Written By: Alisi Lutu, Marketing Manager, SPTO
“Where is Tonga?”
“Where is Fiji?”
Those were questions being asked of Google when the two South Pacific nations catapulted to the forefront of media coverage during the recent 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
The tiny island kingdom of Tonga captured the world’s attention thanks to its extremely photogenic flag bearer, who emerged extremely ‘oiled’ and bare chested, leading his country’s contingent dressed in nothing but a tapa (Tongan bark cloth) during the opening parade of nations.
Thirty-two-year-old Pita Nikolas Taufatofua became an overnight internet sensation, even managing to upstage Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bunchen in the next day’s news coverage. As one tweeter put it: “Pita Taufatofua just increased tourism to #Tonga just by walking out into the stadium… What a guy!”
A week after Taufatofua’s initial outing, Fiji made the world news by beating England 43-7 at Rugby 7s and winning the country’s first ever Olympic gold medal since it started competing in the games in 1956. The win was doubly significant, given that rugby was only re-introduced as an Olympics sport this year after a 92-year lapse.
Within minutes of its 7s win, Fiji also became a viral internet sensation. The country went on to become the number one trending item on Twitter, and the most searched item on Google for the day.
Both of these events made people everywhere more curious not only about Tonga and Fiji but the South Pacific region as a whole, which over 20 Pacific island countries call home.
Simply put, the South Pacific is everything you would imagine paradise to be – home to idyllic volcanic islands and coral atolls, lush tropical rainforests with cascading waterfalls, secluded beaches, aquamarine waters, pristine coral reefs, and sunshine all year around. An ecologically diverse region, it is a nature lover’s paradise.
But that’s not all the South Pacific is also home to a multitude of living cultures, each one unique in its own way, with distinct languages, cuisines and traditional customs.
The people of the South Pacific consistently rank as some of the happiest and friendliest people in the world with a generous and welcoming nature that travellers keep coming back for.
Of late, the South Pacific is becoming a destination for sports and international events such as the Fiji International, an annual golfing event held since 2014, and the 2019 South Pacific Games to be held in Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
Discover the ‘gems’ of the Pacific
If you’re searching the world for a vacation spot that is undiscovered and off the beaten track, then you’ll find it in American Samoa. For here is a holiday destination like no other in the Pacific. American Samoa is a tropical paradise with 90% of its islands covered in untouched tropical rain forest and unique flora and fauna. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it is half way between Hawaii and New Zealand and five hours flying time direct from Honolulu and 35 minutes by air from Apia, Samoa.
Kia Orana is hello in the Cook Islands, but it also expresses a wish that you may live a long and healthy life. It’s a sentiment easily understood in the beautiful Cook Islands, a nation of warmth and relaxation. Life here is good, delicious food is plentiful and you’re surrounded by unparalleled beauty.
Cook Islands is made up of 15 islands in total, many of which appear completely untouched, and yet we offer a range of accommodation that can appeal to backpackers right through to the luxurious standards expected by five star travellers. Rich in experiences but inexpensive in cost.
Often referred to as the ‘Crossroads of the South Pacific’ because of its geographical location, the Fiji Islands is a hospitable land of contrasts in people, flora, fauna and culture. It is home to people who have been called the friendliest on earth. Fiji is made up of a chain of over 300 islands and is a cosmopolitan cocktail of culture, race and religion. It is a place where ‘bula’, the traditional Fijian greeting, is a very special word and you can relax without a care in the world.
Federated States of Micronesia
The 607-island nation that is the Federated States of Micronesia is one of the most remote and beautiful places on earth. Friendly and peaceful, it encompasses nearly a million square miles of ocean north of the equator that is home to a cultural and biological diversity that is unrivaled anywhere. The Federated States of Micronesia sits in the heart of the Caroline Islands Archipelago, a vast seascape that extends from Palau in the west to Kiribati in the east. Situated within a rich centre of biodiversity at the convergence of the major currents of the Indian Ocean, the Philippine Sea and the great Pacific Ocean, it is home to the world’s greatest coral reefs and the best pelagic fisheries remaining in the world today. The FSM is made up of four groups of island States in geographic sequence from west to east: Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae. Each has considerable autonomy and each is equally unique with its own geography, ecology, language and culture. This cultural identity is exhibited by the 17 indigenous languages used and very much alive today.
The Islands of Tahiti are home to verdant valleys, azure skies and turquoise lagoons. The multi-c olored pareu (skirts) of the vahine (women) contrast with their ebony hair, bathed in the raw tropical sunlight. Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a, Bora Bora and Maupiti are high and mystical islands with deep valleys perfumed by the tiare (tahitian flower), short-lived jewels that one wears over the ear. Then there the pearl islands: Rangiroa, Manihi, Fakarava, Tikehau – the atolls at the end of the world from whose depths where black pearls grow and develop. From the north to the south, from the fertile plains of the Australs to the sharp cliffs of the Marquesas, these fragrant paradises combine all the different landscapes created by generous Mother Nature. Everything here whispers the legends of the maohi people who discovered these crumpled lands, where the uru (breadfruit), the fei (wild banana), and the taro (tubercle) thrive.
Kiribati is for travellers – for those who have a passion for exploring and discovering new places, and adventures off the tourist trail; it’s for travellers who want to understand a country – not just to see it. Where the Equ ator meets the In ternational Dateline that is where you will find Kiribati, truly at the center or say at the heart of the Pacific, chosen in the year 2000 as the first to see the Millennium. Kiribati is home to three archipelagos: The Line Islands, the Phoenix Islands and the Gilbert Islands. The Line Islands is home to Kiribati atoll, which boasts the world’s largest coral atoll and offers world class game and flyfishing. In the centre of Kiribati lie the Phoenix Islands, which host a UNESCO World Heritage site designated as one of world’s largest and deepest marine protected areas, a treasure waiting to be explored. In the west of the country is the Gilbert Group of islands, which offer amazing and unique cultural experiences in North Tarawa and the Outer Islands. The country’s capital is home to historic wrecks and artifacts of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands covers nearly a million square miles of coral atolls, islands and deep Blue Ocean and is one of the most unique places in the world to visit. As the capital atoll, Majuro houses the central government, most of the country’s businesses , and anestimated 50% of the country’s population. This is the country’s most developed and urban atoll. Nonetheless, Majuro still offers visitors a glimpse of what the rest of the country is like.
Extraordinary Nauru is a tiny island with a big history and even bigger hospitality. Nauru is located in the deep, blue Pacific Ocean waters north of the Solomon Islands. An uplifted coral formation, Nauru is just 21 kilo metres square and lies some 40 kilometres south of the Equator. One of the smallest nations on earth, with a mostly Micronesian population of around 10,000 people, Nauru offers travellers a truly unique Pacific Island visit. Discover excellent deep sea fishing, scuba dive amazing ocean depths, take a tour of the island’s past economic mainstay the phosphate mines or simply experience a holiday in a world far from your own.
Swim with whales and dolphins. Walk through virgin rainforest. Dive spectacular underwater cathedrals. Explore the most breathtaking caves in the South Pacific. Gaze upon breaching whales. Snorkel over bright corals in warm tropical water. Game fish just metres from shore. Bike an array of tracks. Experience genuine culture. Niue will under promise and over deliver every time. The world’s largest coral atoll is also one of the smallest self-governing countries on Earth. The island’s most striking feature is its array of private lagoons and small beaches as well as its rugged and rocky terrain. Steep cliffs along the coastline are honeycombed by caves, chasms and blowholes. Niue prides itself on a forest undisturbed for centuries. It is a nature lover’s delight.
Papua New Guinea
Towering mountain peaks, lush fertile valleys, stunning beaches, pristine coral islands and some of the best diving locations in the world, Papua New Guinea is a country of wild beauty, breathtaking landscapes and fascinating flora and fauna. Rich in natural resources Papua New Guinea’s wealth of tradition, beauty and history is unparalleled in the Pacific. From the magnificent tropical beaches to the refreshing cool highlands, there are a million different journeys to take in this paradise known the world over as one of the final frontiers. Take a breath of fresh, crisp mountain air 4,500 meters up at the base of Mount Wilhelm, the country’s highest peak or snorkel the spectacular reefs of Kimbe Bay home to 60% of the coral species in the Indo Pacific region. Thirty one of the forty one known species of exotic Birds of Paradise are found in Papua New Guinea together with countless exquisite butterflies and over 3,000 magnificent species of orchid. Beauty also lies in the people who today still observe their captivating and diverse traditions and culture.
Samoa is a postcard of natural beauty consisting of ten islands, each offering very distinct and different environments to explore – from the rainforest covered rugged volcanic mountain peaks of the two main islands to the vast valleys leading down to a coastline ringed with a necklace of white sandy beaches. Within these lush green fertile valleys grow banyan trees towering above the rainforest canopy, full of tropical bloom s and numerous varieties of vegetation. Cascading waterfalls drop into rivers that cut jagged lines through the valley floor as they make their way to the ocean. The coastline is a wonder in itself, with sparkling white sand beaches – in some places stretching for miles – and here and there are walls of sheer cliffs that drop straight into the Pacific. Amongst all this natural beauty are nu’u or villages with their churches, meeting houses and open fale or homes encircling the malae or village green. Samoa is home to a people proud of their Fa’a Samoa (The Samoan way) – a culture 3000 years in the making – a heritage as rich and colourful as Samoa’s natural wonders.
Solomon Islands is home to soaring mist covered mountains, dense rainforests, cascading waterfalls and rivers, intricate coastlines and lazy lagoons. It is a diver’s paradise and an eco-tourism destination that’s unspoiled, unhurried and totally unforgettable. The setting for some of World War II’s most fierce and bloody battles is today home to one of the most natural and peaceful races in the South Pacific. Here, in this archipelago of mountainous islands and low-lying coral atolls, you can experience the undiscovered delights of a primitive culture which has not allowed the advances of the outside world to overshadow it. Colourful costumes, age-old customs, rituals and taboos. They still endure in the Solomons.
Journey back in time to experience the Kingdom of Tonga’s authentic and compelling mix of centuries-old culture, history and traditions. Understand why Tonga’s relaxing combination of uncrowded, unhurried and undiscovered is the “True South Pacific”. Experience a monarchy unique in the South Pacific, and a generous and genuine welcome from the people of the nation dubbed the ‘Friendly Isles.’ The main island of Tongatapu is home to the royal family and to the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa. Part of the Tongatapu Group, rugged ‘Eua lies 40km off the coast of Nuku’alofa. The island is an ideal destination for those in search of adventure and who enjoy being in touch with nature. The Ha’apai Group to the north is a wonderful eco-tourism destination and a paradise for divers and snorkellers with its prolific wildlife and pristine natural beaches. The northern most group of islands, the Vava’u Group, is a haven for yachties and one of the world’s great sailing centres with its sheltered anchorages. From July to October, you can see and swim with the magnificent humpback whales that come to mate and calve in the warm waters of Vava’u. It is said to be a water lover’s paradise.
Talofa! If all you want is to disappear, relax under a palm tree and not be bothered by anyone, with fewer than 1000 tourists a year, Tuvalu is the place to be. Tuvalu is one of the world’s smallest (total land area of just 26 km2 and a population of just 8,000) and most isolated island nations. This unspoilt corner of the Pacific offers a peaceful, and non-commercialized environment that is ideal for rest and relaxation. Yet it is this smallness and isolation which is part of its attraction. Its nine atolls on which the Tuvaluans, direct descendants of the ancient Polynesians live, provide the kind of solace a person is looking for, somewhere to really escape the pressures of the outside world.
Vanuatu is like stepping back to another place and time. A time when water was pure and food was from the village. The smiles are warm and genuine. As soon as you arrive you’ll forget the world you left behind and experience a place that is unforgettable. Across the 83 islands in the archipelago, the Ni-Vanuatu speak approximatively 210 different dialects. Words like “schedule” are not common but “welcome”, “dance” and “relax” are easily translated. It’s probably why its been selected the happiest country on earth twice. Smiles aren’t the only thing you’ll see in Vanuatu. There’s a playground of rainforests, volcanoes, pristine beaches, coral seas, fresh food, adventure and relaxation. Every island is different, but smiles can be found everywhere.
Win a free trip to the South Pacific!
The South Pacific Specialist Programme is an online accreditation training designed to engage travel agents to better understand the various island nation destinations and their top niche products through training modules on geography, culture, tourism sites and attractions. It enables travel agents to be in a better position to sell the South Pacific.
Certified agents can enter to win an eight night familirisation trip to a Pacific destination. Last month, a recently certified travel consultant from New Zealand won a trip to the Cook Islands. The prize for the next competition (which launches at the end of August) is a trip to Fiji. It will focus specifically on the country’s dive offerings.
The South Pacific Specialist Programme is run by the South Pacific Tourism Organisation (SPTO), which is the mandated organisation representing tourism in the Pacific islands region.
Its 18 government members are American Samoa, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Marshall Islands, New Caledonia, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the People’s Republic of China. In addition to government members, the South Pacific Tourism Organisation enlists a private sector membership base.
To find out more about these destinations, visit www.spto.org for more information.