The scattered, impossibly scenic islands of the South Pacific make for the perfect cruise destination but, beyond the scenery, there are many reasons why cruising is a great way to experience this beautiful, balmy destination.
The South Pacific is almost unimaginably huge. Polynesia alone covers a fifth of the planet’s surface, the Solomons are made up of more than 900 islands, and Australia’s Pacific coastline runs 2,800 miles from Cape York to Cape Howe. Most of the South Pacific is made up of small and very isolated islands flung like confetti across a vast ocean.
What makes sailing a great way to connect these islands is that cruise ships can travel overnight, leaving daytimes free for port visits. If you want to pack in multiple destinations within a relatively short period, only those with the budget for a private jet could do better.
Some places just don’t have the land infrastructure that makes travel easy, either. That particularly applies to Papua New Guinea and the nearby archipelagos of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, but even the most developed of South Pacific nations has its remote crannies that are hard to get to, yet well worth visiting.
For example, it takes a major effort to reach Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound in New Zealand in any way other than by ship. From the ship’s deck, though, their passing sea cliffs, drifting waterfalls and distant snow peaks can be admired without effort.
Some South Pacific highlights have no infrastructure at all. Expedition cruises might take you to lagoon edges, atolls, coral reefs and sand-bank islands known as motus that you can only reach by water, but which fulfill your every fantasy of a tropical getaway.
Among the loveliest of all South Pacific experiences is snorkeling straight off your cruise ship’s marina deck above another world of multi-colored parrotfish, bold blue damselfish and giant clams, open to reveal their startling beauty. It’s an entirely different experience from a land-based excursion that takes you out from a busy port to a reef where thousands of day trippers paddle and splash.
Crowded reefs are seldom a South Pacific problem. You’ll certainly find most destinations here far less crowded than their Caribbean counterparts. Even in many places in French Polynesia, famous as one of the world’s best honeymoon destinations, you’ll almost certainly to find your ship is the only one anchored off islands such as such as Nuku Hiva, Huahine or Rangiroa – or even Bora Bora. It’s the same in Fiji, where some of the Mananuca Islands have barely a footprint on the sand.
Another benefit of cruising is that many South Pacific destinations – from big cities such as Auckland to famous islands such as Tahiti – simply look their best from a ship. Sailing into the bay of the lovely island of Huahine in French Polynesia, where old volcanic peaks rear above lush forest and the lagoon shimmers kingfisher blue, is simply magical. So is navigating Sydney Harbor, with its scattered islands and beach-fringed, villa-crowned shoreline, before getting your first view of the Sydney Opera House.
What I also enjoy about cruising here is that, although some South Pacific cruises focus on a single destination – for example New Zealand, Papua New Guinea or French Polynesia – others take in multiple destinations, and bring you to places where you might never otherwise venture.
One of my personal favorite ‘finds’ was New Caledonia, a French territory where locals greet each other with a kiss-kiss and buy Brie in supermarkets smelling of fresh baguettes. The capital, Nouméa, has smart colonial buildings lined up behind flame trees, and great seafood restaurants.
Similarly, shore excursions in South Pacific ports offer interesting choices, tempting you into new experiences. Near Lautoka in Fiji, for example, you can visit the wonderfully named Garden of the Sleeping Giants, which has tremendous orchid displays, ponds afloat in lilies and landscaped lawns to gladden the heart of any garden lover.
At Port Vila in Vanuatu, you can swim in a jungle rock pool where waterfalls tumble, find Nemo on a snorkeling excursion, or discover Melanesian tradition at the indigenous Ekasup Cultural Village. You’ll find adventure, variety and the unexpected, and surely there are no better reasons to cruise than that.