A certain popular reality TV competition about survival has been shot in the South Pacific no fewer than nine times. The show portrays exotic locations as remote, rugged and potentially lethal. But surviving the South Pacific is really more about deciding which bungalow has the best sunset view, whether you should spend the day snorkeling coral gardens or horseback riding on a black-sand strand.
Watching the show, you’d think Australia is just unrelenting wilderness. But what the producers artfully disguised was that their Outback location was less than an hour’s drive from Queensland’s fabulous beaches and the Great Barrier Reef, made up of nearly 4,000 individual reefs and islands. Sprinkled along the way are more than 250 resorts ranging from beach front motels to super-luxury private islands.
This northernmost part of French Polynesia is a dead ringer for Kauai — massive golden cliffs rising above the deep-blue sea, jungle valleys misted by waterfalls and a feeling that you have truly reached the end of the earth. One of the cradles of Polynesian culture, the Marquesas were the likely origin of the voyagers who first settled Hawaii 1,500 years ago.
Visitors can swim with manta rays, hike secluded rainforest trails, browse local markets or get authentic Polynesian tattoos. The best digs in the Marquesas are the Pearl Lodges on Nuku Hiva and Hiva Oa.
Once called the New Hebrides, Vanuatu is the island chain that inspired James Michener to write “Tales of the South Pacific” while
stationed there during World War II.
This eclectic nation offers many exotic adventures: peering down the throat of a live volcano, galloping along a black-sand beach, wartime wreck diving and more.
Accommodations range from the honeymoon-friendly Eratap Beach Resort on Efate Island and the scuba-centric Bokissa Private Island Resort on Espiritu Santo Island, to the truly remote White Grass Ocean Resort on Tanna Island.
This 15-island archipelago is an English-speaking version of Tahiti — jagged volcanic peaks, lagoons that shimmer with a thousand types of marine life, white-sand beaches shaded by coconut palms and the most sensuous dances in the entire Pacific.
Rarotonga, the main island, has a road that takes visitors to beaches, trails into the
rugged interior and beachfront eateries.
But the biggest raves are reserved for Aitutaki Atoll and its legendary lagoon. Blue, green and everything in between, the lagoon is ideal for snorkeling, kayaking and beachcombing.
One of the South Pacific’s largest and most diverse landfalls, Fiji blends Polynesian and Melanesian heritage with a large dose of South Asia, an exotic culture that spreads across 332 islands.
Diehard surfers head for the Mamanucas and legendary waves like Cloudbreak, one of the holy grails of global surfing. About the same size as Hawaii’s Big Island, Viti Levu is the isle for whitewater rafting, kayaking, rainforest backpacking and other adventure sports.
A throwback to old-time Polynesia, Samoa is a mosaic of beachfront fales (grass shacks), jungle waterfalls, jet-black lava flows and Victorian-era churches that resonate with wondrous harmonies on Sunday mornings.
The best hotels are along the south shore of Upolu island. You can also go local by renting a fale overlooking some secluded beach. Apia, the national capital, boasts the elegant Aggie Grey’s, founded in 1933 and one of the grand dames of South Pacific hotels.
– Joe Yogerst, Tribune Content Solutions Writer