As countries begin reopening their borders after the pandemic, wary travellers are looking for safe havens. One solution? The South Pacific. This part of the world is chock-full of tropical island archipelagos that will easily sate your need for relaxation and adventure and away from the crowds. Gayatri Bhaumik checks-in.
Fiji is actually a collection of 333 islands, boasting towering black volcanic walls, lush tropical greenery and azure waters. It’s a case of pick-your-own-adventure here - you just have to choose the right island. Viti Levu is home to the capital, Suva, the commercial and political hub of the country; but there are plenty of private, deserted or just plain paradisiacal islands to choose from.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, Fiji.
No matter which island you’re on, you’re in for a fabulous tropical adventure. Spend your time snorkeling the area’s plentiful coral reefs or catching a wave in the many legendary surf locations. Explore the stunning countryside by rafting in the highlands or hiking in the hinterlands or get up and close with the local culture and people on a Sigatoka River Safari.
For families, there is probably no better hideaway than the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort. Located on an old coconut plantation, this luxury resort named for the famed ocean explorer will ensure both adults and kids have a fabulous holiday. Check into a traditional bungalow, known as ‘bures’, then explore the surrounding marine environment through the property’s dive centre. Children under six years are allocated a personal nanny and for under 12s, there’s small group childcare. Other child-friendly amenities include a pool with waterslide, trampolines, jungle gyms and treehouses.
Reopening news - Fiji is marketing itself as a safe haven for the well-heeled in the post-pandemic era. In the initial stages of reopening, the country will prioritise welcoming travellers arriving by private jet or yacht as part of its ‘Blue Lanes’ initiative. It is also working on a ‘Bula Bubble’ with Australia and New Zealand.
Coronavirus caseload - 18 cases.
Into the blue at InterContinental Tahiti.
Tahiti is the largest of the Windward group of the Society Islands. It’s also the economic, cultural and political centre of French Polynesia. There’s a little bit of everything here, from volcanic landscapes, towering verdant mountains and pristine coral reefs.
While you’re here, make time to lounge on the island’s incredible beaches - you’ll want to visit La Plage de Maui with its pearly white sands and clear lagoons, as well as the volcanic black beach at Papenoo.
Waterfalls are also plentiful; stay active by completing the Fautaua waterfall hike and for a bit of adventure, head to sister island Moorea to explore rugged landscapes in All Terrain Vehicles or on foot. After something educational? Visit the Moorea Dolphin Center, located in the lagoon of Moorea and facing a natural reef, to learn more dolphins, about or take in some art at the Musee Gauguin (the French painter spent a decade working in French Polynesia).
The InterContinental Tahiti is the perfect balance of family-friendly and cosy luxury. The property features two pools, cultural shows and a manmade ‘lagoonarium’ for safe fish-feeding and snorkeling. Rooms are spacious and welcoming and decked out with traditional wooden furnishing and a dash of Polynesian style. Even the standard rooms can fit a family of three, or you could splash out on an Overwater Motu Villa Suite.
Reopening news - French Polynesia is planning to reopen on July 15, first to travellers from the US and Europe and to Asia later in the summer.
Coronavirus caseload - 62 confirmed cases in French Polynesia.
Flung across the South Pacific Ocean somewhere between Australia, New Caledonia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji, is the volcanic archipelago of Vanuatu. There are 82 small islands in total and the capital, Port Vila, is located on Efate. This small town operates as the country’s political and economic hub.
Vanuatu is home to the world’s only underwater post office, so why not pop over to Hideaway Island to mail your postcards while snorkelling? It’s also worth road-tripping around Efate to check out incredible panoramas, coconut plantations, the fresh waters at Eton Lagoon and Taka Village for lunch. And don’t miss a snorkel at Million Dollar Point, where the US army dumped its surplus military equipment after World War II. There are also plenty of ‘blue holes’ for swimming and, if you’re brave, you can climb Mount Yasur, the world’s most accessible active volcano.
For your Vanuatu break, check into The Warwick Le Lagon. Perched on the edge of Erakor Lagoon, it’s a perfect fit for families. Amenities run to family-sized rooms, pools, bikes and a kids’ club with cinema and cooking classes.
Reopening news - Vanuatu plans to reopen international borders gradually from September 1, starting with Australia and New Zealand.
Coronavirus caseload - The country has remained virus-free.
Nautilus Resort on Muri beach in the Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands - there are 15 of them - retain strong ties to New Zealand (most residents are Kiwi citizens). But, its lagoons and palm-fringed beaches couldn’t be more of a contrast to New Zealand’s glaciers and sounds - although they do both have volcanoes.
Relaxation is key in the Cooks, so give-in to long afternoons lingering on pristine beaches. Don’t miss the Insta-ready (albeit blissfully Instagrammer-free) Aitutaki Lagoon, which features the clearest blue waters you can imagine, plus 21 smaller islets. This is a prime snorkelling spot, although anglers may like to try their hand at bonefishing. For the active, a hike along the cross-island track on Rarotonga is a must - don’t miss the rocky facade of Te Rua Manga and the impressive Wigmore Waterfall along the way. Fancy a cultural experience? Visit Te Vara Nui for an immersion in local village culture via coconut husking, fishing, cooking and dancing.
While here, check into the Nautilus Resort Rarotonga. Located on an upscale stretch of Muri beach, this eco-conscious property is the epitome of barefoot luxury and it’s great for kids, too. There are just 17 spacious villas, decked out in chic Polynesian style and featuring thatched roofs and private saltwater pools. The property offers an exclusive children’s concierge service which whisks them off on age-appropriate adventures. For the parents left behind? Great dining and an indulgent spa, of course.
Reopening news - The Cook Islands are currently closed to international visitors and are yet to announce an opening date.
Coronavirus caseload - The islands have remained virus-free.
Samoa is made up of several islands. Savai’i and Upolu are the two main ones, while Manono and Apolima are also inhabited. But for those seeking a Robinson Crusoe experience, the smaller, uninhabited islands like Nu’utele and Fanuatapu might be more of an adventure. Any trip to Samoa should include a visit to the To Sua Ocean Trench for a fun hike and picnic in incredible surroundings. It’s also worth heading to Palolo Marine Reserve for snorkelling and diving, visiting the lava fields of Savai’i, completing the Falealupo Canopy Walk and slipping down the natural slides at the Papase’ea sliding rocks. Visitors can also swim in the many waterfalls, connect with locals on a village tour, hit the surf breaks or pick up some local handicrafts in the markets.
Visiting families should check-out Sheraton Samoa Beach Resort. This full-service resort features 140 deluxe ocean view rooms, many of which can be interconnected. Amenities include five restaurants, secluded beaches, a lagoon pool, a water sports centre and a spa. The Dolphin Kids Club will take care of children during the day so parents can enjoy some quiet time.
Reopening news - Samoa is currently closed to international arrivals with no opening date yet announced.
Coronavirus caseload - Samoa has remained virus-free.