Most people are not at all familiar with the geography of the Pacific. As far as they are concerned, there is just a giant ocean between California and Japan with only Hawaii in between. You might have heard of a few other places from WWII documentaries, but for the most part, the countries are unknown and no one knows where they are.
When I decided to travel around the world, the first place I went was the Pacific. I’ve always had a fascination with small countries and the Pacific has them in spades. I discovered the Pacific to be one of the most wonderful, and under-explored, places on Earth to travel. While they are not easy to visit, it is a memorable experience for any traveler. Here are some of my favorite islands:
Big Island of Hawaii
The Big Island isn’t a top tourist attraction in Hawaii. It lacks the lush vegetation and white sand beaches of islands such as Maui, Kauai, or Oahu. You also won’t find as many resorts and large hotels catering to tourists. What it lacks in the stereotypical postcard images of Hawaii it more than makes up in adventure and diversity. The Big Island is larger than all the other islands in Hawaii combined. In fact, Kilauea is creating about 55,000 dump trucks full of new Hawaii every day by pouring lava into the sea. If you are lucky, you can see flowing lava on the surface during your visit. In addition to the volcanoes, the Big Island sports almost every type of environmental zone on Earth, from desert to rainforest, and grasslands to tundra. The tundra is on the top of Mauna Kea, the highest point in the Pacific and home to the largest telescopes in the world: Keck 1 and 2. You can find stunning waterfalls, dramatic sea shores, and even a beach made of green sand.
Rarotonga has one of the best lagoons I’ve seen. It is a very peaceful island with about 8,000 inhabitants. There are no ultra-high-end resorts on the island and a few hostels. There are two buses that you can use for transportaion: clockwise and anti-clockwise. The best bet for getting around is to rent a scooter during your stay. They require you to get a Cook Islands driver’s license for about $10, which makes for an interesting souvenir. There are regular flights to Rarotonga from Auckland and Los Angeles, as well as smaller flights from Tahiti. I got my first tattoo in Rarotonga.
Formerly known as Western Samoa, Samoa consists of the islands of Upolu and Savai’i. Like with the Cook Islands, there are flights from Auckland to Los Angeles which stop in Samoa and Tonga each week. There are also flights from Fiji and American Samoa. In the capital of Apia you can find some guesthouses with dorm rooms, but the real affordable places for backpackers are the beach fales on Savai’i. You can get a private beach fale (Samoan bungalow) and three meals for about $20/day. Samoans are some of the most religious people you will ever find, with each village sporting several Christian churches. Fa’Samoa (the Samoan way) is very laid back and peaceful, but you don’t want to mess with Samoans on the rugby field!
Palau is one of the smallest countries in the world with only 20,000 citizens. Yet, it has over 18 states, all of which have their own license plates. Palau has the some of the best diving in the world in the rock island of Korror. What Palau is perhaps most famous for is the Jellyfish Lake. In the middle of some of the rock islands are salt water lakes connected to the ocean through fissures in the rock. Thousands of years ago jellyfish were caught in the lakes and evolved away their stingers due to a lack of predators. Today you can swim with the jellyfish and they are totally harmless! Check out my video from the jellyfish lake.
If there is one place I’d describe as a hidden travel destination, it would be Micronesia, in particular the island of Pohnpei. It is a very difficult place to get to. The only flights are between Hawaii and Guam. It is probably the most beautiful island I’ve ever been to and is the home of one of the best, unknown ancient ruins in the world: Nan Modal. I describe Nan Modal as a cross between Macchu Picchu and Venice. It is made of stone with canals between all the structures. Aside from the history and mystery of Nan Modal, Pohnpei is just flat-out beautiful. The tropical fruit, flowers, the lagoon and the people make it a truly wonderful place.
The most remote speck of land on Earth, Easter Island was the furthest eastward advance of Polynesian culture. Easter Island (a.k.a. Rapa Nui) is the home of the famous stone head statues, or maoi. There are only two ways to get to Easter Island: fly from Tahiti or Santiago, Chile. A trip to Easter Island is a commitment of several days given the flight schedules. Given its location and the ocean currents in the South Pacific, the island is much cooler with more wind and rain than other island at the same latitude.