South Pacific 101: Cruise Through Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia
You’ve booked a Holland America Line cruise to the South Pacific … or you’re thinking about it. You’ve read the itineraries pronouncing the tropical island names as you imagine yourself sunbathing in a tiki hut over sparkling waters and drinking from a coconut.
With more than 20,000 islands, 35 million inhabitants and 28 official languages, each of Oceania’s islands is different in its own way. Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia are the three subregions in the South Pacific. Read on to better understand about these stunning places before you set sail for paradise.
Melanesia is located south of the Equator, extending from Fiji to the western end of the Pacific Ocean. In addition to Fiji, Melanesia includes Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia.
New Caledonia is an archipelago and overseas territory of France. It features a variety of unique birds, including the New Caledonian crow known for its advanced tool-making ability, a variety of endemic fish species and plants that survive nowhere else in the world. It also accounts for 25 percent of the world’s nickel resources.
If Île des Pins is included on your itinerary you have much to look forward to. This sleepy paradise features white sand beaches, clear lagoons and a lush rainforest landscape. The Introducing Kuto tour is a great way to take it all in.
Noumea, located about halfway between Fiji and Australia, is the capital of New Caledonia and covers a peninsula of its largest island, Grand Terre. Here you can also enjoy a catamaran ride to the New Caledonia Lagoon — a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll be given a mask and snorkel to enjoy an underwater view of colorful corals and fish.
Officially the Republic of Fiji, there’s a reason why this stunning island country is a honeymoon favorite. Located just southwest of New Caledonia, this archipelago includes more than 330 islands, though just two, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, account for almost 90 percent of its population.
Suva is the largest port of entry in Fiji and its mix of colonial and modern architecture provide great sightseeing opportunities. Lautoka is Fiji’s second largest city, known as Sugar City. Its economy is mostly dependent on its vast amounts of sugar cane. The Fijian Traditions & Beauty tour is an excellent way to experience traditional Fijian ceremonies. You’ll be invited to participate in a kava ceremony and then enjoy a performance of local songs and dances.
Holland America Line also calls at Dravuni, known for its pristine waters, perfect for snorkeling and charming village.
Vanuatu is a volcanic archipelago that falls northeast of New Caledonia and west of Fiji. It features several active volcanoes, and even underwater volcanos. Of its 82 islands, 65 are inhabited.
Port Vila is situated on the island of Efate and is the capital city of Vanuatu. Here you’ll have the opportunity to swim in rock pools within the cascading waterfalls of a rainforest jungle and enjoy the island’s magnificent flora. The Around the Island Safari tour is a great way to discover Efate, starting with a short walk through the lush rain forest toward Iarofa Village. You’ll also get a chance to witness the time-honored art of fire walking!
Mystery Island is another popular call at Vanuatu, a tiny uninhabited jewel of the South Pacific with calm waters that is ideal for swimming.
Micronesia is located in the western Pacific Ocean and is made up of over 2,100 islands of which Guam is the largest. Micronesia, the region, includes Micronesia, the country, as well as Kiribati, Nauru, Palau and the Marshall Islands, and the U.S. territories Guam, Northern Mariana Islands and Wake Island.
Guam’s value lies beneath its waters in sunken Spanish galleons and wrecks from two world wars. Above water, history buffs will love the World War II Sites & Latte Stone Park tour.
Holland America also calls at Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands and a coral atoll made up of 64 islands that enclose a dazzling blue 114 square-mile lagoon; Sapian, Northern Mariana Islands, which features pleasant beaches and famously sweet mangoes; and Tabuaeran (Fanning Island), Kiribati, known for its pristine reefs and friendly locals.
Polynesia is located in the central and southern Pacific Ocean. Hawaii and New Zealand are considered Polynesian Islands, and in fact, if you draw lines connecting the two with Easter Island you’ll form a triangle known as the Polynesian Triangle. Within this area you’ll find 1,000 islands, mostly volcanic, that make up this subregion of Oceania.
The western part of the Samoan Islands is known as Samoa. Apia, Upolo, it’s capital, features island bliss where you can experience a kava ceremony, enjoy breadfruit and relax in a thatched roof “fale” on the beach. To learn more of this island chain’s history guests can enjoy the Vailele Village and Museum of Samoa tour that features a delicious Samoan meal, a lesson in basket weaving, and a stop at a local market to pick out some “lava lavas” or island sarongs.
American Samoa is located southeast of Samoa and is made up of five main islands and two coral atolls. Tutuila is its largest, most populated island (though it has less than 4,000 inhabitants), and here Holland America Line calls at Pago Pago, American Samoa’s capital. The Taste of Samoan Village Life tour is the perfect way to delve into this area’s culture. Guests visit a re-creation of a traditional Samoan Village and learn of each aspect of traditional Samoan life, take part in music and dancing and taste traditional foods.
The sovereign state of Tonga is made up of 177 islands, divided into three main groups: Tongatapu, Vava’u and Ha’apai. It is located just south of western Samoa. Unique in many ways, it is the only South Pacific country that has never been colonized. Nuku’Alofa is the capital of Tonga, located on Tongatapu, the largest island of the archipelago, and here you should hope to be treated to lakalaka, the Tongan people’s compelling art of storytelling through breathtaking dances.
Holland America also calls at Vava’u, the northwestern most part of the Kingdom of Tonga. Here, humpback whales live year-round thanks to plankton-filled waters that offer an endless supply of food.
The Cook Islands are 15 islands that cover less than 100 square miles. It’s main population is found on Rarotonga, an island that features glittering lagoons, volcanic peaks, miles of beaches and lush vegetation. The Island Discovery Tour will show you many of the island’s highlights including its fragrant frangipanis, the Cook Island Library and Museum, Papaaroa Beach and Black Rock.
Your cruise might also call at Alofi, located west of the Cook Islands and believed to be the world’s largest upraised coral atoll. Here you can learn the local myths and legends on a bushwalk in the Huvalu Forest conservation area or chat with friendly locals at crave markets.
French Polynesia is one of the most popular collection of islands in the south Pacific Ocean. French Polynesia’s 118 islands are divided into five groups: the Society Islands made up of the Windward Islands and Leeward Islands; the Tuamotu Archipelago, Marquesas Islands, Austral Islands and Gambier Islands.
Tahiti is what many think of when they think of paradise. It is the capital and most populated island of French Polynesia and one of the Windward Islands. At Papeete, you can take the Tahiti’s Natural Treasures tour to discover all of the island’s natural beauty.
Moorea is a heart-shaped island is bordered by the Sea of the Moon and home to many aquamarine lagoons filled with angel fish, miles of pineapple and vanilla plantations, verdant volcanic peaks and long stretches of white sand.
Raiatea was the capital of the Polynesian empire and from where the Polynesians launched their long canoes on epic explorations of the Pacific. The Anapa Pearl Farm is a great way to see one of this and region’s most important treasures. You’ll visit a small pearl station built over a lagoon and experience a pearl harvest to see how a black pearl is cultured.
Bora Bora features a mix of mountains, beaches and lagoons that could be featured on any postcard. Here, you can overnight at the Pearl Resort — those stunning, iconic bungalows located on one of Bora Bora’s idyllic beaches.
The Society Islands are the “high islands” of French Polynesia, but a call at Rangiroa in the Tuamotus is a chance to take in a lower-altitude isle. At Rangiroa, a glass bottom boat ride is a great way to see the underwater locals and the huge coral heads that are clustered in shallow areas inside the Tiputa Channel.
Nuku Hiva is the largest of the Marquesas and features a steep coastline and deep bays. Less than 3,000 people live here, though it is the administrative center of the island group. Here you can take a scenic drive through Taipivai Valley, originally made famous by American writer Herman Melville.
CRUISING TO THE SOUTH PACIFIC
The 50-day Tales of the South Pacific cruise on ms Amsterdam is the perfect way to take in almost all of the ports mentioned with stops in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The ship departs from Seattle, Wash., September 27, 2015.
The shorter, 12-day Pacific Treasures cruise aboard ms Noordam departs from Sydney, Australia, December 5 and includes calls in Fiji and New Caledonia.
If you’re taking a cruise that visits these ports, the shore excursions can be pre-booked so you get the tour of your choice.
Have you cruised Oceania? Share your thoughts in the comments!
December 2015 UPDATE: Take Advantage of View & Verandah
We want to make your dream cruise even dreamier with our new View & Verandah promotion. We’re offering stateroom upgrades, up to 10 percent off shore excursions and up to 25 percent off Collectors’ Voyages on 2016-2017 sailings when booked by Feb. 29, 2016. Check out the offer to see if your dream cruise is included and book now!
We lived on Saipan for over three years and traveled throughout Micronesia. We would love to visit these Islands again. Please let us know if you have any cruises in that area.