10 Adventurous Ways to Experience the South Pacific
September 2018 | By Brian Johnston | 0 minute read
If you’re looking for more than just cocktails under a coconut tree and another sunset, then the South Pacific has plenty of activities for those craving an adrenaline rush. We check out 10 South Pacific island adventures that will leave you amazed and energized.
Sure, Tahiti is one of the world’s best honeymoon destinations, but it’s much more. Give your body a workout with a rope climb up shuddering waterfalls in the French Polynesian island’s interior, where frigid waters are anything but pacific. Small tour operators take you to waterfalls at Vaipurau and Poutoa, with plenty of water jumps and natural stone chutes that plummet you into deep pools. The experienced can try a 150-foot rappel down the side of a large waterfall. The challenge is fun, the scenery glorious, and the waterfalls picture-postcard.
The Upper Navua River on Fiji’s main island Viti Levu is one of the South Pacific islands most pristine and protected rivers, and you can travel down it on single-day or overnight rafting adventures that take you from highlands to coast. You start in a canyon barely wide enough for your raft, navigate relatively tame rapids and stop to admire waterfalls before the river widens out, surrounded by lush hills in a slice of wild Fiji far from the tourist resorts.
The more than 900 Solomon Islands offer exceptional wreck diving, especially off Ghizo and Guadalcanal. Fierce battles here between the Japanese and Allied forces during World War II left dozens of ships and fighter planes lying on the sea floor, a spectacularly eerie sight. The wrecks are now home to gigantic sea fans, sponges, multi-hued coral and a kaleidoscope of tropical fish. Manta rays float within arm’s length, and you’ll also likely spot reef sharks.
Ice in the South Pacific islands? Sure, if you’re in Westland National Park in New Zealand’s South Island, where a guided walk or heli-hike takes you onto Fox Glacier to explore its spectacular ice formations. The alpine silence is disturbed only by the unnerving creaking and groaning of the always-shifting glacier, and the chip-chip of your guides as they hack steps in the ice. It’s a rare chance to see crevasses, ice caves and icefalls up close. Some companies take explorers to the steep upper icefall to abseil into moulins (ice holes) and traverse crevasses.
Swimming with Jellyfish
Uninhabited Eil Island in the tiny island republic of Palau has become one of the world’s most renowned snorkeling sites thanks to its lake, which is traversed back and forwards each day by millions of migrating golden jellyfish. The jellyfish move east with the rising sun and return westwards in the afternoon. Their stings cause no harm to humans, which is just as well, since swimming here brings you in close proximity to these improbable creatures. Hundreds brush past your arms and legs in what is sometimes described as swimming through silken, jellied ribbons.
The South Pacific islands don’t have to be just about flop-and-drop holidays and honeymoons, with many destinations offering the chance to paddle right off white-sand beaches into lagoons of extraordinary blue. The lagoon on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands is considered one of the South Pacific’s most beautiful. Its edge – which runs for 28 miles around – is sprinkled with tiny motu or sand islands. One Foot Island is a particularly fine spot to pull up your kayak and take a Robinson Crusoe walk, and Maina Motu has coral formations just offshore that are great for snorkeling.
Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Trail is a tough physical and mental challenge that leads 60 miles across the rugged, rainforest-covered Owen Stanley Ranges. It’s a rite of passage for hardly Australians, who follow in the footsteps of their soldiers who fought the Japanese here in 1942. Some 30 trekking companies can provide logistics. Head through jungle, wade across rivers, visit remote villages and learn about WWII history on an ‘outing’ – actually one of the world’s toughest hiking challenges – that provides a magnificent sense of accomplishment.
Several companies can escort you on 4WD tours of Rarotonga, the main island of the Cook Islands, to give you insights into local life, native plants and agriculture, and the heritage and traditions of the Cook Islands people. As you climb into the hills you get spectacular views over the lush tropical island and its vivid blue lagoon, trapped behind a fringing reef where surf booms. A traditional umu lunch of taro and chicken, baked underground on hot stones, is often included on tours.
Base yourself at traditional village Poindimié in the north of the French island of New Caledonia and you’re surrounded by glorious countryside best explored on horseback. Nearby valleys feature tree ferns, huge stands of bamboo, scarlet flame trees and the occasional caves and waterfalls. Locals – who don’t even bother with saddles – race horses along the beaches. The Northern Province is the best place in New Caledonia to engage with indigenous Kanaks in their own environment, with many villages offering homestay arrangements.
Snorkeling with Sharks
You can swim with harmless black-tipped reef sharks in many of French Polynesia’s islands, including Tahiti and Bora Bora. But in Huahine, a floating platform in the lagoon sees a host of sharks gather each mid-afternoon to be fed fish heads by local tour operators. Cautious sightseers can stick to the platform, but the intrepid can get into the water with upwards of 20 sharks for a thrilling up-close encounter as they cruise by within arm’s reach: sleek, sinister and utterly fascinating.