South Pacific Beaches, Polynesia

Moorea island drinks, South Pacific beaches

Picnics with stingrays on Moorea island in French Polynesia, South Pacific beaches.

Visiting South Pacific beaches of Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, Fiji

The South Pacific is etched into the traveler’s sub-conscious as a series of glorious, sunny, relaxed palm-fringed beaches surrounded by kaleidoscopic fish, soft coral, sensual girls and muscular, tattooed guys. South Pacific Map

And it was thus – in Gauguin’s time a hundred years ago, but that perfect combination of Polynesia assets is very difficult to find these days unless you have a big wad and jet into a five star bubble. Even then you’d be missing out on both real local culture and the thrill of discovering your own private little South Pacific beaches  paradise.

Best South Pacific islands

The best South Pacific beaches tend to be encircled by upmarket resorts that may be quite a distance from backpacker lodgings, though if you scooter/cycle over there, wander in and use the beach staff are very unlikely to object, especially if you treat yourself to a cold beer occasionally and don’t get rowdy.

French Polynesia is generally the most expensive area of the South Pacific, and, need we say, French speaking. The best beaches tend to be hogged by first class hotel resorts here too.

Fiji and its many islands are the best value group of South Pacific islands, English speaking, not so far from Australia or New Zealand and well set up to look after backpackers and their needs. Again, beaches tend to be OK but not great though Fiji’s Blue Lagoon is amazing.

• Culturally the most interesting easily-accessible island group is Fiji, though Rarotonga, Moorea and Samoa all have valid culture tours or shows.

Bora Bora

Bora Bora water bungalows and reef, French Polynesia, South Pacific beaches

Pricey but gorgeous just about summarises Bora Bora. Photo by Didierlefort.

Bora Bora, a short flight from Tahiti, is a stunning French Polynesian holiday spot in an amazing setting and sporting one of the world’s best beaches, but it’s costly to get to and stay there, and is divorced from real life. But that’s what you want, eh?

Bora Bora, The Cook Island’s Aitutaki, Tonga’s Foa island (Ha’apai islands group) and Fiji’s Yasawa Island are probably the most beautiful, well-sorted ‘paradise’ beaches in the South Pacific region. More Bora Bora


A tourist kayaking in Cook's Bay, Moorea, South Pacific

Ikuko kayaking in Cook’s Bay, Moorea, South Pacific

Moorea lacks massive beaches but is nevertheless closer to a tropical dream destination than Tahiti.
It’s calm, with no urban centre, encircled by crystal seas, white sand beaches and a mature coral reef. At the core of this small island is a magnificent cluster of lush mountainous peaks.

Moorea is what Tahiti may have been 30 years ago.Prices are fair, the circular road is placid, the people are amiable, facilities are comfortable and a huge variety of marine activities are available. More Moorea


Tahiti's main road, Polynesia, South Pacific beaches

A typical black sand beach on Tahiti’s south coast. Photo by Fred.

Tahiti is past its sell-by date, overbuilt and short of interest, both scenically or culturally. Public beaches tend to be black sand and unattractive, though private beaches belonging to first class hotels may well be spectacular.

Tahiti  is also expensive but hosts an international airport (Faaa) and frequent flights that arrive late so many beach freaks have no choice but to stay over en route to far more appealing Bora Bora, Moorea or other islands. More Tahiti

South Pacific’s best scuba diving

Great scuba sights can be found in North Fiji’s Somosomo Strait (speciality is soft coral and best visibility May-October); French Polynesia’s Rangiroa atoll (a huge cluster of tiny islets northeast of Tahiti, hotels available, best December-March for sharks); Tonga’s Ha’apai (terrific caves and canyons) and Vava’u islands (May-October for humpback whales), superb sailing too).

The Cook Islands

One of Rarotonga’s best beaches, and not exactly busy. Rarotonga is one of the Cook Islands.

Rarotonga is a quiet, better value, English-speaking version of a French Polynesian island, 900 kms west of Tahiti and ringed by a fractured reef.

Some beaches are superb but others are covered with sharp coral rocks and impossible to use comfortably, particularly along the north east shore. Rarotonga has a fine variety of places to stay, but when booking your hotel it would be advisable to ask about the sand quality of nearby beaches.


Aitutaki, accessed by a pricey flight from Rarotonga is the Bora Bora of the Cook Islands, 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.

The big action on Aitutaki involves either hiking to the top of 124 metre high Mount Maungapu for an overview of the area, 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 best South Pacific 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.

Aitutaki, One Foot Island beach, South Pacific

Aitutaki, One Foot Island (aka Tapuaetai).

Some of the Cook Island’s outer islands also have flights from Rarotonga so diehard adventure travellers could find places with few or no other visitors and isolated atolls. Accommodation of some sort – even with local people – is always available. These islands are among those that have flights:

Manihiki (north), aka the Island of Pearls, is one of the prettiest of the Cook’s with a 4km wide lagoon – dotted with 40 islets – that provides top snorkelling, swimming and black pearls.

Pukapuka (north) is small, remote and has habits and customs similar to Samoa. Swimming and snorkelling are good.

Mangaia (the most southerly island) offers stunning rock formations and caves, so climbing, caving, interesting drives, biking and horse riding can be added to the usual snorkelling activities.

n. b. Rarotonga and Aitutaki are in the southern island group.


Waya Lailai island resort, Fiji, South Pacific

A typical, laid-backpacker beach resort on one of the Yasawa Islands in Fiji.

Of all the South Pacific island groups Fiji is the one with the lowest prices and greatest variety of travel, activity, beaches and cheap accommodation options, so the most popular with budget-conscious backpackers and flashpackers (a term coined in New Zealand to mean low-level travellers who have a slightly more spending power and are ready to pay a bit extra for comfort or unusual experiences). Fiji is also English-speaking. More Fiji

Easter Island

Easter Island Anakena beach palms and moai, Chile

Easter Island is a different Pacific experience entirely, being even more expensive and time consuming to reach but scenically and culturally amazing, a really unique destination. And it has one pleasant beach too, Anakena. More Easter Island

South Pacific Downsides

• traffic: these islands experience varying amounts of road noise on their limited roads; even Bora Bora suffers from scooter whine.

• tropical islands can see some cloud and rain on a regular basis due to the heat and humidity, so don’t expect endless sunshine even in the dry season (May-Oct).

• the South Pacific has a some thieving from hotel rooms, even in good resorts.

• mosquitoes will always be on the prowl for fresh blood, though they’re not normally malarial, so take precautions.

Polynesia map, South Pacific

Pacific triangle map

South Pacific weather

The best months generally are May – October. The South Pacific lies in the tropics so all islands are warm and humid year round. The dry season is climatically best, May to October, with less humidity, cloud cover, rain, wind, rough seas and seaweed on beaches. However, July and August get very crowded with visitors, especially Australians and Kiwis escaping winter back home.

Beware the November to April wet season. Don’t believe travel agents who tell you it only rains for an hour a day. Not true! It may rain for an hour, it may rain for days on end, and even when it doesn’t cloud cover could spoil the sunshine, winds make boating unpleasant, choppy water makes snorkelling water murky and beaches wear a coat of seaweed. Hurricane force winds (cyclones) may also occasionally make an appearance.