Photography

South Pacific Travel: How to Visit 14 of the Most Remote and Culturally Fascinating Islands

The South Pacific region contains well-nigh 30,000 islands – it seems unfathomable – 30,000! So how in the world do you decide which ones to go to? I was faced with this question as I tried to plan my South Pacific Travel. One of my goals was to visit the really remote, seldom visited South Pacific islands in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu without spending months doing it. Here’s the good news…it’s possible! Learn how you can get to 14 of the most remote islands in Melanesia in 17 days while learning well-nigh the unique culture, history, and landscape of the South Pacific.

What started as a sprinkle of rain, transitioned quickly to a downpour. I tried to imbricate up my camera and looked virtually to try to find cover. A woman in a hut was trying to get my sustentation as she waved her hands. Our vision locked and she motioned for me to come inside. Once again, the South Pacific was showing its welcoming hospitality.

I ducked into the thatched hut. I was taken unknowingly when I glanced up and noticed a whole group of village women and small children staring at me.

Loh Island South pacific hospitality
Safe from the rain with local women

I looked virtually the hut made from palm leaves, a dirt floor, no electricity, no plumbing – it was life at its most simple. All of the women were eager to ask me questions, as I was of them. We fumbled through a conversation well-nigh marriage, motherhood, and education. I was as fascinating to them as they were to me. Two very variegated worlds collided in that hut as the rain came down, and I was so excited to wits it.

I learned that the villagers of Loh hadn’t welcomed foreign visitors since 2016. This lack of visitors was much increasingly than a pandemic-related absence, it was the nature of living on a very, very remote island in the South Pacific.

Remote South Pacific Travel

In this uber-connected world – it’s nonflexible to discover places that finger truly untouched. They are often nonflexible to get to, have limited space, and have little infrastructure – which creates a number of insurmountable hurdles for tourists who want to do South Pacific Travel.

Despite those hurdles – remote places like Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu are veritably worth the trip. One way to overcome those hurdles is to travel to the South Pacific Islands by ship.

Heritage Expeditions South Pacific Travel
Heritage Adventurer – your transportation to the remote South Pacific Islands

I’m not talking well-nigh just any ship. It’s important to realize there are the typical trip companies that trip the South Pacific Islands, however, they go to the islands that have increasingly infrastructure. They start in big cities like Sydney, LA, and Brisbane. And they go to the increasingly popular tourist destinations like Tahiti or Fiji; places with airports and trip ports. Sure – these are still small South Pacific islands, but they have the infrastructure to welcome thousands of passengers from big trip ships.

Most South Pacific cruises don’t go to remote, tiny islands like Loh Island. The ones with no tourism, hotels, electricity, or plumbing. And that’s exactly where I wanted to set foot…onto the South Pacific Islands that are nonflexible (if not impossible) to get to.

Papua New Guinea Bougainville Volcano

Enter Heritage Expeditions which has been cruising to remote South Pacific islands for 10 years now. The small family-owned trek trip visitor unquestionably provides expedition-type travel to places that are nearly untellable to get to. The Heritage Expeditions Secrets of Melanesia cruise will take you so far off the tourist path…there’s barely plane a path at all!

What is Trek Travel

Expedition travel is a travel niche that allows for the flexibility to respond to the environment, wildlife, and other trip factors. It is often washed-up by small ship considering it’s usually the only way to get to really remote places. An trek trip looks sort of like a mini version of a trip ship – but this isn’t a typical ‘cruise’. There’s no need to dress up, no theater shows, and there are no shore excursions; it’s increasingly unpredictable and rugged in a way. An trek ship is small unbearable to be worldly-wise to vise offshore in deep waters and passengers are transported by Zodiac rafts on shore to small villages or nature regions.

South Pacific Trek Travel
Getting to the remote South Pacific islands

We had a number of days where flexibility was necessary and we went way off the itinerary, waffly plans due to cultural issues (warring tribes!) and weather. We traveled in some uncharted waters and went to places that the tutorage or the trek leader had never been to before. On trek travel, you let the trip take you, rather than you taking the trip.

Or as our trek leader put it – you have to be rigidly flexible to do an trek travel.

Listen to the Amateur Traveler Podcast where I talk well-nigh travel by trek ship to Melanesia. Learn well-nigh what to expect and why it’s such a special region to travel to.

South Pacific Travel

The South Pacific is increasingly than a musical – it’s an unshortened group of islands in the Pacific Ocean that consists of 3 regions; Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia.

South Pacific Map
MAP Map provided by @Kahuroa

My South Pacific travel took me through the Melanesia region on Heritage Expeditions’ new 120-passenger Heritage Adventurer ship. This was the perfect way to travel to South Pacific remote island villages and cultures that normally get very few if any visitors.

To requite you an idea of just how few people visit Melanesia
Vanuatu – 121,000 yearly visitors
Solomon Islands – 29,000 yearly visitors
Papua New Guinea – 211,000 yearly visitors
………………………………………………………………………..
France 218,000,000 yearly visitors

Why Travel to Melanesia?

Melanesia is made up of 4 countries; Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea. These countries include thousands of islands in the South Pacific overflowing with biodiversity.

It is one of the top birding destinations in the world with over 501 theirs birds and it is home to the Coral Triangle which contains at least 500 species of reef-building corals and is one of the eight major coral reef zones in the world.

And then there’s the reason I cruised through Melanesia – the culture. It is one of the most culturally ramified regions in the world. The islands have over 1000 languages! The locals reside in villages devoid of modern conveniences (except lamina phones), rely on the resources of the land, travel by canoe, preserve their history through oral traditions, and foster tight-knit communities centered virtually family ties and elders. They engage in trade using shells and pigs, participate in elaborate ceremonies, siphon out unrepealable unsettling rituals, and, at times, uphold the practice of a ‘bride price.’

South Pacific culture

Melanesia is one of the last places on earth where you will get to wits these things in their purest form.

South Pacific Island Culture – Like Nothing You’ve Overly Experienced Before

Travel the South Pacific and you’ll most definitely hear terrifying stories of headhunters. It is where some of the last headhunting tribes were found. Historically it was a land of warring tribes and cannibalism. Plane though that doesn’t exist any longer, there are still plenty of tribal disagreements, and the warring is tightly rooted in their culture.

Experience the One-of-a-Kind Singsings

The term ‘Singsing’ refers to the elaborate festivals held throughout Melanesia, where villagers showcase theatrically choreographed flit and vocal performances. They are spectacular events with ornate costumes, dances, unusual music, and singing.

The dances and costumes represent various village events such as giving thanks for harvests, asking for a successful hunt, and blessings for weddings, funerals, births, and good health. There were dragon dances, frog dances, elaborate masks, headdresses made of rare feathers, and intricate piercings. Most of the time I sat and watched in misdoubt and awe that this was for real.

Watch the variety of costumes, dances, music, and people of the South Pacific

The villagers encouraged us to participate in many of the singsings, which invariably resulted in them bursting into laughter and pointing at the witty foreigners and our flit moves! I loved joining the dances, you can’t help but be happy interacting with this warmed-over cultural tradition.

South Pacific Village Life is a Simple Life

“ We live a simple life with strong family ties and we are happy. We share what we have.” One of the elders said to us. It would be easy to squint at how people live on these remote islands and think that this is a sad, hard, or undesirable life. This is why I love this type of travel so much, it stretched your mind and makes you value other ways people live.

After most of the singsings villagers took us virtually their village to share how they lived. Each village we visited was surprisingly wipe and tidy, with groomed sand or dirt yards, and lots of well-maintained flowers. The homes were thatch and typically built off the ground on stilts. There was no ‘furniture’ inside. They sleep on leaf mats on the floor of the hut and melt by fire.

Food was really basic; mainly fish, sago (a type of starch extracted from palms), yams, fruit, and lots of coconuts. You’d moreover find pigs on the islands which were increasingly of a ‘special’ meal and currency people would self-mastery trade with.

Transportation from island to island was typically by hand-carved narrow canoes. And occasionally there were lories that hauled people from village to village, but mainly it was walking.

We did see a few solar panels and people had vital lamina phones for liaison – but other than that life was quite rustic and simple…and happy.

South Pacific Trip Island Hopping – Where to Go and What to Expect

Every day we stopped at variegated island communities and had a endangerment to interact with the locals. I don’t think it would be possible to visit all of these islands on your own. However, with Heritage Expeditions it was easy to traverse these little-known islands in a relatively short period of time.

Sepik River Papua New Guinea – Land of the Crocodile

As we landed our zodiacs in Kopar village the kids and villagers waved a welcome to us. The villagers performed three variegated dances featuring elaborate costumes: the fish dance, dragon dance, and snake dance. Locals from surrounding villages withal the 700-mile-long Sepik River flocked to Kopar to see the performance as well as to get a good squint at us…the visitors.

Much like travel to India – you have to be well-appointed with stuff stared at while doing South Pacific travel.

In wing to the elaborate costumes for the singsing, I was moreover in awe of the incredible artifacts and handicrafts that the villagers had laid out for us to revere and purchase. Once again, families traveled for days to bring their crafts to Kopar to meet (and sell to) the visitors.

sepik river crafts
A family sells crafts of the Sepik River

Manus Island Papua New Guinea – Dancing with Tree Frogs

The polity of Manus Island hadn’t seen visitors for 2 years. To make up for that they welcomed us with unshut stovepipe and smiles. As our zodiacs came tropical to shore school-age kids lined up on the waterfront singing and dancing wildly with an winger of a heavy pulsate beat.

The polity plane welcomed us into the village via a formalism ‘ribbon cutting’ (twine cutting). It was a lovely ‘Western world’ welcome to a very warmed-over culture. They entertained us with singsings, including a flit depicting the tree frogs that descend from the trees to feed and drink. Men wearing costumes made of trees, leaves, flowers, and shells literally dropped from the trees and hopped virtually leaving the unshortened prod in giggles.

New Britain Island Papua New Guinea Land of the Unexpected

I woke up this morning and looked out my motel window and found the ship surrounded by volcanoes. One of the old volcano craters served as the wharf for the ship! We had landed at Rabaul on New Britain Island – the land of volcanos, the land of the unexpected.

This was unquestionably their town motto – and for good reason. The last eruption was in 1994 completely destroying 80% of the city. It has since been rebuilt, and they have a sophisticated monitoring system now. However, you can still see the soapy hot sulfur water flowing into the ocean.

New Britain Island was one of the most ‘modern’ that we visited with a larger population and plane a few tourist sites centered virtually the volcanos and WWII history.

Kokopo town on New Britain island is said to be the ‘cleanest town in PNG’ – an odd token of honor to wear – but accurate. We made a stop at a favorite place of mine – the local market. They dropped us off to wander virtually for a while and we quickly became immersed among the locals.

We were moreover quite a site for the local people who likely wondered where in the world we came from. We were stared at, giggled about, and recorded on phones as we traversed the rented aisles. But of course, we did the same – I was worldly-wise to get a tuft of unconfined interactions and photos of the market and people. Plus – I was introduced to a number of new fruits and vegetables I had never seen before!

We moreover visited the nearby Duke of York Islands where we transported the bar wrecked for cocktails on the waterfront followed by some unconfined snorkeling.

Nissan Island Papua New Guinea – Meeting Forest Spirits

The Balil 1 villagers warmly welcomed us as our zodiac wend bounced through the small inlet into the sunken crater that forms Nissan Island.

Even though it was a Sunday and normally a quiet day the unshortened village and surrounding villagers showed up to perform a singsing and tour us virtually their village to share their culture. The highlight of the event was the forest spirits dance, featuring costumes crafted from tree branches, with each spirit ornate in an intricate wooden mask.

The local kids giggled and screamed as the men danced virtually with spears looking ominous. These dances did not only perform for us – the visitors – but moreover for the local people and kids in order to teach the traditions to the younger generations in the village. I came to learn that our visits were an important part of this passing lanugo of knowledge to the unshortened village. Sometimes tourism can be destructive, but in this case, it really felt like our South Pacific travel had purpose and benefits that far outweighed the downsides.

Balil 1 had a small school that we toured. The zillions of quotes and signs displayed in the classroom, discussing famous individuals, gender equity, the significance of environmental conservation, and the value of peace, surprised me.


Remnants of the war were scattered throughout the village on Nissan Island, as it had been home to an airstrip utilized during WWII. My favorite conversation was with Cecilia who was a grandmother of twins she was taking superintendency of. I walked up and asked her what she carried in her bag and she pulled out an empty Coke bottle! Soldiers loved Coke, and inevitably some bottles were left. We ended up in a long conversation well-nigh WWII and how they don’t make Coke bottles like they used to! She showed me how she used the old (very heavy) snifter to one-liner unshut coconuts!

Bougainville Papua New Guinea – Scars of Starchy War

One of the most tragic islands in Papua New Guinea – Bougainville was a variegated type of visit. I learned well-nigh the tragic history of the recent starchy war, which lasted for 10 years, and the underlying reasons that sparked its initiation. The prolonged fighting personal the lives of over 15,000 people.

We rode in vans to visit the now-defunct Panguna Copper and Gold mine that was at the part-way of the tragedy. We witnessed the sorrowful remnants of what remains and observed how it continues to impact the people and the environment up to this day. The locals engage in daily gold mining activities as the mine still holds well-healed reserves of gold and copper. Nonetheless, the devastating environmental consequences resulting from the mine’s closure are truly heartbreaking.

Bougainville people culturally socialize themselves increasingly with the people of the Solomon Islands than Papua New Guinea, giving rise to a recent referendum in which they voted to unravel yonder from PNG and form its own voluntary region.

That afternoon we had an incredible Papua New Guinea sendoff from one of the singsing groups on the island. No instruments, no problem! In Bougainville all you need is old shoes and bamboo! I was in awe as I listened to such trappy music all created with bamboo pipes and flip-flops.

Kolumbangara Solomon Islands –Rainforest Hiking

Our first introduction to the Solomon Islands was memorable! We landed on Kolumbangara to visit Imbu Rano Lodge and Conservation Zone which protects the island’s inside peak. The chiefs of the region made the important visualization to leave this region of the island full of dumbo rainforest and wildlife protected instead of giving it up to logging and farming. They felt it was important for younger generations to have an zone to learn well-nigh the importance of the land. Yay, Chiefs!!

We rode in the when of trucks (typical local transport) up the mountain to the ‘lodge’ where we were worldly-wise to hike deep into the dumbo rainforest as well as do bird watching. It was a hot, sticky hike but I didn’t plane superintendency as I was so happy to get out and imbricate some ground on my own two feet!

Even though most of the day was well-nigh the land, we moreover got a dose of culture where we landed our zodiac rafts. A local ‘pipe band’ greeted up with jovial music. This group of boys and men used PVC pipes cut to variegated lengths and unseat together with rope and painted the verisimilitude of their national flag. The musical talent was incredible. They moreover used flip-flop soles for paddles and all the music harmonized beautifully. They plane created a trombone-like instrument that was a simple pipe squandered into and inferential out of old truck tires. I had never seen anything like it!

Tetepare, Solomon Islands – A Lesson in Conservation

Welcome to the island gem of the Solomon Islands – Tetepare Island. Over 100 years ago, numerous tribes totaling well-nigh 1,860 people inhabited the island. However, the thriving island was sooner abandoned. There are 3 possible causes: dysentery, headhunting, and curses – or maybe all of them?

For over 100 years, it has remained uninhabited and is presently managed as a conservation site by 12 rangers from the Tetepare Descendants Association. It was rescued from logging and imminent destruction and now serves as a conservation model for the Solomon Islands and the unshortened South Pacific.

You can learn increasingly well-nigh this incredible transformation in the book, “The Last Wild Island – Saving Tetepare”

They plane have a little eco-lodge (a few traditional huts) there that is very simple, but you can stay on the island – hike, tag turtles, and participate in conservation efforts. It’s a endangerment to really see what it’s like to stay in a simple island environment. They moreover have incredible snorkeling just offshore. In fact, it was probably my favorite snorkeling of the unshortened trip.

We were worldly-wise to get ‘hands-on’ with two of the island’s most important animals – coconut venereal and endangered Green and Hawksbill turtles! We watched the rangers tag a turtle record its information and then release it into the sea. You could see just how much the rangers loved their jobs and the island.

Coconut venereal hibernate in trees, caves, and in the ground. It’s the largest terrestrial vertebrate in the world weighing up to 4 kg. And they sort of squint like giant spiders…which is a bit terrifying! They can unquestionably unravel into a coconut and can siphon coconuts up to 3 miles. Surprisingly these venereal can’t swim, so they live on the island where they are protected.

Malita Solomon Islands – Where the Cultural Tables Turned

Malita is a increasingly ripened and populated island in the Solomons; however, we were there to meet a very special tribe for a unique experience. Here we met a few members of the Kwaio tribe who made a special journey to meet us and share their culture. The Kwaio live in one of the most inaccessible places in the Solomon Islands; upper up in the highlands in an zone tabbed Naufe’e. They basically had a mountain fortress which unliable them to alimony to their old ways and exist despite the rest of the island modernizing.

Chief Esau and a small group traveled for multiple days to come lanugo to the tailspin and meet us and the ship. They did demonstrations of their cooking, how they made handicrafts, and the Senior told us well-nigh their work to build up resources for women and kids in the village and more.

Chief Esau Kwaio Tribe
Chief Esau Kwaio Tribe

However, we moreover had an opportunity to participate in their song and flit rituals – but there was one catch. In order to participate we had to wear their traditional clothing…which was basically nothing but a lap lap. A lap lap is just a small waistcloth or loincloth. This was an opportunity to get fully immersed in their culture…and get naked and dance! Would you do it?

Frigate Island Solomon Islands – Swim with the Locals

We received flipside incredible welcome to this tiny island. In a cultural twist, the men of the island did all of the dances. After the festivities, we were self-ruling to roam the island and trammels out the mangrove forest or throne out snorkeling. The locals came out in full gravity to see the festivities and talk with us. It happened to be the last day of school and the island teacher brought all of the kids out to interact with the foreigners. This is probably the weightier kind of ‘social studies’ the kids could get! They enjoyed swimming with all of us and getting rides on the zodiacs.

Frigate Island South Pacific kids swimming
Kids swimming at Frigate Island

Nendo Island Solomon Islands – See a Red Feather Hat

Nendö is the largest of the Santa Cruz Islands, which lie to the southeast of the Solomon Islands. Here we made a special visit inland to the village of Noipe.

We rode in the when of lorries and bounced withal on the primitive road toward the middle of the island. When we arrived it felt as if we were in a ticker tape parade. Locals surrounded us on the road cheering our arrival.

They welcomed us with leis, coconuts, a trappy harmonious choir, and historic dances. Noipe organized an unshortened educational afternoon – it was my favorite village we visited. After the dances, they had a dozen little huts set up where we could walk in and learn well-nigh a specific cultural tradition. There were ear piercings, cooking, and using tree yelp to make traditional suit and woven mats. There was plane a sit-in of how they make their infamous red feather hats.

Red Feather Hats

Nendo Red Feather Hat
Red Feather Hat

The red feather hat is not a hat at all. It stands as the only known bird-based currency in human history. This Solomon Islands hat is mostly seen in museums, but I had the opportunity to visit the one place on earth where it was created – Noipe.

I’m not going to lie – this concept of currency is really nonflexible for me to grasp – but I unchangingly welcome the endangerment to learn well-nigh cultures variegated than mine.

The ‘hat’, tabbed a tevau, is unquestionably 50,000 to 60,000 itty fragmentary red feathers taken from the Scarlet Honeyeater bird. Special craftsmen in the tribe make it. They ‘glue’ each little tiny feather with a sticky sap to a long wood coil. The coils are typically 20 to 30 feet in length, it could take a person over a year to well-constructed a full feather coil!

It achieved currency status considering the islanders didn’t have wangle to rare ores to make coins. Instead, people considered scarlet honeyeater feathers as the ultimate hard-to-get resource. They used Tevau as payments made to a woman’s family during her marriage until the 1980s. I wonder if they have overly ceased using them since we still observed their production in the village today.

At its height, to make the currency they had to pluck from 20,000 individual birds each year. Despite this intense harvesting, bird experts say the population of wild honeybirds on the island thrives to this day.

I loved Noipe, the people were so kind and so excited to have us visit. I walked yonder having learned so much well-nigh their culture and got to see one of the most unique cultural pieces, the tevau, in the South Pacific.

Loh Island Vanuatu – A Frightening Welcome

Due to tribal fighting on the South Pacific island that we were supposed to visit, we reverted plans and visited Loh Island instead. This flexibility is a testament to the eyeful of trek travel as well as Heritage Expeditions connections. This was our first stop in Vanuatu and it was memorable!

The villagers hadn’t had foreign visitors since 2016! As we landed on the waterfront we were rushed by the local ‘warriors’ who ran out into the water splashing and intimidating us to see if we were friend or foe. Luckily, they considered us friends and welcomed us through an archway on the waterfront uplifting us with trappy leis and coconuts.

They did a mixed-generation flit which appeared to be a shuffle in a circular motion. The women’s hair had colorful powders in them making them squint like a dancing rainbow! The senior came out and did a special flit that was reminiscent of Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.

After the dance, we ate variegated local foods and walked virtually the village with local guides. This is where I ran for imbricate from the rain and ended up getting to interact with some of the women of the village. It was one of my favorite memories from my South Pacific Travel.

Santo Island Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s largest Island, Santo; is the location of James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific. We started our visit with a little decadence by indulging in champagne on Champagne Waterfront in Vanuatu. This trappy waterfront got its name thanks to the volcanic gases that rainbow up through the powdery white sand at the shoreline to make it finger and squint like champagne under your feet! Plane though the skies looked like nasty weather – we only had sun on the waterfront which made for a spectacular waterfront and snorkeling morning.

Just when I believed I had witnessed every conceivable form of music in Melanesia, I was once then taken by surprise. A group of exquisite women walked into the waves without any instruments and created incredible music in the water! They cupped their hands in variegated ways to slap, scoop, and transplant the water iso that it that made notes and music. It was awe-inspiring.

Apparently, women learned this skill while doing the village laundry in the rivers. They wash the village’s gown in the river and started to play with the sounds that they could make, and soon they had a ‘band’! Not only did they present a water concert, they moreover taught us how we could learn a few notes!

In the afternoon we moved on to explore flipside part of Santo Island – Luganville. This town was an important zone during WWII. Many of the cooperating forces, including Americans, were stationed here and synthetic a significant portion of the infrastructure that remains in place to this day. We visited a number of WWII sites and museums as well as the local market.

We ended our time on Santo Island with a dip in one of its famous undecorous holes. Crystal-clear, deep iridescent undecorous pools unique to Vanuatu. These natural phenomena are worked when underground streams originating in the island’s western ranges resurface as springs, wearing deep circular pools into the karst. The perfect swimming hole!

Blue slum Vanuatu
Blue Hole

Each South Pacific Island we visited was variegated from the next, but each felt untouched by time. By traveling on the Heritage Adventurer it made navigating the remote South Pacific islands possible in 17 days. The Secrets of Melanesia Trip is a perfect way to do South Pacific travel to the most remote islands. And it’s one of the only ways to see the world’s most fascinating cultures.


2023 Secrets of Melanesia Sailings

Secrets of Melanesia Itinerary
DEPARTURES 23 Oct 2023

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