The Pacific: Sports and Recreation

Sports and Recreation

Scuba Diving

Scuba diving is offered in resort areas throughout the South Pacific, with certification courses usually available. The waters are warm, varying less than one degree centigrade between the surface and 100 meters, so a wetsuit is not essential (although it will protect you from coral cuts). Lagoon diving is recommended for beginners; those with some experience will find the most beautiful coral along reef dropoffs and the most fish around passes into the lagoon.

Commercial scuba operators know their waters and will be able to show you the most amazing things in perfect safety. Dive centers at all the main resorts operate year-round, with marinelife most profuse July-November. Before strapping on a tank and fins you'll have to show your scuba certification card, and occasionally divers are also asked to show a medical report from their doctor indicating that they are in good physical condition. Serious divers will bring along their own mask, buoyancy compensator, and regulator.

Snorkeling

Snorkeling on the outer edge or drop-off of a reef is thrilling for the variety of fish and corals, but attempt it only on a very calm day. Even then it's wise to have someone stand onshore or paddle behind you in a canoe to watch for occasional big waves, which can take you by surprise and smash you into the rocks. Also, beware of unperceived currents outside the reef—you may not get a second chance. Many scuba operators will take snorkelers out on their regular trips for a third to a quarter the cost of diving. This is an easy way to reach some good snorkeling spots, just don't expect to be chaperoned for that price.

A far better idea is to limit your snorkeling to the protected inner reef and leave the open waters to the scuba diver. Yet while scuba diving quickly absorbs large amounts of money, snorkeling is free and you can do it as often as you like. You'll encounter the brightest colors in shallow waters anyway as beneath six meters the colors blue out as short wavelengths are lost. By diving with a tank you trade off the chance to observe shallow water species in order to gain access to the often larger deep water species. The best solution is to do a bit of both. In any case, avoid touching the reef or any of its creatures as the contact can be very harmful to both you and the reef. Take only pictures and leave only bubbles.

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Surfing and Windsurfing

Polynesia's greatest gift to the world of sport is surfing. In 1771, Captain Cook saw Tahitians surfing in a canoe; board surfing was first observed off Hawaii in 1779. Surfing was revived at Waikiki, Hawaii, at the beginning of the 20th century and it's now the most popular sport among many young islanders.

Fiji's most renowned surfing spots are on Tavarua, Namotu, Yanuca, and Kadavu islands. In French Polynesia, there's surfing on Tahiti Iti, Moorea, and Huahine, and in Tonga it's Tongatapu. Other famous surfing areas include Easter Island, Laulii, Solosolo, Salailua, and Lano in Samoa, and New Caledonia's Po'e Beach. The surfing in Samoa is not for beginners. The top season is generally July to September when the trade winds push the Antarctic swells north. During the hurricane season January to March tropical storms can generate some spectacular waves.

Prime locales for windsurfing include Rarotonga's Muri Lagoon and many others (but forget the Cook Islands for surfing). Pago Pago Harbor would be the windsurfing locale par excellence if the quality of the water weren't so poor.

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Ocean Kayaking

This is a viable sport best practiced in sheltered lagoons, such as those of Raiatea/Taha'a, Bora Bora, Aitutaki, Vava'u, and New Georgia, or among Fiji's Yasawa Islands. You can rent kayaks in many places, but it's better to bring your own folding kayak if you're serious.

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Yachting

Cruising the South Pacific by yacht is popular and for those with less time there are several established yacht charter operations, the most important of which are based at Raiatea (French Polynesia), Vava'u (Tonga), Malololailai (Fiji), and Nouméa (New Caledonia).

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Hiking

Hiking is an excellent, inexpensive way to see the islands. A few of the outstanding treks are Mt. Aorai on Tahiti, Vaiare to Paopao on Moorea, the Cross-island Track on Rarotonga, Mt. Matafao on Tutuila, Lake Lanoto'o on Upolu, the Sigatoka River Trek on Viti Levu, White Sands to Port Resolution on Tanna, and the Mataniko River on Guadalcanal. There are many others.

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Fishing

Sportfishing is a questionable activity--especially spearfishing, which is sort of like shooting a cow with a handgun. An islander who spearfishes to feed his family is one thing, but the tourist who does it for fun is perhaps worthy of the attention of sharks. Deep-sea game fishing from gas-guzzling powerboats isn't much better, and it's painful to see noble fish slaughtered and strung up just to inflate someone's ego. That said, one has to admit that taking fish from the sea one by one for sport is never going to endanger the stocks the way net fishing by huge trawlers does. On most big-game boats, the captain keeps the catch.

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Golf

The former British and New Zealand administrators left behind an abundance of golf courses in the islands, and virtually all are open to visitors. Club and cart rentals are usually available for a bit less than the greens fees and most of the courses have clubhouses with pleasant colonial-style bars.