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South Pacific: A Cruising Guide

Destination Reviews

As the largest ocean on Earth, covering some 60 million square miles, the Pacific is almost unfathomable in its vastness. Far from being an empty expanse however, there are hundreds of beautiful islands just waiting to be explored, particularly in the Southern Pacific region, and many are still sheltered from the effects of mass tourism. A small-ship cruise is the perfect way to discover these remote outposts and after your first visit, you will find yourself longing to return...

Many cruises visiting the South Pacific focus on French Polynesia and often voyages will begin and end in the capital, Papeete, on the most populous island of Tahiti. Cruise lines such as Windstar Cruises and Paul Gauguin Cruises operate ships here year-round, sailing 7-night voyages focusing purely on the Society Islands.

You will visit the verdant isle of Mo'orea where you can hike the rugged landscape and enjoy an overnight on the postcard-worthy shores of Bora Bora, your view here punctuated by the towering dormant volcano Mount Otemanu and the surrounding turquoise lagoon. Other cruise lines may position here for a season, such as Silversea's Silver Whisper which takes up residency from April to September 2026.

South Pacific Cruising Guide

Longer voyages venture to the island groups beyond, still part of French Polynesia, including the idyllic Tuamotus. Here, enjoy visits to the diver's paradise atolls of Rangiroa, comprised of mere brush strokes on the map, and Fakarava, designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, both home to coral atolls and spectacular reefs.

Widen the net further still and visit the remote Marquesas, nearly 1500km from Tahiti and boasting volcanic peaks, black sand beaches and incredible archaeological sites. These islands display a fascinating ancestral culture, and when meeting the locals, you will learn about the history of the ancient civilisations that came before and how this influences the traditions, beliefs, and culture of today's inhabitants.

South Pacific Cruising Guide

Moving away from French Polynesia, your South Pacific adventure might take you west to the beautiful Cook Islands, named after British Captain James Cook, who visited in the 1700s. Your voyage will likely explore the main island of Rarotonga, a lush paradise with a dense rainforest interior and surrounded by a fringing reef, creating a protected lagoon teeming with colourful fish.

For the ultimate in endless shades of blue, you might even call to Aitutaki, home to a simply stunning turquoise lagoon that is what deserted island dreams are made of: powder white sand, swaying palms, and crystal-clear water.

South Pacific Cruising Guide

Sailing westward still, you'll encounter the Kingdom of Tonga, comprising over 170 islands - fewer than a quarter of which are inhabited.

The main island of Tongatapu is a popular call, home of the capital Nuku'Alofa and the Royal Palace, or you may visit Vava'u, the northernmost island group of Tonga and a region popular for sailing. Migrating humpback whales frequent the islands from July to October and on land you might spot some of the native birdlife such as the Tongan megapode or whistler.

South Pacific Cruising Guide

Across the boundary from Polynesia and into Melanesia, the islands of Fiji await with their friendly locals, underwater treasures, and adventure activities. The main island of Viti Levu is the most populous and offers attractive colonial buildings and bustling markets in the capital city of Suva.

Alternatively, you may visit the nearby Beqa Island whose inhabitants take part in the ancestral tradition of firewalking, or the remote Lau Islands with their rocky outcrops rising from the sea and incredible snorkelling and dive spots.

South Pacific Cruising Guide

You may follow a route taking in New Caledonia, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea with the opportunity to immerse in the culture and landscapes of these lesser-visited isles, particularly on expedition cruises with operators such as Seabourn and Ponant.

The largest island of Vanuatu, Espiritu Santo, is home to the idyllic Champagne Beach, or you may visit Pentecost Island, famous for the land-diving ritual by the local male population, but also home to incredible pristine wilderness and communities who are eager to share their traditional way of life. The Solomon Islands will take your breath away with incredible underwater biodiversity, featuring almost 500 species of coral and a collection of wrecks from World War II which certified divers can explore.

South Pacific Cruising Guide

Cruise itineraries can offer surprising variety in the South Pacific so whether you're looking to tick off the bucket list, discover unique flora and fauna or explore off the beaten track, you're sure to find a vibrant voyage to tempt you.

Meet the author

Louise is Marketing Executive at Mundy Cruising, having worked with the company for nearly a year and in travel for over 8 years. Most recently she's cruised on Explora Journeys and has also sailed with Crystal Cruises, Paul Gauguin Cruises, Seabourn, Ponant and Uniworld. Her favourite destination is New Zealand however she's also enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean, Pacific Islands, Norwegian Fjords, Indian Ocean and South Africa. When she’s not travelling she loves cooking and trying new restaurants.

More about Louise

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