Everybody knows about Fiji and Tahiti, but the South Pacific is a big place, where endless islands each have their own style and character. Interested in an off-the-beaten-path South Pacific escape? Check out 10 best lesser-known Pacific Islands.
Home to some of the most unique and diverse habitats in the South Pacific, Palau is an idyllic island where you can kayak through the magnificent Rock Islands, spot crocodiles swimming through mangrove swamps, and scuba dive on historic WWII wrecks. And don’t miss the chance to snorkel Jellyfish Lake, a remote lake where millions of sting-free jellyfish have evolved to follow the sun each day as it moves across the sky.
Imagine an island nearly identical to Tahiti–the same mountainous spires flanked by lush rainforest and placid, aquamarine lagoons fringed by coral atoll–for a fraction of the price to visit. On Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, you’ll find all this against a low-key local-style backdrop with not a chain hotel in sight.
You won’t find a city on the Samoan island of Savai’i, just a rugged South Pacific coastline dotted with Polynesian villages where visitors can stay in open-air huts called fale and join locals for a traditional umu, a meal with fish, pig and root vegetables cooked under hot stones.
The island of Nuku'alofa, in the Tongatapu island group of Tonga, is the modern seat of the only remaining Polynesia kingdom in the Pacific. The island remains steeped in traditional culture, and is home to vast ancient Polynesian sites like Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, the Stonehenge of the South Pacific.
While the islands of Hawaii are some of the most visited islands in the Pacific, not all of them are well known. Molokai, a satellite island of Maui, is one place in where visitors can trade resorts and torch-lit luaus for empty beaches and unspoiled scenery.
On the east end of this island is Papua New Guinea sits the town of Rabaul, situated along a deep bay with a pair of volcanoes on either side. In 1994, they erupted simultaneously, burying the town like the Pompeii of the South Pacific. Today, visitors can hike the Tavurvur volcano and visit the boiling geothermal pools at its feet.
Hiva Oa — Photo courtesy of Hervé via Flickr
This island in the Marquesas of French Polynesia was the final resting place of artist Paul Gaugin, who made his name painting these virgin isles. A far remote island, Hiva Oa remains largely unchanged since Gaugin’s time, and visitors can lose themselves in mythical jungles where waterfalls tumble 1000 feet down volcanic cliffs.
The world's smallest independent nation is a different kind of Pacific Island. Instead of white-sand beaches, the island is ringed by rocky shore, where corals grow to the edge of the water and limestone caves perforate the sea cliffs.
Lord Howe — Photo courtesy of Tracey & Doug via Flickr
Situated in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand, Lord Howe Island is UNESCO World Heritage site where only 400 visitors are allowed at a time. It’s the perfect escape for nature lovers willing to trade cell phone reception for days filled with hiking, snorkeling and bird watching.
The Micronesian island of Yap is the center of the island chain Yap, which consists of 134 islands and atolls. This remote outpost of the South Pacific is beloved by scuba divers for the groups of manta rays that congregate in the offshore water. And Yap is also unique for it’s stone money, immovable, doughnut-shaped stone currency called rai that can stand 8 feet tall.