia and New Zealand, says the islands of the South Pacific are ideal for people who want to island-hop or encounter a variety of cultures and landscapes in a single vacation. Destinations such as Tahiti have convenient air schedules, check-in times are minimal, and travelers have the added benefit of flightseeing as part of the trip.
French Polynesia is a great choice for honeymooners, says Jonna Jackson, Classic Vacations' product director for Hawaii and Tahiti. It has top-notch dive spots, she adds, and the family market is growing.
Years ago, we took our kids (then pre-schoolers) to New Zealand's North and South Islands, as well as to the Cooks, and we made a daytrip to outlying Aitutaki. We had 14 days to spend, which gave us enough time for boat rides, hikes, leisurely picnics, sightseeing and a few museums. By setting a sane pace and consciously scheduling some "decompression days" at intervals throughout the trip, we created the flexibility to absorb and savor what we were seeing. The few days in the Cook Islands, which we originally tacked on just out of curiosity (and frankly a great airfare), led us to book a subsequent Cooks-only family vacation.