When you think of the mythical islands of the South Pacific, you probably think of clear blue water, palm trees, white-sand beaches, and sunny days. Some of the most beautiful islands in the world are in this area, but each has something different to offer.
Polynesian island chains like Samoa, the Cook Islands, and French Polynesia have beautiful blue lagoons, coral reefs full of fish, and beaches with sand that feels like silk.
Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and New Caledonia are Melanesian Island chains with similar natural beauty but different cultures. Above and below the water, the landscape of Palau is beautiful, and cultural and archaeological sites are a big draw in places like mysterious Easter Island.
From some of the best islands in Fiji to eco-friendly spots in Australia, our list of the best islands in the South Pacific has something for everyone.
01. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Bora Bora is the most beautiful place in the South Pacific. It is covered in green and has a turquoise lagoon that looks too bright to be real. When seen from a distance, the lush peaks of Mount Otemanu and Mount Pahia stick out of the water as if to welcome you into their alluring arms.
There are both land and sea adventures here. You can take a cruise to see the lagoon and its small islands, called “Motus,” where you can often snorkel with sharks and rays. You can also hike a network of trails up jungly hillsides to see the beauty. Finish it with French-style resorts and food that will make your mouth water.
Are you looking for the best place to go on your honeymoon? The Fancy Four Seasons Bora Bora and the InterContinental Resort & Thalasso Spa have the island’s famous overwater bungalows right on the beautiful lagoon.
Moorea, the sister island of Bora Bora, is worth mentioning because it also has a beautiful lagoon, stretches of white-sand beach, and soaring emerald peaks.
Samoa is one of the best-kept South Pacific secrets. It is quiet, clean, and stunningly beautiful in the middle of Polynesia. This lovely group of 10 tropical islands is halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii on a map of the South Pacific islands.
Samoa was formed when a volcano erupted dramatically, making rough rock islands and sharp peaks. The hillsides are covered with thick jungles, waterfalls drop down cliffs, and coral reefs surround the islands.
The people of Samoa, called “Fa’a Samoa,” are also amiable and still strongly believe in their traditional values and customs.
The two biggest islands are Savai’i and Upolu. Most visitors stay on Upolu, where the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum is located in the capital, Apia. But Savai’i has a quiet South Seas charm all its own.
Some of the best things to do in the water in Samoa are snorkeling and diving on the coral reefs along the coast, game fishing, swimming, and kayaking. Surfing is also great, but more experienced surfers should avoid it due to the coral reefs.
On land, you can relax on Lalomanu Beach, hike through the rainforest, take a 4WD or bicycle tour, or take pictures of some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the South Pacific.
Don’t miss the chance to swim in the To Sua trench, which is about an hour and a half drive from Apia. This 30-meter-deep crater filled with seawater is surrounded by beautiful gardens and is featured on postcards and tourist guides for Samoa.
03. Moorea, French Polynesia
Moorea is a grand island to visit in French Polynesia. Moorea is part of the Winward archipelago, which includes Tahiti, the country’s capital.
Moorea is not one of the most famous Polynesian islands to visit, making it an excellent choice for all travelers. But Moorea is just as beautiful as other well-known islands because it is surrounded by clear water and has lots of green plants on the land.
Moorea has many places to stay, from luxurious resorts with water bungalows to simple bed and breakfasts.
Moorea has many things to do, from jet skiing and diving to amazing hikes in the interior. Around the island, there is a lot of wildlife; from the middle of July to the center of November, you can see dolphins and whales.
You can eat at your beautiful resort with a view or try out different foods in the local markets. Raw fish, or “poisson cru,” is a typical dish in Moorea and the rest of French Polynesia. They also have a lot of strange fruits. People also often have picnics on the beach (they are French, after all).
The Manava Beach Resort & Spa is a great place to stay in Moorea. The location is beautiful, between the lagoon and the mountains, and the people who work there are very nice.
Palau is a great place to go scuba diving for a good reason. From the air, Palau’s more than 500 islands look like a maze of jungle-covered blobs sticking out of the water. Below their clear turquoise waters is a fish-filled paradise.
Hard and soft corals come in many colors, and turtles, sharks, sea snakes, giant clams, and rays live in and around them. Palau is also known for diving on WWII wrecks and the Big Drop-Off, or Ngemelis Wall, which is said to be one of the best wall dives in the world.
Even though the underwater scenery is the main draw, the islands also have a lot to offer on land. More than three-quarters of the land is covered in native forest and mangroves, and you can hike to waterfalls and Polynesian stone monuments.
Koror is the main town for business in Palau. It is also home to a few museums and WWII memorials.
One of the best things to do in Palau is to take a boat ride to the Rock Islands, where you can snorkel in crystal-clear water, paddle around them in sea kayaks, and relax on their thin strips of white sand beach.
05. Lord Howe Island, Australia
Lord Howe Island is a World Heritage site, which means that only a certain number of people are allowed to land on its unspoiled shores. This is just one of the many things that make it so unique. This ring of high sea cliffs and small islands was once part of a volcano. It is about 660 kilometers from the north coast of New South Wales, Australia.
Almost two-thirds of the island is now protected, making it a paradise for people who love nature. You can relax on its beautiful white-sand beaches, snorkel, swim, and feed the colorful fish at Ned’s Beach, hike in the pandanus- and palm-covered forests, and if you love bird watching, you can see a fantastic variety of species.
On Lord Howe Island, one of the most popular things to do on land is a hike up 875-meter Mt. Gower for amazing views or climb the slopes to Malabar Hill or Kim’s Lookout.
Elizabeth Reef is the world’s most southern coral reef, where you can dive and snorkel, deep-sea fish, or sea kayak.
The best way to get around here is on a bicycle, and the fact that cell phones might not work is seen as a blessing by most people who come.
It takes less than two hours from Brisbane or Sydney to fly to Lord Howe Island.
06. Fiji, Melanesia
Welcome to the country with the happiest people. Fiji is as close to paradise as you can get, with its palm-lined beaches, clear blue waters, and thick jungles. It has over 300 islands, but only about 100 are permanently inhabited. It also has around 500 islets. Even though they are all beautiful, the Mamanuca group and Yasawas are the ones you must see.
The Mamanucas are a string of about 30 small islands that are almost perfect. They are right off the coast of Nadi, which is Fiji’s central transportation hub. Most of them are only an hour or so by boat from Viti Levu, the main island, so going to any of them is a great way to spend a day. Surfers who want to try Cloudbreak will go straight to Tavarua, an island resort that looks like a heart, and stay there. This tropical reef break, surrounded by a group of volcanic islands, has some of the best waves in the world.
Head north of the Mamanucas to the Yasawas, a long, thin chain of 15 volcanoes that are quieter but just as exciting. The high-speed catamaran makes it easy to get to Yasawas. The Sawa-i-Lau and its limestone caves are two of the best things to see. Check out the ancient carvings and paintings on the walls of the beautiful limestone caves and swim in the natural pool. Cave diving could be fun for those who like to take risks. Before getting to the inner limestone cavern, which the guides call the “heart of the Yasawa,” you must swim through an underwater passage.
People who like hiking, watching birds, and being in nature will love Taveuni. The third-largest island in Fiji is often called “The Garden Island” because it has jungles that are so thick and green. The Bouma National Heritage Park is a 150-square-kilometer protected rainforest with many animals. It is a big draw. Make a side trip to the Lavena Coastal Walk, close by.
First, you’ll walk along the edge of a forest. Then, you’ll go to beaches with white sand and dramatic volcanic black sand. Finally, you’ll reach a beautiful waterfall, a great place to swim under and cool off. Don’t forget to visit the Rainbow Reef, which you can also get to from Taveuni. Jump into the water and be amazed by the soft, brightly colored reefs covering the bottom.
The island of Kadavu is a great place to go if you want to get away from everyone and be alone. There aren’t many roads, so it’s a long way from the tourist trail, but it’s easy to get to Viti Levu, the main island. Stay at eco-resorts and help the villagers grow food by working with them. It’s a great way to learn about the culture of the area. Fijians are known for their friendliness and hospitality, and wherever you go, you’ll be greeted with a friendly “Bula!” from a smiling local.
07. Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia
The world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island, is one of the unique island experiences you can have in Australia. Fraser Island is like being in another world, with its beautiful wild beaches, clear freshwater lakes, substantial wooded dunes, and incredible wildlife.
This UNESCO-listed site is 120 km long and has tall rainforests growing on dunes, colored sands that have been shaped, and half of the world’s perched lakes, which are depressions in dunes that always fill with rainwater. The island is also one of the best places to see the annual migration of thousands of humpback whales. Plan your trip between August and November, whale watching season, and check out the August Whale Festival. If you’re lucky, you might see whales “breaching” when they jump out of the water and spray water as they exhale. You might also see baby humpback whales playing in the water with their mothers.
Plus, this is your chance to catch one of the most famous animals in Australia. Fraser Island has the purest dingoes left in eastern Australia, so if you’ve ever wanted to see a wild dingo in its natural habitat, this is the place to go.
08. Isle of Pines, New Caledonia
Captain Cook gave this island in New Caledonia its name because of the thin pine trees that stand guard along its white beaches. It is now one of the most popular places for tourists to visit in this French overseas territory.
Isle of Pines (Île des Pins) is probably best known for its pretty bays surrounded by pine trees and soft white-sand beaches washed by bright blue water. Offshore, cute rock islets topped with green plants add to the area’s beauty.
At Kanumera Bay and Kuto Bay, people swim, snorkel, and layout in the sun. Stand-up paddleboarding, glass-bottom boat tours, and exploring the island’s caves are popular things to do there. Piscine Naturelle is not far from Oro Bay, a natural seawater swimming pool where you can swim and snorkel with schools of tropical fish. Up Bay has beautiful rock formations that look like mushrooms.
Noumea, the French-style capital of New Caledonia, is 30 minutes away by plane or 2.5 hours by boat from the Isle of Pines. Sydney is about a 2.5-hour flight from New Caledonia.
09. Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Chile
Easter Island (Rapa Nui in Polynesian, Isla de Pascua in Spanish), one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands, has a rough, mysterious beauty. This popular ecotourism spot is in Chile, but it is more than 3,700 kilometres to the east in the southeastern Pacific Ocean and feels very Polynesian.
The island’s landscape is mainly made up of the grassy tops of volcanoes that are no longer active, which ripple against a background of bright blue water. This is where many of the archaeological and natural attractions are, like caves, volcanoes, hiking trails, ceremonial sites, and some of the island’s 887 moai, which are its most prominent feature. Rapa Nui National Park, on the World Heritage list, protects most of the island.
The Rapa Nui people made the moai, which are colossal stone statues, between the 10th and 16th centuries. They tower over beautiful, stark landscapes. People often ride bikes, hike, and ride horses to get around the island.
Anakena Beach is a pretty bay with a half-moon slice of white sand and groves of thin coconut palms. If you need a beach fix, you can relax there. You can also go trekking, diving, snorkelling, and surfing on the strong waves of the island.
10. Aitutaki, The Cook Islands
Aitutaki is a hidden gem that rules over one of the most beautiful lagoons in the South Pacific. The Cook Islands are in the middle of French Polynesia and Samoa. They are close to New Zealand.
Aitutaki is the second most visited island in the group. It is about 45 minutes by plane from Rarotonga, the most famous island and where the international airport is located.
At its most northern end, the island of Aitutaki hooks around the beautiful Aitutaki lagoon, one of the best places to visit in the Cook Islands. Schools of trevally and other tropical fish swim through the shallows. You can paddle out with a picnic and pretend for the day that you are Robinson Crusoe. Some resorts are only a kayak ride away from uninhabited islets in the clear water.
Even though the island has several high-end resorts, like the Pacific Resort Aitutaki and the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort & Spa, it still has a laid-back, traditional feel, with friendly people and a slow pace of life. Best of all, the Cook Islands are one of the least expensive Pacific islands to visit if you stay in a simple place.