Vibrant blue waters lined with swaying palms, colorful mountains, volcanic landscapes, coral reefs bursting with life... the Pacific Ocean is teeming with treasures for the adventure traveler. The Pacific Islands comprise some 30,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean, with three main cultural areas: Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia.
Micronesia, meaning "small islands" consists of 607 volcanic islands in four island groups - Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae - located in the eastern half of the Pacific Ocean. They're roughly 3000 miles west of Hawaii and 1000 miles north of Papua New Guinea. The total land mass of the 607 islands is less than the size of an average US city, and many world maps don't even bother marking them. The islands have fertile soils, lush vegetation and abundant water. The only native land mammals are bats. There are also 200 species of birds, huge monitor lizards, and many insects. The plentiful marine life includes: corals, anemones, sponges, shellfish, turtles, porpoises and whales. The tropical climate is consistently warm, around 75 degrees.
The Solomon Islands are made up of more than 990 islands. The landscape is dominated by heaavily-forested mountains of volcanic origin. The highest peak is Mount Popomanaseu, near the south coast of Guadalcanal (7,648 feet). Many of the smaller islands are simply tiny atolls covered in sand and palm trees. In the past, the Solomon Islands were known for their headhunters. The climate is hot and humid.
Vanuatu is an archipelago of over 80 islands. The islands range in topography from towering volcanic cones to raised coral islands. There are wide beaches, reefs, rain forests and deep natural harbors. Vanuatu is the home to a rich Melanesian culture full of tradition, magic and ritual, where more than 100 different dialects are spoken and each tribal group has its own identity, customs and artwork. Unlike the Solomons, vast tracts of Vanuatu's forests have been preserved from commercial logging, mainly because the terrain is too rough. The forest includes giant banyan trees and kauri pines. Some of the more mountainous islands are cloaked in almost impenetrable forest from the shoreline to the highest peaks, and over 150 plant species of the more than 1000 so far identified are endemic. Coconut trees and plantations are common.
Fiji's population of 800,000+ is second only to Papua New Guinea in all the Pacific island countries. The population is almost evenly split between native Fijians and Indians who are the descendants of workers brought in by the British in the 1800's. Fiji's main islands, Vanua Levu and Viti Levu are volcanic and mountainous. Fiji has 30 peaks which exceed 3,000-feet. Processed sugar is Fiji's principal export.
Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoas, Tonga, Kiribati, and Cook Islands
Savai'i is the largest Polynesian island outside of Hawaii or New Zealand. Her you can view volcanic craters and lava tubes, go on rainforest canopy walks, witness dramatic blowholes, and enjoy traditional Polynesian villages. Independent Samoans are very tradition-oriented, very steeped in a complex set of social hierarchies, courtesies and customs that regulate their social, religious and political life. Samoan culture is based on fa'amatai, a system of government that has a chief, or matai, governing an entire aiga or extended family. Samoans these days are devout Christians. Religion is a big part of Samoan life. Dancing, singing and music play a big part in Samoan culture. Tattooing is a significant rite in Samoa. At age 12 or 13 Samoan males go to the tufuga, or tattooist, and get tattooed from waist to knee. The tattoos represent the strength of a man's heart and his spirituality.
Tonga's territory covers more than 170 islands, of which only 36 are inhabited. Three-quarters of all workers are farmers. In a traditional Tongan family, the eldest daughter (rather than the eldest son, as in many societies) receives the best of the family's resources. A father's eldest sister is the leader of the nuclear family in the highly organized extended family system. Tonga has seven officially protected areas, including five national marine parks and reserves, one national historic park, and the 'Eua National Park. Two species of iguana call Tonga home, as do several colonies of flying fox, large fruit bats that enjoy sacred status and protection on the islands.
The 15 Cook islands are divided into northern and southern clusters. The islands are named for Captain James Cook, who, in 1773, was the first European to land on them. Cook Islanders are New Zealand citizens. If there is one outstanding ability which appears to be shared by all Cook Islanders it is music and song. Close harmony singing is highly developed in church music and the power and emotional impact of chants and hymns at weddings and funerals is well known to visitors who attend.
Kiribati is the most widely spaced island nation on earth. Its 33 islands are strung out across almost 2 million square miles of the central and western Pacific Ocean. The highest point is on Banaba at a mere 265-feet. Most of the smaller islands and atolls stand only 10 - 15 feet above sea level and are at risk of disappearing forever if global warming results in a significant rise in world sea levels. Traditional customs and beliefs still survive, which is not surprising for a people who have lived so closely to a force as mysterious as the sea for so long. Belief in the power of magic and the existence of ghosts (anti) is widespread, and small shrines are common in the bush. The clan is the basic building block of society, and authority throughout the islands is invested in the maneaba (meeting house), councils of elderly men who are leaders of a clan.
French Polynesia is known for its spectacular nature, razor-sharp mountaintops, stunning turquioise lagoons, beautiful flowers and underwater paradise. French Polynesia comprises 130 islands scattered in five groups across a vast area of the South Pacific. On the low coral atolls, pearl diving is still an important activity. Tahiti, in the Society Islands is the largest island in the group. Pitcairn Island is famous mainly as the final destination of the mutineers from Captain Bligh's HMS Bounty.