The Pacific: Travel


Getting There

The major transit points for visitors to the South Pacific are Auckland, Brisbane, Honolulu, Nadi, Nouméa, Tahiti, and Sydney; you'll notice how feeder flights radiate from these hubs. Most North Americans and Europeans will pass through Los Angeles International Airport (code-named LAX) on their way to Polynesia or Fiji, and Fiji's Nadi Airport (NAN) is something of a gateway to the Melanesian countries.

Some routes are more practical or available than others but you'll need to decide where and when you're going and how long you wish to stay. Your plane ticket will be your biggest single expense, so spend some time considering the possibilities.

Listings of international airlines with flights to the South Pacific are on South Pacific Airlines

Peruse the Internet sites of the airlines that interest you, entering your dates in their online booking form. You can also call them up directly over their toll-free 800 numbers to hear what they're offering. Say you want the lowest possible fare. Cheapest are the excursion fares but these often have limitations and restrictions, so be sure to ask. Some have an advance-purchase deadline, which means it's wise to begin shopping early. Also check the fare seasons.

Current Trends

High operating costs have caused the larger airlines to switch to wide-bodied aircraft and long-haul routes with less frequent service and fewer stops. In the South Pacific this works to your disadvantage, as even major destinations like Fiji get bypassed. Most airlines now charge extra for stopovers that once were free, or simply refuse to grant any stopovers at all on the cheapest fares.

Many carriers attempt to cut costs by pooling their services through "code sharing." This means that two or three different airlines will "own" seats on the same flight, which they sell under their own two-letter airline code. For example, few Qantas aircraft operate to the South Pacific but they have code shares with most of the other airlines and they often have seats when the others are fully booked.

Aside from the big international airlines, a couple of island-based carriers fly around the South Pacific once or twice a week. Air New Zealand's South Pacific Airpass is also worth a look.


Packaged Holidays

Any travel agent worth their commission would rather sell you a package tour instead of only a plane ticket, and it's a fact that some vacation packages actually cost less than regular round-trip airfare! While packaged travel certainly isn't for everyone, reduced group airfares and discounted hotel rates make some tours an excellent value. For two people with limited time and a desire to stay at first-class hotels, this is the cheapest way to go.

The "wholesalers" who put these packages together get their rooms at rates far lower than what individuals pay, and the airlines also give them deals. If they'll let you extend your return date to give you some time to yourself, this can be a great deal, especially with the hotel thrown in for "free."

The main drawback to the tours is that you're on a fixed itinerary in a tourist-oriented environment, out of touch with local life. You may not like the hotel or meals you get, and singles pay a healthy supplement. You'll probably get prepaid vouchers to turn in as you go along and won't be escorted by a tour conductor. Do check all the restrictions.


Sporting Tours

The South Pacific is one of the world's prime scuba locales, and most of the islands have excellent facilities for divers. Although it's not that difficult to make your own arrangements with island dive shops as you go, you should consider joining an organized scuba tour if you want to cram in as much diving as possible.

Before deciding, carefully consider booking a cabin on a "live-aboard" dive boat. They're a bit more expensive than hotel-based diving, but you're offered up to five dives a day and a total experience. Some repeat divers won't go any other way.

Several companies offer sea kayak tours, often from May-December to catch the best weather. These tours tend to focus on prime locations such as Tonga's Vava'u and Ha'apai groups, Solomon Island's Marovo Lagoon, and the northern Yasawa chain or Ono and Kadavu in Fiji.

Similarly, surfing tours to French Polynesia, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and New Caledonia are very popular and should be booked well in advance.

Other sports or eco tours feature whale or dolphin watching, bird-watching, hiking, cycling, rafting, snorkeling, fishing, cruising, and sailing. A simple Internet search will uncover many possibilities. Some companies emphasize the natural and cultural history components, so the participants learn quite a lot about the place.


Yacht Tours and Charters

If you were planning on spending a substantial amount to stay at a luxury resort, consider chartering a yacht instead! Divided up among the members of your party the per-person charter price will be about the same, but you'll experience much more of the Pacific's beauty on a boat than you would staying in a hotel room. All charterers visit remote islands accessible only by small boat and thus receive special insights into island life unspoiled by normal tourist trappings. Of course, activities such as sailing, snorkeling, and general exploring by sea and land are included in the price.

Yacht charters are available either "bareboat" (for those with the skill to sail on their own) or "crewed" (in which case charterers pay a daily fee for a skipper plus his/her provisions). The South Pacific's largest bases for yacht charters are on Raiatea in French Polynesia and on Vava'u, Tonga. In Fiji, fully crewed charters can be arranged among the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands.