Affordable Travel Guide to Oceania

A South Pacific Island Collection; Continent to Atolls

Oceania

It’s the place too far for many North Americans and Europeans who can more easily get sun, sand and surf in spots like the Caribbean or the Mediterranean. But one visit, and you’re hooked. Whether you tour the varied terrain and vastness of Australian destinations, or find a quiet lagoon on Tahiti, there is an innate magic and beauty to the countries that make up Oceania.

The World War I poet, Rupert Brooke, spent some time in Tahiti, and it is believed he fathered a child there before dying of an infected insect bite at the age of 27 while on military tour near Greece. In February 1914, at Papeete, Tahiti, in his poem “Tiare Tahiti”, Brooke wrote:

…Crown the hair, and come away!
Hear the calling of the moon,
And the whispering scents that stray
About the idle, warm lagoon.

It’s just a snippet from a longer piece of poetry, but it paints a picture in words of a place that was almost (but not quite) beyond Brooke’s comprehension as a young Englishman. Tahiti. The word sings on the tongue, like Fiji and Tuvalu. Brooke, like everyone who goes there (including famous French post-Impressionist artist, Paul Gauguin, who died in his beloved South Pacific islands at the age of 54 in 1903), fell in love with the place and its people.

Among the many Oceania nations and regions we will cover in detail, we are including:

  • Australia. A continent and a country, Australia (after the Poles) is the least populated continent. Most of its people live on its coasts on cities like Brisbane, Perth, and Melbourne; the capital is Canberra. Australia’s east coast is widely known for glittering modern cities, such as Surfers Paradise, and boasts some of the best surfing in the world. Just north, the Great Barrier Reef decorates the coastline. The center of Australia is desert.
  • Fiji. Fiji is an archipelago of more than 300 islands, two of which are larger and serve as home to Fiji’s nearly 1,000,000 people. It’s a popular stop-over for tourists who don’t want to fly non-stop between North America and Australia, but its tourism industry is also stand-alone.
  • French Polynesia (Tahiti and Bora Bora). The five main island groups that comprise French Polynesia are, accordingly, French and administered by France, albeit using a locally based government. The most famous of the islands are Bora Bora and Tahiti, the most populous and home to the capital Papeete. With miles of sandy beaches, blue lagoons and sun, these are indeed idyllic islands, and a huge tourist draw. Brooke, Gauguin and actor Marlon Brando were right; this is paradise.
  • Kiribati. Despite its spelling, the name of this island group with less than 100,000 residents, is spoken “Kiri-BASS”. Spaced out over a vast tract of ocean that straddles both the equator and the international dateline, the islands once included Tuvalu, now independent.
  • Marshall Islands. Now in the hands of the U.S.A., these 34 atolls once belonged to the Japanese. In particular, their Bikini Atoll and Eniwetok Atoll were contaminated by nuclear weapons testing by the U.S.A. in the years after World War II. While the islands are now independent and home to roughly 50,000, they still depend somewhat on the U.S.A. and have the American dollar as their currency.
  • Micronesia. Formally known as the Federated States of Micronesia, this is where much of the world’s tuna supply comes from. With a population of around 100,000, Micronesia is a 2,000-mile-long string of more than 600 islands, some volcanic, some atolls, with the largest island, Pohnpei situated at the far eastern end of the chain.
  • Nauru. With only eight square miles of land and about 10,000 inhabitants, this is a small country with a big surprise: some of the wealthiest people in the world live here. The island has been a major supplier of phosphate, mined from countless years of seabird droppings on the island. Seriously. You’ll see more Mercedes Benz cars here that almost anywhere else! Because of the island’s size and the, um, ubiquitous bird poop, food and water must be imported.
  • New Zealand. Populated by Polynesian Maoris until the mid 1800s when British and Europeans arrived, New Zealand is a relatively new country on the world map. With two main islands, North and South, its nearly 4 million people live mostly in cities like Christchurch and Wellington (the capital), both of which have a strong European flair. The land is arable, and the winemakers and kiwi growers are busy! This is also one of the world’s top places for lamb, but under those pastures are tectonic plates that cause trouble in the form of earthquakes.
  • Palau. A series of 200 islands, only eight of which are inhabited by a total population of about 15,000, Palau makes its living from the export of copra, the dried flesh of the coconut used in pressing oil. It’s obviously a place where you can relax among the coconut palms.
  • Papua New Guinea. One of our readers lived in Papua New Guinea for two years when he was working with CUSO many decades ago, and he found the people to be genuine, good and also more than a little witty. The island (Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of a larger island) is drenched in rainforests and mountains, just as its out-islands are. Its Bougainville Island is home to one of the largest copper mines in the world and is always in the midst of some sort of political/business struggle. Most of the main island area is farmed, and coffee is a major export crop.
  • Samoa. Formerly called Western Samoa, this island collection gained independence from New Zealand in the early 1960s. There are nine islands in this group, covered in rainforests, and they are exporters of bananas and coconuts. The roughly 60,000 inhabitants farm and fish, and are based mostly in a series of villages.
  • Solomon Islands. One of the oldest sets of occupied islands in the South Pacific, humans have lived here for 3,000 years, and humans have fought here, too. The Japanese and American forces in World War II fought viciously for control of Guadalcanal, the largest of the six main islands, with ancient volcanoes, in this group. A central area of ocean is littered with shipwrecks from those battles, home now to about 350,000 people who fish (tuna, primarily) and farm from village settlements.
  • Tonga. A monarchy for more than 1,000 years, Tonga is ruled now as a democracy. With more than 170 islands, there is a distinct difference between those in the north, which are volcanic, and those in the south which are largely atolls. Tongatapu is the capital and home to most of the islands’ 100,000 people.
  • Tuvalu. A tiny island collection of just nine small atolls, with less than 10 square miles and 9,000 residents, Tuvalu has one great claim to fame, and it’s among the world’s philatelists; it has arguably the most beautiful and collectible stamps of any nation. Copra (dried coconut meat) is its main export.
  • Vanuatu. Twelve main islands, one the seat of Port Vila, the capital, and 70 lesser ones comprise this group, which used to be known as the New Hebrides, and was ruled jointly by France and England. As such, English and French are still widely used here, one of the few places outside Canada for this form of bilingualism. With a population of about 250,000, Vanuatu is like many South Pacific islands; there is volcanic activity; visitors enjoy the natural fireworks at Mount Yasur.

Add to this list islands that are protectorates, or owned by other countries; these include: American Samoa (U.S.A.), Cocos Islands (Australia), Cook Islands (New Zealand), Guam (U.S.A.), New Caledonia (France), Mariana Islands (U.S.A.), Midway Islands (U.S.A.), Niue (New Zealand), Wallis & Futuna Islands (U.S.A.), Wake Island (U.S.A.), and Norfolk Island (Australia).

Affordable Travel will help you virtually explore these exotic smaller islands, as well as Australia and New Zealand before you make your decision about which ones you want to see in person. From Tahiti all inclusive resorts to Aussie outback adventure travel, we’ll show you what Oceania has to offer.

Explore Oceania

Tahiti & Bora Bora

Tahiti & Bora Bora

Tahiti. Bora Bora. Tempted?

More in Destinations

Caribbean

Caribbean

The Islands of the Caribbean
North America

North America

From Polar to Tropical, from Atlantic to Pacific
South America

South America

Endless Opportunities to Explore Extreme Diversity
UNESCO World Heritage Sites

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Destinations with Meaning; a Vacation of Learning