Palm trees by the lagoon on One Foot Island in the Cook Islands
travel guide

The South Pacific Islands: a first timer's guide

With white, sandy beaches, turquoise lagoons and scattered palm trees, the Pacific Islands look like paradise. Dotted around the South Pacific, these islands are small and untouched.

A holiday in the Pacific Islands is all about relaxing, switching off from everyday life, and enjoying the simple pleasures of a tropical island - exotic fruit, warm weather, beautiful lagoons and fresh fish. These holidays are less about adventure or luxury and more about simply experiencing some of the most beautiful places in the world.

Many of the islands (with the notable exception of Fiji) are relatively underdeveloped, with few large hotel brands there. While the Pacific Islands have a strong tourism industry, it's mostly targeted at New Zealanders and Australians

A small island in Tonga from the water

How to get there

Getting to the Pacific Islands is the most convenient from New Zealand. Flights to each island leave multiple times a week. There are also regular flights from Australia, Fiji has a weekly flight from LA, and the Cook Islands has a connection to Canada.

Travelling between the South Pacific Islands is more complicated than you would think, with routes changing frequently. Saying that, Tonga generally has good connections to Fiji and Samoa, and you can usually fly from French Polynesia to the other South Pacific Islands. It is best to check before you go.

Black Rock Beach in Rarotonga

When to visit

The Pacific Islands have distinct wet and dry seasons. The dry season runs from April to October and is the most popular time to visit the islands. This is for two reasons: the weather is great, and it's winter in New Zealand and Australia, where many tourists come from.

The humidity is significantly reduced during the winter, and the cyclone season has passed. You are also more likely to see humpback whales between June and October. On the other hand, there'll be more visitors and prices will be a bit higher.

Travelling to the Pacific Islands during the low season is entirely possible. Just keep in mind that it'll probably rain during your stay, it will be hot and humid, and some activities may be closed, especially if you visit outside of the Christmas school holidays. It's also cyclone season, so there is the possibility of high winds and torrential rain, although generally, rainfall is light, and there are still long patches of sunshine.

The beach on Likuri Island in Fiji on a sunny day


Fiji is a popular family holiday destination with resorts, kids' clubs, and activities for all ages. Fiji is more developed than the other islands, and several brand-name resorts are here. These are mainly clustered on Denarau Island, a resort development on the Western side of Viti Levu, Fiji's main island - before booking, remember that there isn't a natural beach in Denarau.

Just a short boat ride from Denarau, you'll find the Mamanuca Islands, with beautiful beaches, excellent snorkelling and tall palm trees. There are several resorts on these islands, ranging from family-friendly with kids' clubs and childcare services to adult-only resorts for romantic getaways. The Cloud 9 surf breaks are easily accessible for a day trip - go for the surf or to relax in the on-water bar. Just keep in mind that food and accommodation in Fiji aren't cheap.

If you're interested in scuba diving in Fiji or want to experience Fiji without mass tourism, the stunning Yasawa Islands are a bit further from Viti Levu. The Yasawas are less convenient to visit, but there are regular local seaplane flights. Accommodation here is a bit more rustic, but the views are spectacular, and you can enjoy the untouched scenery. Backpackers are well catered for, and there are a couple of resorts if you want a touch more luxury.

Aitutaki view from the water

The Cook Islands

A territory of New Zealand, the Cook Islanders are just a couple of hours' flight from Auckland. Rarotonga, the largest island, is particularly popular with New Zealanders, and there are several small resorts on the island.

With calm lagoons, long beaches and friendly locals, Rarotonga is great for a family holiday. The island is small, but there are enough activities to keep you busy (and relaxed) for a week or two. You can also rent a house near the beach and self-cater during your stay.

Aitutaki, about an hour's flight from Rarotonga, is the perfect destination for a more secluded getaway. A favourite with honeymooners, Aitutaki is simply stunning. White sandy beaches are studded with palm trees, and the scenery is like a postcard come to life.

The island is tiny, and there are several resorts, mainly catering for couples. There are a few cheaper options, but they're much harder to track down.

In terms of activities, the lagoon cruise is a must, stopping at various deserted islands and including a fish lunch. One Foot Island is a favourite stop, with an old post office, shady trees and a small reef for snorkelling. Aitutaki is a remarkably beautiful place and is the perfect spot for relaxing on the beach with a cocktail and a good book.

A sea cave in Tonga


Less developed than Fiji or the Cook Islands, your holiday in Tonga will likely include simple accommodation, friendly people and beautiful surroundings. There are several locally owned and run accommodation options, which are generally clean, simple and often absolute beachfront.

Tonga is a more affordable destination, but service isn't always up to international standards, so don't expect luxury service. However, the surroundings are stunning, people are helpful and welcoming, and it's easier to get a sense of the local culture than on some other Pacific islands.

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Roxanne de Bruyn

Author - Roxanne de Bruyn

Roxanne is the founder and editor of Faraway Worlds. She is a freelance writer and guidebook author and has written for several travel publications, including Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor and The Culture Trip. With a background in communications, she has studied ancient history, comparative religion and international development, and has a particular interest in sustainable tourism.

Originally from South Africa, Roxanne has travelled widely and loves learning the stories of the places she visits. She enjoys cooking, dance and yoga, and usually travels with her husband and young son. She is based in New Zealand.

Last Updated 9 January 2023