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, the hard part is deciding where to go.
The South Pacific conjures up heavenly images of whiter-than-white sand beaches awash with sparkling turquoise waters. Yet, there’s more to this far-flung region than just tropical beaches.
Culturally and geographically, the 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 myriad languages, customs, histories and landscapes unique to each island group. Here’s a round-up of the main regions to help you choose where to go on your South Pacific luxury yacht charter.
Fiji has the most developed tourist infrastructure in the South Pacific but still feels wild and exotic. It’s definitely not hard to escape the crowds while cruising among its 333 islands, where exquisite sandy stretches, lush interiors and dense seascapes of soft coral await discovery.
The best beaches, as well as the most resorts, are found on Viti Levu and the Mamanuca and Yasawa island groups. To get off the beaten track, cruise to the dive sanctuaries of Taveuni and Vanua Levu or the traditional island escape of Kadavu.
The island-chain also has a fascinating culture. Appetising aromas of curry waft from Indian roti shops in the city and, in villages, friendly Fijian families invite you in for a drink of kava – a slightly narcotic beverage drunk on a daily basis by islanders in the western Pacific.
Remote and rugged islands, rumbling volcanoes, wild jungle and world-class dive sites make Vanuatu ideal for those in search of adventure.
Charterers can hike up to the crater of fiery Mt Yasur and ashboard back down, trek through jungle to the huge Millennium Cave filled with waterfalls and bats, dive the WWII SS President Coolidge wreck, snorkel in the marine-rich waters off Hideaway Island and see the legendary land diving of Pentecost Island.
After all this action, there is still relaxation to be had, whether unwinding on a deserted beach, indulging in upscale resort facilities on Espiritu Santo or joining islanders in a kava bar.
One of New Caledonia’s major draws is its legendary, World Heritage-listed lagoon, but this shares the spotlight with a 1,500 kilometre-long coral reef, second only in size to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Unsurprisingly, this sprinkling of more than a dozen islands is a particular favourite among scuba divers while, on shore, the landscape runs from rugged mountaintops to pine tree-lined beaches.
But, there’s more to this former French colony than its striking natural scenery and diverse marine life. An unlikely fusion of French and Melanesian cultures brings an elegant balance to hospitality and cuisine, perfect for yacht goers looking to enjoy European charm in tropical surrounds.
Spectacularly unspoilt, the Solomon Islands are arguably one of the wildest charter destinations in the South Pacific. Yet, there is much on offer in this 992 island strong archipelago, from WWII sites and traditional Melanesian culture to volcanic islands, fish-filled lagoons and emerald forests.
Don’t come here expecting white-sand beaches and exclusive resorts. Rather, prepare for action-packed experiences, such as hiking through jungles, climbing extinct volcanos, surfing uncrowded waves and scuba diving dizzying drop-offs and WWII wrecks.
The traditional culture of islanders remains today. Some 70 languages are spoken among the half a million Melanesian inhabitants and, although Christian, the majority cling to their ancient customs.
From the luxe overwater bungalows of Bora Bora to scores of forgotten islands, French Polynesia has it all. Moss-coloured volcanic peaks pierce the sky, multi-coloured beaches act as springboards into bluer-than-blue lagoons and a laid-back island charm seduces all who visit.
Travellers may be more familiar with the name Tahiti, which not only identifies the entire constellation of 118 islands but also the largest island in the group and the starting point for most yachting vacations.
Highlights include diving at the Tuamotu Atolls, watching Tahitian dance performances during the July Heiva Festival, spotting humpback whales near Rurutu Island, taking a 4x4 jeep safari through the dramatic interior of Moorea and island-hopping among the 15 unspoilt isles of Marquesas.
Made up of 15 tiny droplets of land, the Cook Islands are smaller in feel than many of the other South Pacific island groups and are administered by New Zealand. But, with Polynesian inhabitants and sublime natural scenery, they are still rich in culture and ideal for fulfilling tropical island fantasies.
The islands are both volcanic and what’s known as ‘near atolls’ – landmasses made up mostly of a lagoon fringed by little islands. On Rarotonga, the main island, experience its lively buzz against a backdrop of jungle-clad mountains and gorgeous beaches before beginning your island-hopping charter experience.
Seek out the sublime lagoon of Aitutaki, Rarotonga’s sister island, explore the ancient makatea – raised coral cliffs – and taro fields of Mangaia, swim in the underground cave pools of Mitiaro and Ma’uke, and enjoy an ‘Island Night’ Polynesian feast and local dance performance.
The Kingdom of Tonga is one of the less developed nations of the South Pacific but every bit as beautiful. This makes the 171 islands ideal for charterers looking for a totally authentic charter escape, with gorgeous beaches, hiking trails, diving opportunities and rugged coastlines.
Sailing is well-suited to Vava’u, a group of hilly islands with fjordlike features, whale sightings, exquisite dive sites and surf breaks. Then there is the laid back island group of Ha’apai and the remote and unfailingly authentic Niuas in the north.
Tonga is a country of traditional values and strong Christianity, and life ticks along at its own causal pace. You don’t have to seek out a cultural experience here - it’s all around you!