South Pacific Islands: A timeless Serenity1996015053 island of palm trees 1996

Picture this scene.  You’re strolling along a beach with grains of sand that are as pure and white as salt.  There’s not a soul to be seen for miles along the beach as the warm sea laps around your toes.  You admire the sparkle of the endless cyan blue waters.  A warm breeze shifts through the leaves of palm trees that arch above you.  It seems like an imaginary scene from Castaway or the Bounty, but this is real, you’re actually pinching yourself awake because the setting is so heavenly.  You have arrived in paradise on earth, the islands of the South Pacific.  Your only thoughts are ones of complete calm and purity.

How does one arrive in such a destination?  Well at least these days it’s easier for us than Captain Cook who spent months at sea.  When booking a round-the-world trip many people select the main continents they want to visit, not realising the islands of the South Pacific even exist, since they appear as such minuscule dots on a map.  If journeying in either direction between Australasia and North America, some airlines will offer you at little or no extra cost a stopover or two in the South Pacific.  Your choices are all relatively low-commercial island chains ranging from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, through to Tahiti in French Polynesia.  On my own round-the-world trip I managed several of the latter.  It doesn’t matter which set of islands you choose, I guarantee you will not be disappointed with any of them.  Once you’ve actually flown into these destinations, all forms of modern technology then take a backseat.  It’s over more towards the simplicities of Captain Cook’s era.

In Fiji I spent some time at a surf shack on the main island of Viti Levu.  For a couple of weeks I chose to mix with a blend of local Fijians and fellow independent travellers, mostly but not all, mad keen surfer dudes.  I discovered the locals to be the friendliest people I’d ever met, and that’s having already travelled halfway around the world through two other continents.  I spent my mornings floundering with a surfboard in monstrous six-foot tall waves.  I later learnt that in fact Fiji hosts world class surf competitions so “wiping out” didn’t seem so shameful after all.  The heat of the afternoon lent itself to a siesta lying under a palm tree.  My biggest worry was watching out for falling coconuts.  Some afternoons I played the popular Fijian pastime of beach volleyball.  A fitting ending to every day was escaping alone atop a sand dune to take in a radiant South Pacific sunset.  I can assure you it’s unforgettable.  Watching the magnified golden sun sink beneath a great thunderhead cloud leaves you speechless.  The greatest thing about Fiji is there’s not just one island but three hundred islands to choose from, to suit whether you’re a backpacker on a budget or a millionaire.  Personally though, what became strikingly obvious to me was “who needs wealth and mod cons when the natural setting itself is so beautiful”.

I flew onwards into the middle of the South Pacific to little known, but increasingly popular Rarotonga.  Although it’s the largest of the Cook Islands it’s just six miles long and four miles wide.  The main road around the island can be cycled in a little over an hour.  You can enjoy playing the sloth once again but if you’re feeling active then take on a scuba diving course perhaps, since Rarotonga is completely surrounded by impressive coral reefs.  Alternatively, try the cross-island jungle trek.  Although its such a small island you can surprisingly still get lost (I must confess!)  However, when you do find your way out of the undergrowth there is a glorious waterfall and rock pool to cool off in.  My abiding memories of the Cook Islands were not just the aesthetics, but also the charm of the people.  Whilst taking a Sunday morning stroll I passed by a church.  I was blessed with hearing the perfect harmony of a Polynesian choir in full voice.  I stood still, paused, listened and stared out to the ocean, wishing time would stand still.  At least Tahiti in French Polynesia still awaited me.  Oh well