The daydreamy islands of the South Pacific are scattered across thousands of miles of deep blue ocean opening up unparalleled opportunities for off-the-beaten-track cruising. But, as the 7,500 plus islands are as diverse as the region is vast, it can be hard deciding where to go on your yacht charter.
Culturally and geographically, the South Pacific islands are divided into Polynesia and Melanesia. Polynesian islands include Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia, while Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are Melanesian.
There are then a plethora of languages, customs, histories and landscapes unique to each island group. Confused? Here’s a round-up of the main regions and their highlights:
Of all the countries in the South Pacific, Fiji has the most developed infrastructure. But, with sun-drenched beaches, emerald-green rainforest and dense seascapes of soft coral, the 333 island-strong archipelago still feels wild and exotic.
Most yachting vacations centre on Viti Levu, the nation's main island, and the nearby Mamanuca and Yasawa islands. The beaches here are Fiji's finest while, for the top dive sites of Taveuni and Vanua Levu, yacht-goers will need to venture further north.
There's more to do here than just sunbathe and snorkel, however. Try out world-class surf breaks, go white-water rafting in the highlands and hike up the island's highest peaks before relaxing with a glass of kava, Fiji's national drink.
Made up of 83 islands, Vanuatu is a little-known nation with a lot to offer intrepid travellers. Those who do make it here mainly spend their time on the islands of Tanna, Espiritu, Santo and Efate, but the best way to get to the heart of this remote and rugged archipelago is to island-hop by luxury yacht.
With rumbling volcanoes, untamed jungles and colourful coral reefs, it's an outdoor enthusiast's dream. After hiking up to the crater of fiery Mt Yasur, trekking to hidden waterfalls, biking through coconut plantations or exploring underwater WWII relics, there are then scores of deserted beaches on which to lay back and unwind.
Adding further to the nation's appeal are the warm and welcoming Ni-Vanuatu people. Vanuatu is, in fact, one of the most culturally diverse nations on the planet, with much of the population living in small clan-based villages.
New Caledonia has two major draws: a legendary World Heritage-listed lagoon, which is the largest of its kind in the world, and a 1,500-kilometre-long coral reef, second only in size to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
With these credentials, it's hardly surprising that this small sprinkling of islands and islets is a favourite among scuba divers. Yet, there is an extremely diverse mix of wildlife on land too, ranging from flying foxes and exotic birds to a wealth of endemic plant species.
It's not all about the fauna and flora, though. This overseas territory of France is a fascinating melting pot of French and Melanesian culture. The unlikely fusion is most visible in the capital, Nouméa, and it holds much appeal for globetrotters seeking out French-inspired cuisine, five-star service and luxury boutiques in tropical surrounds.
Made up of 992 spectacularly unspoilt islands, the Solomon Islands present some of the wildest cruising grounds in the South Pacific, if not the world.
Don’t come here expecting white-sand beaches and exclusive resorts. Rather, prepare for action-packed experiences, such as hiking through jungles, surfing uncrowded waves, climbing extinct volcanoes and scuba diving dizzying drop-offs and WWII wrecks.
Many traditional beliefs and practices remain in place today, offering yacht-goers who venture here an authentic insight into Melanesian culture. Some 70 languages are spoken and, although the half a million natives are Christian, many cling to their ancient customs.
From the luxe overwater bungalows of Bora Bora to scores of deserted islands, French Polynesia has it all. Spread across five archipelagos, this heavenly constellation of 118 islands is, accordingly, one of the most visited destinations in the South Pacific.
Tahiti serves as the springboard for most charter vacations in the region. From here, the other Society Islands of Bora Bora, Mo'orea, Huahine and Tetiaroa are all within easy reach and all resplendent in white beaches, spectacular lagoons and luxurious resorts.
Made up of etheral rings of coral encircling turquoise lagoons, the Tuamotus Islands are more low-key and a haven for scuba divers, while ancient ruins are hidden within the unkempt jungle of the Marquesas Islands. Harder to reach, however, are the archipelagos of Gambier and Austral.
Despite being heavily influenced by French culture, French Polynesia still maintains its own distinctive culture through food, music and local history.
Made up of 15 tiny droplets of land, the Cook Islands have an intimacy about them which is hard to find elsewhere in the South Pacific. This wonderfully remote island chain also presents discerning travellers with whiter-than-white sand beaches, inviting marine-rich waters, soaring mountain peaks and ancient Polynesian traditions.
Yachting vacations are likely to begin in Rarotonga, the laid-back hub of the archipelago. It forms part of the southern cluster of volcanic islands and is within easy reach of Aitutaki, renowned for its spectacular coral lagoons, the eco-hotpot of Atiu and the raw and rugged island of Mangaia.
The six far-flung northern islands, which are actually coral atolls, are much harder to reach. But, determined charterers will be rewarded with untouched island paradises and a pristine underwater world.
One of the less developed nations of the South Pacific, Tonga is firmly off the tourist trail. Many of its 171 islands are uninhabited and, in place of flashy resorts and developments, are sun-kissed beaches, picturesque hiking trails, friendly locals and an array of diving, snorkelling and kayaking opportunities.
Departing from the main island of Tongatapu, charterers can explore nearby 'Eua, a protected national park, before heading northwards to the enchantingly laid-back islands of Ha'apai and onto Vava'u. This group of hilly islands, renowned for its fjord-like features, whale sightings and exquisite reef, is particularly suitable for sailing.
For an even more isolated and authentic experience, yachts need to head even further north to Niuas. But, as the whole of Tonga ticks along at its own casual pace and seems in many ways untouched by the modern world, it's not hard to immerse yourself in a cultural experience in this mersmerisingly beautiful island-chain.