Fijians always greet you with a hearty “Bula.” Customs like firewalking and kava ceremonies remain. Kava, a traditional drink in many South Pacific Islands, numbs your mouth, can give you a buzz, and tastes like muddy water. It is fun to participate in a kava ceremony at a native village. Food is steamed under a pile of leaves, and after lunch, everyone dances doing a sort of six-step-that’s six small steps forward arm and arm with a villager, and six steps back with repeats. It’s great fun. Like most of the South Pacific, Fiji boasts sapphire waters, and the underwater life is so colorful.
New Caledonia, located west of Fiji, was once a French penal colony. How can living on an island with a verdant landscape and white sand beaches surrounded by the world’s largest lagoon be punishment? Add to that great diving and snorkeling. Check out the giant Kanak huts at the culture center - one is almost 92 feet high. If you are a hiker, trek the grassy trails of La Riviére Bleue Parc on the west side of the island. This lush area exhibits every imaginable shade of green and is home to the crested cagou, one of the world’s rarest birds. These flightless creatures amble alongside the road. www.visitnewcaledonia.com
Most people had never heard of this friendly, 80-island republic located northwest of Fiji until Tropical Cyclone Pam nearly destroyed it in March, 2015. The former New Hebrides is where James Michener wrote Tales of the South Pacific and where you will find glowing sunsets and a dazzling night sky with millions of stars. Port Vila, Efate, the capital, is a chockablock of bars, restaurants, souvenir and duty-free shops. On Tanna Island, beautiful wild horses roam its dusty plains. You can stand on the edge of Yusar Volcano’s 490-foot deep crater as it spits and sputters sulfur smelling steam puffs. Or, visit the primitive tribe at Lacalanka Village. Tribesman are untouched by the modern world. www.vanuatu.travel
French Polynesia (Tahiti)
French Polynesia has been touched by the outside world but only gently. The islands of Tahiti, Bora Bora, Moorea, Raiatea and Huahine are picture postcard perfect. No pollution, no crowds and an average air and water temperature of 79F. Who hasn’t dreamt of spending time in this land of swaying palms, soft breezes, mostly cloudless skies, jaw-dropping sunsets, white sand beaches and turquoise waters? The smell of jasmine seems to be everywhere. It doesn’t get better than this.
From Tahiti, you can travel to Easter Island (aka Rapi Nui). But most make the 2,350-mile jaunt west from Santiago, Chile. Tourists come to see the 887 moais (pronounced moo-whys), huge monoliths fashioned from stone with big eyes, protruding noses and thin lips. They vary in size but average about 14 feet high and weigh approximately 14 tons. Natives believed these statues protected them and the island’s many horses from harm. Most moais, 397 to be exact, are at Ronu Raku quarry. As you follow the winding paths more and more appear. Atop the quarry is a lovely volcanic lake. To see the 15 iconic moais that sit on a platform with their backs to the sea, visit Ahu Tongariki. Note that though the Moais are amazing, food and lodging are very basic.
Instead of moais, Maoris inhabit Cook Islands - the same Maoris that live in New Zealand. Low-keyed islanders live by the motto, “Island time is whenever. After all, you are on vacation.” They are so mellow and their island so beautiful, it seems like they are on holiday, too. Encircling the main island, Rarotonga, is a pearl necklace-shaped reef. Snorkeling and diving are awesome. And, just feet from shore on the island of Aitutaki, beautiful coral, blue starfish and a host of undersea denizens abound. Since islanders align themselves to New Zealand, you can enjoy the tasty NZ wines at reasonable prices.