The South Pacific is a cruising mecca. RAA asked seasoned traveller Brad Crouch to check out a few of the region’s top island stops.
WARM waters, plenty of sunshine, colourful coral and friendly locals who run on laid-back island time – welcome to the South Pacific.
With record numbers of cruise ships heading to the South Pacific from lines such as P&O, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Holland America and Celebrity, Australians have loads of choices when it comes to island dreams and how to get there.
Here are some of the best island cruise stops in the South Pacific.
Grande Terre, New Caledonia
French chic meets islander cool on this large French outpost. At 350km by about 50km, this is the big island of New Caledonia. Arriving at the capital Noumea is via the spectacular Boulari-Havannah Passage, past reefs forming the world’s biggest lagoon. The deep water port makes it easy to walk off a cruise ship and into the action at Noumea’s markets and sights such as Coconut Square and Cathedrale St Joseph. Practise your French before disembarking if you want to order crepes, croissants and cheeses. Test your accent by catching public transport to the nearby Baie des Citrons (Bay of Lemons) where upmarket cafes and bars fringe a white-sand beach. Buy an ice cream, have a swim and wind down to island time.
Why we like it: A touch of France in the South Pacific – so cool!
Top things to do there: Catch Le Petit Tchou Tchou Train (motorised vehicle) for a fun way to see the city sights, or head into the mountains on a 4WD trip to the cold water Dumbea River for some kayaking.
Isle of Pines, New Caledonia
Famous for its towering pine trees, Isle of Pines is surrounded by an extensive reef system in clear water lapping up to white sandy beaches. Long a favourite call for cruise ships, it’s an idyllic spot for relaxation, but if you like wildlife you can also find it here. A P&O Cruises’ shore tour takes guests on a small boat to check out the beautiful bays and islets including Turtle Bay where loggerhead and green turtles hunt for food. Also spot stingrays, manta rays and dolphins.
Why we like it: The name has romantic South Pacific allure.
Top things to do there: Check out uninhabited islet Brush Island for a peaceful escape, where you can stroll on empty sand beaches and snorkel in clear waters.
Lifou, Loyalty Islands
Lifou is the largest coral atoll in the Loyalty archipelago and home to six native tribes. Coral reefs, such as the one at Jinek Bay, are full of brightly coloured marine life going about its business. Indeed, Jinek Bay reputedly has more than 2000 fish species. On land there are limestone caves, white beaches and thick forests with walking trails.
Why we like it: Well off the beaten path, beautiful landscapes and interesting people.
Top things to do there: Snorkel then climb the hill to the visit the cliff-top church and take in the spectacular views.
Dravuni Island, Fiji.
Like so many of Fiji’s islands, small Dravuni Island has a lush interior, a necklace of sandy beaches and warm blue waters with good snorkelling on the surrounding Great Astrolabe Reef. There are hiking trails up volcanic peaks for sweeping views and a small village where locals welcome visitors and are proud to show off their bures (thatch houses) and show handicrafts for sale.
Why we like it: It looks like it has jumped out of a postcard.
Top things to do there: Join a friendly game of volleyball with the locals who love the game.
Moorea, French Polynesia
Heart-shaped Moorea Island, about 17km from Tahiti, appears made for honeymoons. Thatch bungalows built over the water, outrigger canoes, snorkelling over reefs full of marine life and aquamarine waters all add to the romance. Shore tours include 4WD trips up into the island’s jagged mountains to give spectacular views of bays and beaches from places like Belvedere Lookout on Mt Rotui.
Why we like it: Tahiti is dreamy, but Moorea also has a cozy, private feel.
Top things to do there: Swim with dolphins at the Moorea Dolphin Centre, see the remains of maraes (gathering places) and the Afareaitu village waterfall.
This article was originally published in samotor – the RAA Magazine.
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