All below are in the South Pacific except Palau
The Cook Islands
Aitutaki, One Foot Island, (English speaking, costly flight, varied accommodation)
reached by a pricey flight from Rarotonga, is a gorgeous 5 sq. mls (8 sq. kms) coral atoll necklaced by an azure lagoon and 21 talcum sand islets, 225 kms (140 mls) north of Rarotonga. Action on Aitutaki involves mostly snorkelling, fishing or scuba, with lunch served on one of the coconut tree shaded white sand islands.
The most popular island in Aitutaki is touted as one of the world’s best beaches, One Foot Island aka Tapuaetai, a 20 minute boat ride from the main island.
Although the flight here is pricey (several 50 min flights a day), accommodation is not too bad, ranging from the expensive Aitutaki Lagoon Resort to some reasonable guest houses and backpacker lodges.
Roratonga (English speaking, the boss island in the group, with prices ranging from cheap to costly), Aroa beach, crisp white, tree-fringed sand, clear water and some half-dead coral clusters in a lagoon but hosting some colourful fish.
Beware! Roratonga was hit by a hurricane in 2004 damaging beaches on the east side of the island (But not Aroa). Famous Muri beach is less attractive now, tho’ still OK, but some beaches disappeared completely, so if booking guest houses via the internet, check recent photos!
Best: April-June, September, October. Dry June-August (winter, so water can get a little chilly and there are lots of visitors). Wet December-March, though it’s warm and most days see some sunshine (see Wet Season advice, right column).
Yasawa Island (English speaking, costly)
The Yasawas is a chain of islands running just northwest of Nadi, the main island of Fiji. There are loads of coral sandy beaches merging into cobalt-blue water (in the right season! ), sometimes used as the location for movies, including ‘The Blue Lagoon’.
The very best beaches are at the northern tip of Yasawa Island. One stretch of sand there is known as Eight Months Beach since it’s said to take that long to get sand off out from your hair! There is an expensive resort on Yasawa island that requires a short flight from Nadi or a trip on a Blue Lagoon Cruise ship.
Other Yasawa islands (English speaking but more importantly inexpensive! ): most of the Yasawas are too primitive for fancy resorts but host lots of reasonably priced backpacker resorts offering varied activities including pretty good snorkelling and scuba, sea kayaking, volleyball, small but OK beaches and a lively social life. Expect cold showers, mediocre inclusive food and less-than-perfect beaches (if you want fully manicured sand you’ll have to go five star! ).
A fast catamaran water-bus, the Yasawa Flyer, does a daily run from Nadi up and down the Yasawa island chain, taking half an hour to reach the first island and four hours to get to the most northerly, though it doesn’t go to Yasawa Island itself. It can get a little bumpy but isn’t too bad.
The dry season is May-October but best September-October; wet and humid in December-April, worst February-March with steamy heat and not infrequent storms, clouds, high winds. (see Wet Season advice, right column).
Bora Bora (French speaking, very costly), Matira Beach
Matira Beach is one of the best beaches in South Pacific, beginning at the famous resort Hotel Bora Bora, and going around the south of the island (Matira Point), then continuing 2 miles (3kms) to the Club Med. There are a few more resorts along this beach. The island is beautifully situated in the middle of a lagoon protected by a coral reef, with sea as gentle and warm as a bath tub.
Bora Bora is popular and touristy so don’t expect any local culture there.
The best time to be there is in the cool, dry season May-Oct, but it’s best to avoid July-Aug, the busiest time. There are two daily, expensive flights from/to ghastly Papeete (Tahiti).
Moorea (French speaking, quite expensive), Temae Beach
Moorea island, half an hour by fast boat from Tahiti, is all Tahiti should be – clean, warm and relaxed with no town, little traffic and white sand beaches. A ring of protective coral reef makes snorkelling, kayaking, lunching with stingrays or a zillion other watersports experiences superb, though apart from the big international resorts beaches tend to be small and scattered with coral chunks, but exceptionally Temae Beach is public (as it is called the Public Beach), huge and beautiful with views of Tahiti.
Samoa (Western, English speaking)
Lefaga Beaches and Aleipata Beach
The best beach in the Lefaga area is called Return to Paradise Beach, because it’s the location of the film ‘Return to Paradise’ starring Gary Cooper in 1953.
This is still one of the most gorgeous beaches in the South Pacific. Aleipata Beach on the eastern endof the island is another one, a white sandy paradise with a view of 4 small offshore islands – you can see American Samoa on the horizon on a clear day.
As part of the National Eco-tourism Program, you can stay with village families which have an English speaker as a guide and a cook. Best June-September. Wet November-April.
American Samoa (English speaking)
South coast of Ofu Island
Ofu is one of the Manu’a Islands, a part of the National Park of American Samoa, and has the most dramatic and beautiful landscape in the group – a 2. 5 mile beach with pure white sand and coconut trees overlooked by a volcano. Because locals believe it is haunted, there are few people there.
It’s an exquisite snorkelling spot, with over 300 species of fish and 150 of coral. There’s also an array of prehistoric Samoan artefacts behind the beach at the To’aga Site.
Best June-Sept. Wet Nov-Apr. A 40 minute flight from Pago Pago.
Tonga (English speaking)
Ha’apai islands, Foa island, Ha’apai Beach (low cost but often primitive facilities and services)
The Ha’apai group of islands have some lovely beaches, but the finest of all is the one in front of a hotel called Sandy Beach Resort. You can enjoy a view of the active volcano on Tafuna island from this crescent shaped beach on a clear day.
The best time to be there is cool and dry period, May-October. Cyclones are possible in Nov-April, and Dec-March is very hot and humid. There are daily flights and a weekly ferry service from Nuku’alofa, Tongtapu.
Palau (North Pacific, near Guam)
The Rock Islands
The Rock Islands are famed for their curious and beautiful coral rock formations and great beaches. The water is warm all year and underwater life is copious and colourful, so Palau is popular with divers as well as snorkellers.
You can also experience magical snorkelling in the middle of massed clouds of (harmless) jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake at Mecherchar Island, central Rock Islands.
You reach Palau from Guam. Best February, March. Worst June – August; typhoons occasionally visit around this time.
Anakena is not a huge beach but soft sand, clear sea, palm trees and what surroundings! Six huge moai (stone statues) just behind you, few people there, easy to get to and a fascinating island. The best time to go is May – October.