The South Pacific is as diverse as the area is vast. Every island is unique, with its own cultural traditions, stunning natural beauty and rich history. And cruising is certainly one of the best ways to travel to the islands, with plenty of onboard fun and relaxation to be had in between.
On each island, you won’t need to search hard to find beach hideaways and local action. And while you’re aboard, there are often water-parks, cinemas, comedy shows and even concert performances to keep you entertained. Much more fun than frequent flying and airport commuting!
Here are our top destinations for a cruise through the South Pacific.
The Cook Islands are just a hop, skip and a jump away from Aussie shores, and are a perennial favourite with cruise go-ers. That’s not to say that it’s a tourist trap - The Cook Islands can deliver on that deserted island experience that you’re after, and is certainly one of the pacific’s most scenic locations.
The most popular stop-off for cruise ships is the main island of Raratonga. During the day, laze on the impossibly beautiful Muri beach, swim in underground cave pools of Mitiaro, and visit the Te Vara Nui Village for a showcase of local culture.
In the evening, experience a famous ‘Island Night’ under flaming tiki torches and the twinkling night sky. Sample the traditional pork cooked in an earthen oven with locally grown taro and sit back to watch a local dance performance.
With crystal blue waterfalls, picture-perfect beaches and amazing marine seascapes, this 83 island strong archipelago is truly an explorer’s dream. Vanuatu’s most popular destinations for cruise ships are Mystery Island and Port Vila, which will give you a glimpse of the best Vanuatu has to offer.
Even as the country’s capital, Port Vila still feels like a world away from the cities you may be used to. For one, there aren’t many cities where you can hike up an active volcano and stare into it’s bubbling crater, like you can at Port Vila’s Mt Yasa. In fact, the city boasts a lot of “only in Vanuatu” attractions. From plunging into blissful jungle pools off 35m waterfalls at the Mele Cascades to snorkeling a marine sanctuary, and sending a postcard from the world’s only underwater post-office, Port Vila offers a range of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
With its intriguing name, Mystery Island is another cruise-route favourite, although it’s really no mystery why this is the case. The island boasts some of the clearest water in the world, making it a true paradise for scuba-divers, snorkelers and beach lovers. Keen walkers will also find something to write home about, with hikes to Anelcauhat, Port Patrick or Inwan Leleghei Waterfall sure to drop jaws.
If you’ve ever tried to picture a quintessential tropical paradise, chances are you’ve imagined a classic Fijian beach. The palm fringed beaches and startling sunsets have provided the backdrop to films like Cast Away with Tom Hanks and Brooke Shields’ The Blue Lagoon.
On a cruise tour of Fiji, you’re likely to experience the Mamanuca and Southern Yasawa Islands. The Mamanuca Islands are truly the jewel in the Fijian crown, boasting colourful coral reefs and crystal clear waters. Swim with turtles and tropical fish at Tokoriki Island, hang-ten on thrilling surf breaks and enjoy a cocktail at Malamala Beach Club.
If the urban jungle is your more your thing, you’re also in luck. Your cruise adventure will likely drop you off in the capital of Suva where you’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars in one block around Victoria Parade and Carnarvon St.. Rugby is the national sport and pastime, and nowhere is it more beloved than in Suva. Make sure you catch a game, whether it’s in a local neighbourhood or at ANZ National Stadium.
If you’re looking for an authentic island paradise, Samoa should be your port of call. Still relatively untouched, Samoa will have you smiling from ear to ear as soon as your feet touch its pristine sandy shores.
Most cruises departing from Australia stop off at Apia, the country’s laid-back capital. As far as capital cities go, this one is filled with greenery, welcoming locals, and fascinating cultural sights. Swim at the stunning Lefaga beach and explore the age-old Samoan Cultural Village.
Delicious fresh produce can be eaten across Samoa, with cultural traditions shaping almost every meal. Catch a glimpse of local fisherman canoeing out into the azure waters and returning with baskets of crayfish, octopus, masimasi and snapper. Tables are spread with copious seafood platters, as well as colourful tropical fruits and vegetables picked from the Apia Produce Markets.
Tropical climates mean that the islands of the South Pacific have consistently warm and humid weather year-round. In the wet season (November to April) you can expect heavy rain, tropical storms and cyclones. It’s therefore recommended travellers go in the dry season (May to October).
Health and safety
Cruise ships are closely confined environments, and illness can spread quickly. Public health authorities suggest that those at high risk of developing influenza (such as the elderly) get vaccinated well in advance of embarking on their cruise.
Additionally, malaria still exists in some areas of the South Pacific so it’s best to get vaccinated, and ensure you use an insect repellent.
All travellers to the South Pacific should make sure their vaccinations are up to date – in particular hepatitis A and B, tetanus and diphtheria.
It is recommended to speak with your doctor when planning your trip to find out which vaccinations you may need. Keep in mind that some vaccinations require more than one dose, so it is best to chat to your doctor well in advance of travel.
Incidents involving personal safety are extremely rare on cruises, however they do happen. General safety rules apply on cruise ships; stay aware of your surroundings and remember to keep your cabin door locked. In the unlikely occasion there is an incident, the crew will respond and give you clear instructions as needed.
When exploring on land, it’s best to remain streetsmart and keep a close eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas. In some parts of Fiji (including Suva), it’s not recommended you walk around alone at night, so where appropriate, catch a cab and travel in groups.
Chances are, you’ll spend much of your South Pacific holiday in the ocean, so make sure you take appropriate water safety precautions. Watch out for strong currents, and avoid swimming alone or at night. If you aren’t a confident swimmer, many of the islands have sheltered lagoons or rainforest pools that you can enjoy.
Always be on the safe side when you travel by taking out comprehensive travel insurance. Medibank Travel Insurance gives you overseas leading hospital, accident and medical evacuation cover while you’re travelling. And with our comprehensive plans, you'll be protected for a host of other surprises like lost luggage, unforeseen cancellations and rental car insurance excess.*
Money and costs
The currency in the South Pacific varies from country to country, so it’s best to do your research and convert some local currency for each destination before you embark.
Fiji uses the Fijian dollar, the Cook Islands use the New Zealand dollar, Vanuatu uses the Vanuatu Valu, while Samoa have the Samoan Tala.
The beauty of cruise travel is that many of the costs (including food and accomodation) are taken care of before you even set sail. By and large, the South Pacific is quite cheap, with food and experiences to be found at very reasonable prices.
It’s worth noting that bargaining is considered very rude in this part of the world, and haggling of any kind is frowned upon.
Cards are accepted in most large towns, however it’s still cash only on many of the more remote outer islands. ATMs will additionally be available onboard your ship or on the larger islands.