The best places to stay and things to do

The best places to stay and things to do

Pacific Resort Aitutaki.  It’s finally time to put the flop back into drop. After two

It’s finally time to put the flop back into drop. After two long years, the South Pacific is reopening to the world but where, oh, where to begin for the hedonistic Australian traveller and, for that matter, when?

Our blue backyard consists of 10,000 islands spread across the world’s largest ocean with Fiji alone made up of 333 dots in the ocean, French Polynesia 118, Vanuatu 83 and the Cook Islands coming in at a relatively modest 15.

An enterprising and determined Fiji led the pandemic way early on, opening without quarantine from late last year and stealing a march on rival Bali. Now the Cook Islands are open (as of last month), French Polynesia opened earlier this month, New Caledonia in March and Vanuatu is set to welcome Australian travellers from July 1 (note that all travellers to these countries must be vaccinated).

The other island groups, like Samoa, won’t be far behind, with cruises through the South Pacific also resuming with inter-island sailings already operating in French Polynesia.

There’s no better place in the world to flop-and-drop on holiday where you can book an island resort and, if you choose, never leave it.

Resort bars face sunsets over the sea, there’s a day spa by the lagoon on almost every island archipelago, there are infinity pools with swim-up bars just in case there isn’t enough calm blue water already, and restaurants and bars with thatched roofs are built right on the sand, so you never need wear shoes.

The South Pacific is designed for lolling, it is, after all, where the overwater bungalow was invented. It’s the epitome of taking it easy on holiday – you don’t even need to walk to a lagoon, just open the door and jump.

So, sit back, unwind and relax as we present our pick of the best indulgences (let’s call them “The Lollers”) based on countless visits over the years, including one recently, to the South Pacific.

(Oh, and do try and escape the resort at least once or twice as this is where the planet’s first sea explorers lived, where history’s most noteworthy adventurists came to find their muse and where you’ll find some of the friendliest and most welcoming people in the world).

THE BEST BEACH CLUB

strmar4-fiji Malamala Beach Club Fiji ; text by Steve MeachamSUPPLIED AmyWhittaker@frankpr.com.auSatNov3SixBest
Malamala Beach Club - Fiji
sunmay15cover

It’s just 25 minutes by boat from Fiji’s Port Denarau to the world’s first beach club located on its own island. It’s not expensive either, buy a day pass for $FJD165 ($107) which includes your travel to get there, then sit in a cabana by the pool or on your own private beach with a cocktail, between spa treatments (try the traditional Fijian Bobo massage: a bargain at $FJD60 for 60 minutes). See malamalabeachclub.com; fiji.travel

THE BEST LAGOON

Cook Islands.

Photo: Cook Islands Tourism

You’ll never need leave Cook Islands’ Aitutaki’s lagoon. Measuring 74 square kilometres, it’s four times the size of the island itself. Shaped like an equilateral triangle with 12 kilometre sides, this is the South Pacific’s most perfect lagoon. There are 15 tiny islets (motu) within it, and all but one are totally uninhabited. Book an overwater bungalow in a resort built above it and you’ll have the world’s largest swimming pool at your disposal. See aitutakilagoonresort.com; cookislands.travel

THE BEST SUNDOWNER

sunmay15cover Fiji cover story ; text by Craig Tansley
(handout image supplied via journalist for use in Traveller, no syndication) 
The Fish Bar at the Fiji Marriott Resort Momi BayBuilt 50 metres above the ocean looking west across the 20 islands of the Mamanuca archipelago, Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay’s adults-only Fish Bar is set beside an infinity pool, around an open-plan bar with seats set on a sand floor.

There’s no better spot between here and the Americas to watch the sun set into the sea (watching for that all-elusive green flash). Built 50 metres above the ocean looking west across the 20 islands of the Mamanuca archipelago, Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay’s adults-only Fish Bar is set beside an infinity pool, around an open-plan bar with seats set on a sand floor. There’s live music, and a restaurant on-site so you don’t need to walk far for dinner. See marriott.com; myfiji.com; fijitravel.com

THE BEST FEAST

No-one does feasting like Samoa – they devote an entire day of the week (Sunday) to eating. Get a free insight into how to feast like a Samoan every Wednesday when you stay at Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa. Help build an umu (earth oven) with locals in the afternoon – get the coals hot, then add pork, chicken, seafood and vegetables, then wait for the food to cook – when it’s done, help dig up the oven and feast poolside, eating till your sides hurt. See sinalei.com; samoa.travel

THE BEST HOMESTAY

Tahiti doesn’t have to be expensive. Stay in a hand-built, Polynesian-style bungalow nestled into the hills above the world’s most infamous surf break, Teahupoo. Your rooms open to nature and are surrounded entirely by mountains: book massages or yin yoga sessions looking over the sea. There’s a restaurant on-site serving fish caught that morning and tropical fruit from your garden. See vaniralodge.com; tahititourisme.com

THE BEST SPA EXPERIENCE

sunmay15cover Fiji cover story ; text by Craig Tansley
(handout image supplied via journalist for use in Traveller, no syndication) 
Shangri La Fiji Resort & Spa offer a spa experience that goes from dusk to dawn, beginning at sunset with a warm bath scented with fresh frangipani, before a skin polish, herbal steam and a traditional Fijian massage. You don’t need to leave the room: sleep in this reef-side spa villa before waking to a customised facial next morning.

Don’t stop at one treatment. Shangri-La Fiji Resort & Spa offer a spa experience that goes from dusk to dawn, beginning at sunset with a warm bath scented with fresh frangipani, before a skin polish, herbal steam and a traditional Fijian massage. You don’t need to leave the room: sleep in this reefside spa villa before waking to a customised facial next morning. See shangri-la.com; myfiji.com; fiji.travel

THE BEST SECLUDED BEACH

A beach protected by the world’s second largest barrier reef… inside the world’s largest lagoon… all within one of the world’s best diving/ snorkelling locations – and yet no-one knows about it. Just 30 minutes flying time from Noumea, New Caledonia, few ever tread on Yejele Beach’s silky-white sand. Visitors flock to Lifou a few kilometres north, but the island of Mare is as untouched as it was 50 years ago. See newcaledonia.travel; mynewcaledonia.com.au

BEST SEA VIEW FROM A RESTAURANT

Who needs a boat tour when you can watch whales breach from your breakfast table? Pacific Resort Aitutaki’s Rapae Bay Restaurant in the Cook Islands is built like a treehouse within a littoral forest looking out across a reef to the ocean beyond. From July to October, humpback whales swim past to and from Antarctica. After breakfast, there’s an all-day menu from noon; why not spend the whole day whale watching? See pacificresort.com; cookislands.travel

BEST DESERT ISLAND EXPERIENCE

Vomo is a luxury resort in Fiji's Mamanuca Islands with an adjacent deserted isle.

Want to feel like Robinson Crusoe on holiday? Vomo Island Fiji drops guests off to Little Vomo Island, a tiny island a kilometre-and-a-half from its private island resort by boat for a desert island experience. Crusoe mightn’t have had a two-way radio to call when he needed a pick-up, nor did he have sun loungers, a multi-course gourmet lunch and champagne… but 2022’s take on a Crusoe experience is much more palatable. See vomofiji.com; myfiji.com

BEST OVERWATER BUNGALOW

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Look outside: you are sleeping on a lagoon. Taking a dip is a matter of opening your door and dropping like a stone. And where else on earth offers a range of luxurious overwater bungalow options quite like Bora Bora, French Polynesia? Every tiny islet in the lagoon offers them. But the best ones of all are at the St Regis Bora Bora Resort – they come with a butler if you’re feeling especially lazy. See marriott.com; tahititourisme.com

THE BEST ALL-INCLUSIVE PRIVATE ISLAND RESORT

With its own private runway, Vanuatu’s Ratua Island Resort & Spa is just a five minute flight from the airport at Espiritu Santo (northern Vanuatu). But you’ll only share this island with a few other guests. Swim with horses in the sea, book a massage in an over-water day spa or spend your days eating delicacies from your own private organic garden and orchard. More sanctuary than resort, all profits are used to educate local children. See ratua.com; myvanuatu.com.au

THE BEST SWIM-UP BAR

The only one of its kind in Tahiti – you won’t find a finer specimen in the Pacific. Intercontinental Tahiti’s huge 250 square-metre, sand-bottom, freshwater swimming pool offers the Lotus swim-up bar – the best spot for a Tahitian cocktail. You’ll look down on a lagoon full of yachts, past a reef where surfers risk their lives to the kilometre-high mountains of Moorea across the ocean. See tahiti.intercontinental.com; tahititourisme.com

THE BEST SAND BAR

Beneath a Melanesian thatched roof, find yourself at an open-plan bar where guests sit with feet on the sand watching waves break around them. The Boat Shed Bar at Fiji’s Namotu Island Resort is where surfers are deposited from boats after long surf sessions at some of the Pacific’s most famous breaks just beyond. Stay past dark to watch the stars shoot across the sky. See namotuislandfiji.com; fiji.travel

THE BEST RESORT POOL

It’s hard to tell where the pool stops and the ocean begins at The Havannah Vanuatu. It’s the first thing you’ll see at check-in; an enormous infinity pool looking over tiny islets off Efate’s (Vanuatu’s main island) north-west coast, 30 minutes from Port Vila. Look past the flame trees to the yachts in Havannah Harbour, or swim at dusk for a sunset across the water as guests dine at lantern-lit barbecues on the beach below. See havannahharbour.com; myvanuatu.com.au; vanuatu.travel

THE BEST IN-RESORT CULTURAL EXPERIENCE

There’s just no cultural experience like a Cook Islands Island Night. Sit by the lagoon and share an earth oven feast, then get set for the most exciting traditional dance and drum show in the Pacific. Hips look double-jointed (the Missionaries tried to ban this dancing) as dancers gyrate to frenetic Polynesian drumming that reverberates through your body. Beware: you may be asked to join the show. See cookislands.travel

THE BEST KIDS’ CLUB

sunapr15coverparadise Paradise Found cover story ; various writers ; Savusavu Vanua Levu Island Fiji SUPPLIED? https://fijiresort.smugmug. com/Professional-Images-1/ Professional-Hi-Res-Images/n- p56gx/ password: savusavu11 pictured:?Resident Marine Biologist, Johnny Singh, teaching children about Marine Life. Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort

Every child at Jean Michel Cousteau Resort in Fiji is taken care of – for free. Children under five are assigned a nanny while kids up to 12 are assigned a local buddy in the resort’s Bula Club. They’ll enjoy their own private world – with lots of activities from zip-lining to trampolining, or they can join a junior chef program to harvest produce from the resort’s organic garden to help prepare for your next meal. See fijiresort.com; fiji.travel

THE BEST NON-RESORT POOL

Life’s all about water at The Terraces in Vanuatu. There’s an infinity pool built over the edge of a terraced hillside – offering incredible views over the lagoon far below and the rainforest surrounding it. Waste entire days on a sun lounger beside the water. Though it’s the plunge pool on the deck of your apartment that’ll entrap you – because it’s yours, and no one else’s. Look down and you’ll feel like you’re swimming on the edge of the world. See theterracesvanuatu.com; myvanuatu.com.au; vanuatu.travel

THE BEST CABANA

Fiji’s Tokoriki Island Resort offers a cabana that plays a vital role on your holiday. Book a beachfront pool villa and you’ll have a cabana set on a 70 square metre deck. Built beside a plunge infinity pool, it’s aimed directly at the sunset – the perfect spot for sundowners. Enjoy a couples’ massage in it, then a three-course meal served to you by a butler as you’re serenaded by local singers. See tokoriki.com; myfiji.com; fiji/.travel

THE BEST FLOP-AND-DROP BOAT CRUISE

You won’t have to lift a finger on a fully-crewed sailing catamaran charter around the world’s largest lagoon. New Caledonia is one of the world’s best sailing destinations, protected by the world’s second longest reef – World Heritage listed for its diversity and natural beauty. There are 55 islands to discover, and you can do as much, or as little, as you like. See dreamyachtcharter.com; newcaledonia.travel

THE BEST BUDGET BEACH ACCOMMODATION

Sleep on the beach for as little as $50 a night. Book a fale – an open-walled hut built on an elevated wooden floor, with nothing but roll-up mat walls and mosquito nets between you and the water. There’s almost 2 kilometres of pristine beach at Lalomanu in Samoa with plenty of budget fales to choose from. Sleep to the sound of waves breaking on the reef 50 metres beyond. See samoa.travel

FIVE INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCES BEYOND THE RESORT

DISCOVER FIJI’S MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS

There’s much more to Fiji than its ocean. Just beyond the southern coast of its main island lies one of the Pacific’s most pristine rivers, which runs through a wild, mountainous hinterland. Take a rafting tour down the protected Upper Navua River, passing over 50 waterfalls along the way, navigating through tight canyons with 70-metre-high walls. See riversfiji.com; fiji.travel

STARE INTO AN ERUPTING VOLCANO

Series of Erupting Volcano Mt. Yasur, view towards the erupting volcano crater of the active Mount Yasur Volcano, Tanna Island, Vanuatu, Melanesia, South Pacific iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

Photo: iStock

Fly an hour south from Port Vila in Vanuatu to visit the world’s most accessible active volcano. Mount Yasur – on Tanna – has been erupting continuously for centuries. Take a tour and stand on its rim as it erupts (at sunset – for maximum viewing pleasure). Lava the size of small cars is propelled into the sky, providing one of the planet’s most extraordinary natural spectacles. See airtaxivanuatu.com; vanuatu.travel

CIRCUMNAVIGATE THE PACIFIC’S BEST LAGOON

Sure, you can lounge at a resort on Aitutaki’s huge lagoon, or you can get out on one of the Pacific’s best value day tours. The Vaka Cruise takes you across the whole lagoon, stopping to snorkel and explore its uninhabited tiny islets (motu) along the way. Eat fresh barbecued tuna and drink from coconuts as the crew play ukulele and sing traditional Cook Islands songs. See thevakacruise.com; cookislands.travel

SWIM WITH WILD DOLPHINS

Moorea in French Polynesia is one of the world’s best spots to swim with dolphins in the wild. You’ll be taken by boat across its calm lagoon to swim with the ocean’s most playful creatures. Moorea is part of a Marine Mammal Sanctuary and there’s 16 species of whales and dolphins that you can get in the water with (and there’s up to 50 metres visibility). See moorea-ocean-adventures.com; tahititourisme.com

RIDE THE PLANET’S BEST WAVES

Fiji, Samoa, French Polynesia and the Solomon Islands are amongst the best surfing destinations on Earth. Unlike other countries – like Hawaii – there’s no off-season, perfect waves break on coral reefs 12 months of the year, and you’ll never need a wetsuit. There’s a huge variety of surf retreats available throughout these countries. See fiji.travel