South Pacific islands: Five lesser-known dream destinations

Dreaming of an island idyll but hanging the expense no longer an option? Craig Tansley suggests some peaceful Pacific choices away from the jet set.

HAUHINE, FRENCH POLYNESIA

It's so close to Bora Bora – just 81 kilometres – and the prices are much cheaper, yet few tourists go. Huahine has a population of just 6000 and little development. While there are over-water bungalows at Royal Huahine Resort, where you can jump into the lagoon from your back deck, it is a little dated and prices start at just $200 a night. 

In other ways, Huahine is a carbon copy of Bora Bora: mountains drop onto white beaches and a lagoon surrounded by reef. Hire a moped or jeep and explore the two islands, Huahine Nui and Iti, connected by a bridge. There are four-wheel-drive and kayak tours, sailing charters, surf breaks and one of the Pacific's best sunset bars: Huahine Yacht Club.

AITUTAKI, COOK ISLANDS

While these days Bora Bora attracts the Hollywood set, they used to visit Aitutaki. In the 1950s, Tinseltown's biggest stars would touch down on flying boats to stretch their legs on the luxurious Coral Route. 

Aitutaki's lagoon is its superstar. At 74 square kilometres, it's nearly three times larger than the island and boasts 15 islets, with an eco resort on one. Forty minutes from Rarotonga by plane, Aitutaki has a mix of high-end honeymoon haunts, such as the Pacific Resort, and family-run guesthouses. In short, all the luxury of Bora Bora, but on an intimate scale. 

TANNA, VANUATU

It might come as a surprise to those who've never been past the capital, Port Vila, but Vanuatu offers untold adventures only minutes away by plane. And of its 83 islands, Tanna is the most exotic. 

A primitive island dominated by ancient culture and bizarre cargo cults like the John Frum tribe, who worship an American World War II army deserter, Tanna's coastline is protected, there's some of the best snorkelling and diving in the Pacific, and you can swim to underwater caves and discover waterfalls in rainforests. It's also home to the world's most accessible live volcano, Mount Yasur. Drive to the edge and watch lumps of dry lava the size of small cars fly above your head. 

SAVAI'I, SAMOA

How Savai'i stays off South Pacific travel itineraries is anyone's guess.  Its inhabitants live in quiet villages ruled by chiefs following fa'a Samoa (the "Samoan way") and it's so safe (and warm) that the locals build their houses without walls. Just one road circles the island, following a coastline of cliffs metres from the lagoon. Some of the Pacific's best diving, fishing and surfing is here, as well as waterfalls and rainforest. And it's home to one of Polynesia's most underrated luxury resorts, Le Lagoto Resort & Spa. 

MARE, NEW CALEDONIA

This is the South Pacific's best-kept secret, with the world's biggest lagoon. Mare's guidebook warns the few hundred travellers a year who come to allow for irregular service at their accommodation as workers are often away fishing or farming family plots.

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Yet it's easy to get there via a three-hour flight to Noumea and a further 45 minutes to Mare. While diving and snorkelling are its main attractions, you can also explore the island's rugged interior, honeycombed with grottos and inland pools. 

Accommodation is simple and restaurants are beachside huts, but you'll be fussed over endlessly by friendly locals, and lobster platters are available for next to nothing. 

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale August 9.

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