Guide to the South Pacific Islands
“Where to next?” is on almost every backpackers’ mind when it comes to the end of their trip to New Zealand. When you have ventured so far to the South Pacific, how can you really make the most of it? Well, just over the ocean, about a three to four-hour flight away, are the paradise-like islands of the South Pacific. Each one of them has its charms, it’s culture, it’s wildlife and scenery. Why not consider the island life next on your backpacking trip? We’ll help get you started with this South Pacific Islands guide for backpackers.
While island-hopping is doable, it can end up being quite expensive so we recommend either picking one or two South Pacific Islands that sound awesome to you and sticking with it to stick to your backpacker budget. For this very reason, we have done quick introductions to each South Pacific Island country and you can follow the links from there for more information.
Flight Times to the South Pacific Islands from New Zealand
Although there are many awesome South Pacific Islands, we are limiting this guide to the easiest South Pacific Islands to visit from New Zealand. With that in mind, here are some average flight times from each country mentioned in our guide from Auckland, New Zealand.
- Fiji – 3 hours
- The Cook Islands – 3h45mins
- Samoa – 3h55min
- Tonga – 2h50min
- New Caledonia – 3 hours
- Vanuatu – 3 hours
- Niue – 3 hours.
Thanks to its tourist infrastructure, Fiji is a super popular choice with backpackers. It wouldn’t be too much of a giant leap from life in New Zealand. There are plenty of tours and activities available so you can spend more time enjoying island life rather than stressing over working out the logistics.
Why Visit Fiji?
Fiji is mostly famous for its stunning beaches, making it even a super popular holiday destination for New Zealanders. Wildlife nuts will also enjoy the array of marine wildlife, as regular snorkel sessions are a must! Snorkel or dive in coral reefs to explore a colourful underwater world.
While there are 333 islands in Fiji, the islands backpackers usually make the most of are Viti Levu, Taveuni Island, and the Mamanuca and Yasawas Islands. Find out more about where to go and how to organise your trip over at FijiPocketGuide.com.
Where to Stay in Fiji?
Accommodation is mostly made up of resorts in Fiji, some of which provide backpacker-style accommodation.
Sound like your idea of heaven? Then continue onto Fiji – Guide for Backpackers.
The Cook Islands
Another safe bet for a South Pacific Island getaway is the Cook Islands. With the Cook Island Maori very similar to the New Zealand Maori you won’t feel to culture-shocked when visiting the paradise lands of the Cook Islands. Hell, you won’t even need to change your currency, as the currency in The Cook Islands is the New Zealand dollar.
Why Visit the Cook Islands?
While there are 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands, Rarotonga is the one that most backpackers hit thanks to its great set-up for visitors. Plus, Rarotonga is super easy to get around on a budget. Either hire a scooter, take the bus, or even hike or horse trek with a guide. Popular activities include snorkelling or cruising on the Muri Lagoon or attending an evening cultural experience with the Cook Islands Maori.
If you have more time in the Cook Islands, consider taking a flight over to Aitutaki for snorkelling with turtles, visit One Foot Island to get your passport stamped at the world smallest post shop, and more!
Where to Stay in the Cook Islands
Motels and lodges make up the budget accommodation in the Cook Islands, meaning they are usually around NZ$85 per night for a double room. This makes the Cook Islands more ideal budgeting couples rather than solo travellers.
Sounds like your sort of holiday? Get more at Cook Islands – Guide for Backpackers.
Looking for something a little more adventurous? A little more affordable? Then check out Samoa! Along with the paradise beaches that the South Pacific Islands are famous for, Samoa has a more rugged side with a volcanic landscape.
Why Visit Samoa?
Swimming holes, caves, waterfalls, natural water slides, blowholes, volcanoes… There’s a whole lot of natural features to discover on the islands of Samoa. Samoa is made up of 10 islands with Apia being the capital. However, you’re going to find the most fun and things to do on Upolu with its awesome swimming spots and waterfalls. For volcanic ruggedness, visit Savai’i for lava fields, hikes with guides and the Saleaula Village coated in lava from the 1905-11 eruption.
Where to Stay in Samoa?
While there is no backpacker accommodation in Samoa, hotels, lodges and beach fales are extremely affordable at around WST95 for a private single room which is around NZ$50.
Learn more about Samoa in Samoa – Guide for Backpackers.
With 176 islands, 40 of which are inhabited, Tonga has a hell of a lot to explore. It’s hard to know where to start, but we’ll stick to the main islands just for the ease of travel. As well as your stunning South Pacific Island beaches, Tonga’s main drawcard is the marine life, especially the whales.
Why Visit Tonga?
As well as natural beauty, Tonga is an island of history with Tongatapu, the main island, holding various tombs and Haamonga Trilithon. This is a mysterious structure believed to be erected in 1200 AD and is dubbed the Stone Henge of the South Pacific. ‘Eua Island is a great option for the outdoorsy types wanting to explore by hiking, mountain biking, 4×4 or horse trekking. Ha’apai not only has some incredible coral reefs to snorkel but some active volcanos. Vava’u is a popular hub for backpackers with plenty of services and accommodation, plus, swimming with whales! Finally, for a dose of traditional Tongan culture, visit The Nuias.
Start planning your trip to Tonga with the same team behind NZ Pocket Guide on TongaPocketGuide.com!
Where to Stay in Tonga?
Tonga is extremely backpacker-friendly with the main islands having budget accommodation and even backpacker dorm rooms for around T$30 per bed, which is about NZ$18.
Dive into more about Tonga in Tonga – Guide for Backpackers.
For another completely different experience in the South Pacific Islands, check out New Caledonia. These group of islands have a European meets South Pacific flare where the main language is French. As well as city experiences like museums and eateries, you also have beautiful islands to explore.
Why Visit New Caledonia?
The main islands of New Caledonia explored are Noumea on Grand Terre, Isle of Pines and the Loyalty Islands. Noumea is New Caledonia’s capital famous for its beaches, restaurants and museums. Escape to the wilderness of the Isle of Pines for short walks to stunning viewpoints and pools for snorkelling. Finally, take your pick of the more secluded islands with a mix of beaches and rugged coastline scenery.
Where to Stay in New Caledonia?
Compared to other South Pacific Islands and even New Zealand, New Caledonia is generally a more expensive option for backpackers with very limited budget accommodation. Budget resorts are the best option for backpackers.
For more on New Caledonia, head to New Caledonia – Guide for Backpackers.
What makes Vanuatu stand out from the other South Pacific Islands are it cultures – 115 of them to be exact. Vanuatu’s island cultures date back to around 2000 BC, so if culture is your thing then this is your country. Other than that, there are active volcanoes, dense rainforests, coral reefs and, of course, beaches to enjoy.
Why Visit Vanuatu?
So many reasons! Let’s start with water activities on the main island of Efate. Keen divers can explore caves, tunnels and wrecks to see an array of colourful fish. For more inland activities, go prawn fishing on Espiritu Santo with gorgeous blue pools, rivers and waterfalls. Tanna is your lively volcanic island where you can take a tour to the crater rim. Finally, Malekula and Ambrym are the best places to experience the local culture.
Where to Stay in Vanuatu?
Guesthouses, campsites and dorm rooms in lodges provide cheap accommodation for backpackers. Dorm and tent site prices are similar to that in New Zealand at around VUV2,500 which is about NZ$30.
For more on Vanuatu, check out Vanuatu – Guide for Backpackers.
Other South Pacific Islands
As you well know, the South Pacific goes well beyond the six countries mentioned. Here are some other South Pacific Islands worth looking into.
- Niue – One of the smallest countries in the world yet the largest coral atoll in the world! Find out more on NiuePocketGuide.com or our own Niue travel guide
- Federated States of Micronesia – Famous for the ruins at Nan Madol
- Kiribati – Home to Christmas Island wildlife sanctuary
- Marshall Islands – Was used for nuclear testing in the 1940s and is now free from nuclear fallout
- Nauru – One 12 square kilometre island
- Palau – Considered one of the most eco-friendly countries in the world with the world’s first shark sanctuary
- Papua New Guinea – One of the most culturally diverse nations and top bird-watching spots
- Solomon Islands – Has World War 2 history
- Tuvalu – One of the most remote countries in the world therefore only a handful of tourists visit.
And not quite South Pacific, Hawaii is also easy to visit from New Zealand. Find out more about visiting Hawaii in our guide, How to Plan a Trip to Hawaii from New Zealand.