MCSP SOUTH PACIFIC EXPLORER

SEARCH TOUR

Guam, Palau, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Island, Fiji & New Caledonia

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS:

Palau - boat trip through the Rock Islands. One of the crown jewels of Micronesia and a UNESCO protected region Samoa - Savai'i island exploration - waterfalls, caves, blowholes and rainforests New Caledonia - exploring the many villages and experiencing true 'cultural immersion' Solomon Islands - experience the diversity of the Pacific cultures

Full Itinerary


Day 1 Arrive in Guam
Each South Pacific island group has its own history, culture, language, geography, and geology. That is the nature of such a far-flung region, where hundreds or thousands of miles separate one island from the next. On the other hand, the islands have many things in common. Their indigenous peoples are descended from ethnic groups who migrated here several millennia ago. Many of their traditions and customs are the same, but with local quirks that have developed over the eons. Nowhere are the local variations as evident as in the Polynesian languages!

Due to colonial neglect and historical isolation, the Pacific Islands, home to the world's most diverse range of indigenous cultures, continue to sustain many ancestral ways of life. Fewer than 6.5 million in all, the peoples of Oceania possess a vast repository of cultural traditions and ecological adaptations.

Oceania is a vast, arbitrarily defined expanse of the world where the Pacific Ocean -- rather than land borders -- connects the nations. Its diverse nations have some of the worlds most remote and culturally isolated villages. One of the most memorable aspects of our travels to the South Pacific will be the fascinating encounters we will have with the cultures and traditions of the people in this beautiful region. In this part of the world, ancient cultures are still very much alive and are accessible for visitors to discover.

** Some itinerary modifications may occur closer to the departure date due to flight routing and schedule changes. Access to most islands is restricted by flight schedules (sometimes just 1-2 flights per week). This may of course impact the itinerary. The order of islands visited may change, and the number of nights on each island may have to be adjusted. We may lose 1 night on one island and gain a night on the other. Also, please pack light as domestic flights only allow for 15kg of checked luggage.

Overnight in Tumon, Guam.
Meal plan: dinner

Day 2 Guam: Island Tour
Guam is not only the largest island in Micronesia, but it is the largest and southernmost island in the Mariana Islands archipelago. The is a vibrant tropical paradise in the middle of the Pacific, and away from the beaches one finds a melting pot of Asian, European, Pacific Rim and American cultures.

First discovered by people from southeastern Indonesia around 2000 BC, most of what is known about pre-contact settlement comes from legends, archaeological evidence, missionary accounts, and observations from visiting scientists. With its strategic location in the Pacific Ocean, this territory of the United States has been claimed and conquered by many different nations throughout its long history. Ferdinand Magellan passed through here in 1521! Guam was then claimed for Spain in 1565, and then later colonized by the Spanish beginning in 1668 as the island was in perfect position to become a resting place for Spanish traders.

Considered as the gateway to the crossroads of Asia and North America, Guam has emerged as the bustling hub of the western Pacific. The island offers rugged natural beauty, rich and colorful cultural history, and unbelievable vistas. Scattered around the island are reminders of the ancient Chamorro who flourished in the Mariana archipelago for centuries before the arrival of Europeans.

Our sightseeing today will focus on the central and northern regions of the island. The Tumon Bay area, with its white sandy beach and crystal blue waters, is located on the northwest coast of Guam. Hundreds of years before the tourism industry found its way to Tumon, ancient Chamorros enjoyed the shore and waters of the bay. Historical records show that there were settlements at both ends of the bay. Almost entirely enclosed by a fringing reef, the shallow waters of the bay are home to a large variety of marine life and recognized as a protected marine preserve.

Our sightseeing takes us north to Puntan Dos Amantes (Two Lovers Point). Here towers the sheer 400-foot white limestone cliff named after a local Chamorro legend. The cliff offers a panoramic view of the west coast and the Philippine Sea. An unspoiled jewel of natural beauty, Ritidian Point lies on the northernmost tip of Guam. Once a restricted military area, the 'Point' with its pristine sandy beaches is now accessible to the public and is the site of the Guam National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1993, this 832-acre refuge includes a native limestone forest that is home to the endangered Marianas fruit bat.

Volcanic activity and uplift raised Guam more than 7 miles from the depths of the Mariana Trench. Millions of years of coral growth and changing sea levels transformed an ancient barrier reef into dramatic 500-foot limestone cliffs fringed by coral forests and beaches. At the northeast corner of the island is Mount Santa Rosa, northern Guam's highest point. This extinct volcano can be identified by the dome-shaped structure that sits atop its peak.

Today we will also visit the South Pacific Memorial Park. This was a main battlefield area during the pacific war, and the Memorial Park commemorates those killed in WWII.

In the afternoon we will continue to Hagatna, Guam's capital. Centrally located, this is a scenic village that offers a variety of cultural, historical, and religious sites. Spain ruled the islands for 333 years and Hagatna has many historic buildings dating from this era. One of the only spots above Hagatna with an unobstructed view of north-central Guam and the surrounding waters is Fort Apugan, known locally as Fort Santa Agueda. The fort is the sole survivor of Spanish era forts in Hagatna. Our sightseeing will include a visit to Latte Stone Park. Latte stone are pillars are believed to have provided the support to ancient Chamorro houses built as early as 500 AD. Unique to the Marianas, they comprise two pieces: a halagi, or supporting column made from coral limestone; and a capstone, known as a tasa, made from coral heads. The bones and important possessions of the ancient Chamorros were buried beneath the stones and remain untouched.

At the end of our day we will return to our hotel in Tumon.

Overnight in Tumon, Guam.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 3 Guam: Island Touring - Fly to Koror, Palau
Today we will travel from the heart of Guam through the picturesque southern regions of the island. Being mostly rural, this is one of the most untouched and undeveloped areas on the island, and the Chamorro culture is well preserved here.

We will start with a visit to the War in the Pacific National Historical Park, the location of several WWII battle sites and a museum. Overlooking Apra Harbour is Orote Point, the location of one of the first recorded sites of human settlement in the Mariana Islands. Archaeologists calculate that over 3,500 years ago, people used Orote Point for subsistence living. In 1944, Apaca Point was witness to the American liberation of Guam. Fort Soledad (Nuestra Senora de la Soledad), on the southern tip of Umatac, was one of the last forts built by the Spanish in support of the 19th century Galleon trade. The fort protected a trade route between the Philippines and Mexico, and from its cliff-top location there is a commanding view of the Bay.

We will enjoy many panorama views of the grassy hills, deep jungle ravines, and miles of coastline that make up the Territorial Seashore Park. Historical points are numerous and include ancient Chamorro village sites and Spanish ruins. Located at the south of the Pago River, Pago Bay was once home to a Spanish settlement, and is considered to be one of the most picturesque bays on Guam.

The 'Underwater Observatory' at Fish Eye Park is the only underwater observatory in Micronesia. Located in the center of the famous "Piti Bomb Hole", the observatory structure and pier provides a special habitat for fish and other marine life. A boardwalk that leads from the shore crosses a portion of the spectacular bay, and once at the observatory the 360-degree upper deck allows us to enjoy views of the ocean, the coral reefs, and the outer barrier reef. The lower deck takes us beneath the sea where we can view the ocean world and see Piti's amazing marine life and underwater coral gardens.

We later return to Tumon and then this evening we fly to Koror, Palau.

The Palau Islands are an archipelago composed of about 350 islands and atolls having an area of approximately 160 square miles. All of the islands except two small atolls to the north and the islands of Angaur and Peleliu to the southwest are enclosed within the barrier or fringing reef. These islands are located at a crossroads where the Pacific Ocean meets the Philippine Sea, creating one of the worlds' richest zones of tropical marine bio-diversity. Chosen by National Geographic Society as the first ‘Underwater Wonder of the World’ Palau was also featured on Discovery Channels "Living Edens" series as one of the worlds last living "Edens". This island group is home to one of the highest number of species not found anywhere else in the world. The main island of Babeldaob is the second largest landmass in Micronesia (after Guam) and is recognized as one of the largest undisturbed tropical rainforests in Micronesia.

Palau's early history is still largely veiled in mystery. Why, how or when people first arrived is unknown, but studies indicate that today's Palauans are distant relatives of the Malays of Indonesia, Melanesians of New Guinea and Polynesians. Today Palauans identify strongly with their traditional culture, and the most noticeable aspect of Palauan culture is the people's connection with the sea.

Overnight in Koror, Palau.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch

Day 4 Palau: Island Touring
Located to the east of the Philippines, the tiny island nation of Palau represents just a speck in the Pacific Ocean. With a population of just over 20,000, this is one of the least populated nations in the world. Having become an independent nation in 1994, Palau's recent status as a country does little to reflect its rich cultural history. Despite being discovered by the English in the late 18th century, there is evidence to suggest that indigenous inhabitants have been on the island for around 4,500 years.

Today we will spend today exploring the island of Babeldaob, Palau's largest island, and often called the "Big Island". This is a truly mysterious place that appears physically impenetrable for the most part and shields enigmatic monoliths whose origin and purpose is unknown. The east coast has beautiful stretches of sandy beach, while the west coast has a largely mangrove-studded shoreline. Ancient stone footpaths connect many villages, there are no traffic lights, and resort hotels are a world away. Archaeological highlights include the Stone Faces (Badrulchau) of Ngerchelong, the ancient Stone Monoliths, and the mysterious terraced hillsides found in various locations around Babeldaob. We will also visit a traditional Bai (Men's meeting house).

This is the one of the largest islands in Micronesia. In the past each village had a men's 'meeting house' built on top of a raised stone platform. These houses were constructed from giant timbers reinforced with coconut fiber ropes, and assembled without nails in a timber frame design. The roofs are made by weaving together mangrove palm fronds. Bais were elaborately painted and decorated with carvings of traditional legends. There were two types of bais. The first is the Bai ra Rubak (or old men's bai) where traditionally no women were allowed. These were used exclusively for the meetings and customs of the older men of the village. The Bai ra Cheldebechel (or clubhouse bai) was used for younger men and was the place where the older men would teach the younger generation the legends of the village and fishing lore. Women were only allowed to visit the Bai ra Cheldebechel. Today we see one of the few remaining bais in Palau, which offers us a unique look at authentic Palau'an culture.

Overnight in Koror, Palau.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 5 Palau: UNESCO Protected Rock Islands & Peleliu Island Excursion
Today we will enjoy a scenic boat trip and excursion to the historic island of Peleliu. Our boat journey will take us past the Rock Island Lagoon, recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. This is one of the crown jewels of Micronesia, and a true vista of serene and surreal beauty. Here one finds over 400 uninhabited limestone islands of volcanic origin. Many of them display unique 'mushroom-like' shapes in turquoise lagoons surrounded by coral reefs. The aesthetic beauty of the site is heightened by a complex reef system featuring over 385 coral species and different types of habitat. The site harbours the highest concentration of marine lakes anywhere, isolated bodies of seawater separated from the ocean by land barriers.

Our destination is Peleliu Island, located where the tide of the Philippine Sea meets the current of the Pacific Ocean, each flowing in the opposite direction. It is a place where the irresistible force of the sea meets the immovable mass of the reef, and the results are spectacular with countless species of fish. With the Japanese controlling Palau by World War II, Peleliu became an important military target for the United States. The Japanese had built a series of underground tunnels and fortifications, and they had tens of thousands of men stationed here. By the time the war was over, nearly 11,000 Japanese and 1,000 American soldiers had lost their lives in this area. Our tour of Peleliu Island will cover many important natural and historic sites, including several WWII remnants and the local War Memorial Museum.

We later return by boat to Koror.

Overnight in Koror.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 6 Palau: Island Touring / Fly to Manila, Philippines
Today we will start our sightseeing by taking in the highlights of Koror. Dating from 1955, the Belau National Museum is the oldest museum in Micronesia. The indoor and outdoor exhibits detail Palau's history, and include information about the past possessors of the territory such as Germany, Japan, Spain and the USA. In the museum we will see exhibits from all eras of Palauan life, including artworks, photography, sculpture, storyboards and more, all tracing the history of the colonial occupation on the island.

The Etpison Museum opened in August 1999, and this private museum collection includes a variety of displays. We will learn about the foreign influence on Palau, and will see displays ranging from local tools and artifacts to archeological sites and traditional canoes. The museum also has a large collection of antique maps and prints of Micronesia.

The Palau International Coral Reef Center hosts its very own aquarium showcasing the variety of habitats and marine life that can be found in Palau. Here we get a first-hand look into the world of the diverse coral reef ecosystem. Up to date scientific knowledge and conservation efforts are tailored together with traditional Palauan legends to give us a unique overview.

We later return to Koror before our evening flight to Manila.

Several thousand years ago, the first settlers in the Philippines crossed shallow seas and land bridges from mainland Asia to arrive in this group of islands. These people were related to Melanesians, Australian Aborigines and Papuans. Direct descendants of these people can still be found on the islands today. From its long history of Western influence, 300 years by the Spaniards and 30 years by the Americans, its people have evolved as a unique blend of East and West.

With its tropical climate and location on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines have one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world. Here at the eastern edge of Asia more than seven thousand islands are located between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. With over one hundred ethnic groups, a mixture of foreign influences and a fusion of culture and arts have enhanced the uniqueness of the Filipino identity. Successive waves of Austronesian peoples brought with them influences from Malay, Hindu, and Islamic societies. Trade and subsequent Chinese settlement eventually introduced Chinese cultural influences; which remain to this day.

Overnight in Manila, Philippines.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 7 Manila: City Sightseeing
The Spanish knew the city of Manila as the jewel of their Pacific Empire, and today Manila is a city that has to be experienced to be understood. Located on the eastern shores of Manila Bay, Manila lay at the heart of Spanish activity in the Far East during the 16th century. Once known as the 'Pearl of the Orient', the city went on to witness several Chinese insurrections, a British occupation and a Sepoy mutiny, a war against the colonial Spanish and some of the bitterest fighting of World War II.

As we explore the "Charms of Old Manila", we will drive through Roxas Boulevard to Rizal Park, named in honor of the country's national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. For people-watching there’s no better place than Rizal Park where, every day, locals can be seen jogging, picnicking, or simply hanging out with friends.

At the Walled City of Intramuros we visit the remnants of Spain's conquistadors. We will explore this 'living museum' - the oldest part of the city known as 'between the walls' – the Spanish era walled city. It was here that Miguel Lopez de Legazpi built a fort on the site of a ruined Islamic settlement, with walls 13 meters thick and 3km long. Within this protective enclave, the exclusive preserve of the Spanish ruling elite, were 15 churches and 6 monasteries. The imposing Roman Catholic Cathedral is here, and has been rebuilt countless times. A walk through this area gives us a sense of the true history of this area.

We will travel through the cobbled streets to the UNESCO protected San Agustin Church, the country's oldest stone church. Here we will view its wide collection of ecclesiastical icons, vestments and other religious articles. Across from here is Casa Manila, a reproduction of a 19th century house equipped with oriental and European décor, as well as Philippine antique furniture. Built by Imelda Marcos, this is a chance to see some stunning antique furniture and artwork. We continue to Fort Santiago, Manila's main line of defense against invaders from the sea. It is a stone fort guarding the entrance to the city from Manila Bay. It has been the site of many tragic moments in Philippine history. From Fort Santiago, we drive on to Manila's central district, Quiapo, often referred to as the heart of Manila with its market, pilgrimage church of the Black Nazarene, jeepney terminals and bazaars. We will also explore the city's bustling Chinatown, with its network of alleys and side streets. The Chinese cemetery is the only one of its kind in the world, where the mausoleums are as big and as elaborate as houses and where the fusion of eastern and Christian religions are very much in evidence.

Overnight in Manila, Philippines.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 8 Manila: Makati Museums & Touring / Fly to Noumea, New Caledonia
Our touring today will take us through Makati, the financial Center of the Philippines. At the Museo ng Makati we will see the city's glorious past in full display through paintings, murals, and exhibits. The museum itself is housed in an old structure built in 1918 that served as the first town hall of the then municipality of Makati.

We will stop at the Saints Peter and Paul Parish, the first and oldest church in Makati. Built in 1620 its intricate design and Spanish type architecture make it a notable structure. We will then proceed to the American Cemetery and Memorial, the largest and most beautiful of American memorials outside the Continental U.S.

Powerful clans whose histories are inextricable from that of the city own Manila's conglomerates. The Ayala Museum, established by the Zóbel de Ayala family that owns most of Makati, includes a showcase of works by family member Fernando Zobel, a prominent artist in his own right. You're never far from the Holy Spirit in this predominantly Roman Catholic city, and the spirit is palpable in Greenbelt 3, a shopping complex where the prominent domed church, the Greenbelt Chapel, sits like a jewel in the middle of carefully manicured grounds.

This evening we board our overnight flight to Noumea, New Caledonia. The flight routing to Noumea will take us via Sydney, Australia.

Overnight Flight to Noumea, New Caledonia.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 9 Sydney, Australia - Noumea, New Caledonia
After a morning arrival in Sydney we connect with our afternoon flight to Noumea, New Caledonia.
This evening we arrive on the island of New Caledonia. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, approximately 750 miles east of Australia, New Caledonia is an overseas dependent of France. An emerald green lagoon surrounds this collection of islands, which offer a variety of breathtaking landscapes, including cascading waterfalls, white sand beaches, lush rainforests and steep mountain ranges. Situated between Vanuatu and Queensland, Australia, this is one of the larges islands in the Pacific, only smaller than Papua New Guinea and New Zealand. Seeing this "terra incognita" in 1774, the British navigator James Cook found a similarity between the mountainous terrain of the Grande Terre and his native Scotland, whose former name was "Caledonia." From coast to coast, New Caledonia stretches some 500 km and is home to a surprising and remarkably diverse array of landscapes. Inhabited for some 3,000 years by the Kanak and the French since 1853, New Caledonia is rich in its people. In successive waves, the archipelago became home for Europeans, Asians, Polynesians, and even people from Reunion, who together with the Melanesians, form a multicultural population.

Overnight in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 10 New Caledonia: Noumea and the Great South
New Caledonia consists of a cigar-shaped mainland (Grande Terre), the Isle of Pines, the Loyalty Group, and the small uninhabited dependencies of Walpole Island, the d'Entrecasteaux Reefs, and the more distant Chesterfield Islands. The territory's 18,575 square km are divided into three provinces. Grande Terre is part of the great fold in the earth's surface that runs from the central highlands of Papua New Guinea to the northern peninsula of New Zealand. This is a fragment of the ancient continent of Gondwana dating back 60 million years. The islands are slowly sinking as the Indo-Australian Plate pushes under the Pacific Plate to the east. The winding, indented coastline is a result of this submergence. Just a few kilometers off the coast is one of the longest barrier reefs in the world, which marks how big the island once was. New Caledonia has a larger area of coral reefs than any other South Pacific territory.

The people of New Caledonia belong to 5 major ethnic groups: the indigenous Kanaks, descendants of European and North African prisoners and settlers, people from other parts of France (French mainland and overseas regions) working in Noumea, Polynesian immigrants & descendants of earlier Asian settlers (often Vietnamese and Indonesian).

This morning we start our full day of touring with sightseeing in Grande Terre's busy little capital – Nouméa, where we explore by bus and on foot. This ‘Paris of the Pacific’ is rich in history and culture, and overlooks one of the world's largest sheltered natural harbours. Throughout the city center we see landmarks and typical French architecture blended with a South Pacific lifestyle. Noumea is home to attractive squares, a cathedral, museums, a market and many old colonial houses.

We start by heading to Port Moselle where we can explore the local markets. Here we take in the different sights and fragrances of the exotic fruit and vegetables stalls where we can see and taste the diversity and intensity of the Pacific islands local produce. We will admire the variety of fish and shellfish that can be found in the surrounding lagoon! We will stop at the picturesque central city square known as the "Place des Cocotiers" – Coconut Square.

At the FOL lookout we get a great view over the city, where rolling hills meet the beautiful bays and main harbour. We will visit the Church of La Conception, built by Missionaries in 1874; this church and its cemetery remain a popular destination for hundreds of pilgrims who gather every year to celebrate the Assumption on August 15. En-route to Saint Joseph Cathedral we will drive through Faubourg Blanchot, one of the oldest areas of the city know for its many colonial houses. We will discover the South Pacific’s rich and varied indigenous heritage at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre. This centre showcases world-class exhibits and collections of Kanak and Pacific cultures and was named in honour of the late Kanak leader, Jean Marie Tjibaou. The cultural centre is a tribute to this remarkable man, a pro-independence Kanak leader who was assassinated in 1989.

We will drive along the famous seafront of Lemon bay and L'anse Vata beach before climbing up to the Ouen Toro lookout (home to a World War II memorial) where we will be treated to more excellent views of the bays and beaches, and across the lagoon to the small marine reserve islands with fringing coral reefs.

After our exploration of the capital we will escape to the tranquility of the 'Deep Sout'’ and discover a land of contrasts. We will soak up the scenery in an region where coastal mountains are surrounded by magnificent coastal views. We will make a stop at the majestic Madeleine’s Waterfalls - another jewel of the south. Here we will walk along the well-marked pathway through this sanctuary whilst learning about the flora of the south of New Caledonia.

The Blue River Provincial Park covers over 9000 hectares, and here we will learn about the native plants and the way locals are using them in traditional medicine. You will hear about the hunting techniques of Melanesians people and be mesmerized by the strange atmosphere at the 'Drowned Forest' site. If lucky we will spot the famous local bird (the Cagou) in his natural habitat.

Our last visit will be at a local village near Plum River. During our time here we will enjoy dinner, witness traditional dances and learn more about the way of life of the villagers. At the end of our day we return to Noumea.

Overnight in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 11 New Caledonia: Grand Terre Island Exploration
Today we will spend the full day discovering the island of Grande Terre – experiencing the culture, countryside, waterways and flora. Grande Terre is the largest and most mountainous of New Caledonia’s islands. Most of the region’s total population lives here, and this is therefore the most affluent area of New Caledonia. In fact, the country has one of the largest economies in the entire South Pacific. Locals often refer to Grande Terre as "Le Caillou" or "La Roche" (The Rock). The interior of the island is made up of row upon row of craggy mountains throughout its length, and it contains 20 percent of the world's known reserves of nickel ore. The island also holds profitable deposits of other minerals such as tungsten, cobalt, copper, gold, manganese, iron, and chromium. The coast of this island is broken and narrow, cut by tortuous rivers and jagged peaks falling directly into the lagoon. Grande Terre is 400 km long and 50 km wide, the sixth-largest island in the Southwest Pacific (after New Guinea, the two islands of New Zealand, Tasmania, and New Britain).

Our journey starts as we head northwest to Païta at the foot of Mont Mou, amidst a region often described as a 'natural garden' surrounded by streams and forests. As we continue to head north on the 'West Coast' road our route takes us past long stretches of Niaouli tree savannahs – very typical for the West Coast of New Caledonia's Grande Terre. Also typical of this coast are the cattle farms that we will see along the way with their 'stockmen' – New Caledonian's use this Australian term to describe their 'cowboys of the Pacific'. We will stop at Boulouparis to visit the Niaouli distillery. Niaouli is a type of eucalyptus tree used frequently in local traditional remedies and whose essence can be found in perfumes.

Up at La Foa we see the famous 'Passerelle Marguerite' bridge, built over a century ago by followers of Gustave Eiffel. La Foa also has wonderful large Kanak sculptures in front of the public gardens at the heart of the town and is renowned for its annual Cinema Festival that attracts renowned French actors and directors. We continue onward to Bourail, making a stop at Fort Teremba along the way. Fort Teremba is a former penitentiary and military base that has been well restored and is surrounded by Niaouli savannahs. When you see the meandering and gentle La Néra River, bordered by shaded pastures where cattle graze, you will know that you have reached the capital of Caldoche country. Bourail is famous for its annual Foire Agricole (agricultural fair) and rodeos that bring in huge crowds. The nearby coastline offers us a mix of cliffs that drop into the sea and bays of long white-sand beaches that are surrounded by majestic pine trees, all the while facing the lagoon that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nearby here we will walk along a Botanical Path through the Cyca Forest.

We later heading back south, and along the way we will experience nature at the Parc des Grandes Fougeres (Great Ferns Park). This park is situated in Farino, the least populated and highest settlement in New Caledonia. It offers a diverse range of ecosystems that are crowned by large tree ferns. We will enjoy a nature walk on some of the many pathways found throughout the park. We then return to Noumea.

Overnight in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 12 New Caledonia - Nadi, Fiji / Afternoon North Island Exploration
Upon our arrival from New Caledonia we will start with an orientation drive through Nadi before heading north along the Kings Road. Our first stop will be at the village of Viseisei where according to local legend the first Fijian's landed.

After a stroll through Viseisei we will head north to Lautoka, Fiji's "Sugar City". Giant mango trees line the Kings Road as we enter Lautoka where Fiji's largest sugar mill is located by the Lautoka Wharf. This is in the heart of Fiji's "Sugar Belt" with thousands of small holdings cultivating sugar cane for mills in Lautoka, Ba and Rakiraki. Sugar is Fiji's principal export earner and green fields of cane line both sides of the Kings Road. During planting or harvest times, oxen are still used to pull ploughs or cartloads of cut cane. The coastline here faces Bligh Water, with the Yasawa Islands shimmering on the horizon. As well as producing sugar, the area has an operating gold mine, and "Green Gold" in the form of timber from extensive plantations of Caribbean pine trees. Here we will explore the center including the marketplace, mosques, Hare Krishna Temple and old colonial homes.

From Lautoka we head to the picturesque village of Navala, making a stop at the town of Ba along the way. Here we have the chance to visit a local market before moving on the Navala - nestled in the rugged, grassy mountains. Strict town-planning rules are in place here: the dozens of traditional thatched bure are laid out neatly in avenues, with a central promenade sloping down the banks of the river. All of the houses here are built with local materials; the only concrete block and corrugated iron in sight is for the school, Catholic church and radio shed (which houses the village’s emergency radio telephone). The rectangular-plan houses have a timber-pole structure, sloping stone plinths, woven split-bamboo walls and thatched roofs. Kitchens are in separate bure, and toilets in bure lailai (little houses). This location is a photographer’s delight!

We later return to Nadi via a rural back road, the ideal way to see and meet local people at work and play. The high country affords a view of the offshore islands. The northwest corner of the island is thickly forested and dotted with tiny hillside villages, whose main inhabitants are native Fijians. These small villages are supported by cattle grazing in an area rarely visited by tourists. Along the sides of the road one often comes across villagers selling fresh papayas, bananas, guavas, pineapples and variety of fresh fruits. Away from the populated towns, this is the real South Pacific that time has passed by.

Overnight in Nadi, Fiji.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 13 Nadi, Fiji - Honiara, Solomon Islands
Today we fly from Fiji to Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.

Just 9 degrees south of the equator, the Solomon Islands are comprised of 992 islands, of which 147 are inhabited. These island stretch 900 miles in a southeasterly direction from the Shortland Islands, on the border with Papua New Guinea, to the Santa Cruz Islands, which borders with Vanuatu. The archipelago covers an area of 461,000 sq km -- made up of deeply forested mountainous islands and low-lying coral atolls.

As part of the Melanesian group of islands that also includes Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Fiji, hunters and gatherers from Southeast Asia first settled the Solomon Islands. Seafarers followed later, and it is believed that early Papuan speaking settlers began arriving in the Solomon Islands around 30,000 BC. Austronesian speakers arrived in 4000 BC. Archaeological and linguistic evidence shows that people from Southeast Asia permanently settled the Solomon Islands at this time.

Today, between 70 to 80 percent of the population live a subsistence way of life in their small villages, settlements and islands away from the main urban centers. The number of local languages listed for Solomon Islands is greater than 75. Communal, clan and family ties remain strong in these islands with the existence of the Wantok system. A key part of the Melanesian culture, Wantok means people from the same language groups who are blood relatives and part of the extended family support and assist one another. Traditional practices are still being followed, especially by those living in the interior of the country's larger islands. Off the beaten path, village life remains much as it has been for centuries.

Overnight in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 14 Solomon Islands: Honiara Touring
Today we will tour of Honiara. We will discover many points of scenic, cultural and historic interest in Honiara. The Honiara Central market is busy, colorful, and presents local produce and crafts. We will have a guided tour of the Parliament House, built for the people of Solomon Islands. With a commanding position, The US Peace War Memorial was constructed in 1992 for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal. It provides an excellent view of Iron Bottom Sound and the surrounding mountainous regions of Honiara and Guadalcanal. The small National Museum accommodates the diverse cultural artifacts of the Solomon Islands.

Overnight in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 15 Solomon Islands: Full Day of Touring
We will spend the day touring the island of Guadalcanal and seeing its many highlights and attractions. Stepping out from the usual path into the islands of the Solomons is a totally unique and richly rewarding experience. Without doubt, this is one of the few remaining, truly un-spoilt tourist destinations of the world.

This is an island group of rainforests and volcanoes. There are over 900 volcanic islands in the Solomon Islands, and here we will discover the palms, ferns and truly exotic orchids spread across the islands. Certain regions in the Solomon Islands served as battlegrounds during the Second World War. Guadalcanal is known for its many WWII sites, and we will visit several during our day.

The islands are also home to many botanical gardens displaying a wide variety of plants, and we will be sure to visit one of these. A village tour will give us firsthand experience of an ideal Solomon Islands village setting as well as a look into the traditional daily living of Solomon Islanders. Here we will gain an appreciation of the unique cultures of the islands as we learn about traditional customs and practices.

Overnight in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 16 Solomon Islands / Tulagi Island Excursion
Today we will enjoy a full day excursion to Tulagi Island in the Florida Islands group (also known as the Nggela Islands). This island group of the Solomon's sits immediately north of Honiara across the renowned Iron Bottom Sound. This will be a full day of discovery as we cruise through one of the few truly untouched areas of the South Pacific. Our boat trip takes us to Tulagi Island, the old capital of the Solomons.

The Florida group are made up of four large islands: Big Gela (or Nggela Sule), Small Gela (or Nggela Pile), Buena Vista Island, Sandfly Island as well as approximately 50 other surrounding smaller islands. The Japanese garrisoned Nggela Sule in April of 1942 in connection with their efforts to establish a seaplane base on neighboring Gavutu. Florida Island never became as famous as Guadalcanal, although it did serve as a small, very secondary base of operations for the US and Australian and New Zealand war effort in the Pacific. Following the Allied liberation of the island from the Japanese, it became the site of a US seaplane base. Tulagi (also known as Tulaghi), was the capital of the Solomon Islands Protectorate from 1896 to 1942, and is today the capital of the Central Province.

A visit here is a must visit for the true intrepid traveller, and all of our sightseeing is done on foot. This original capital of the Solomon Islands was severely ravaged during the Second World War, and Honiara became the new capital after the war. Tulagi is in the center and entrance to the Florida Islands. Here one finds small provincial government offices, the police station, post office, main port, market and a few restaurants. Our stop at this colonial capital will include a walking tour, where we experience the true pace of life on an undeveloped island.

In travel terms, these islands are still very much virgin territory, and our adventure today is an experience not to be missed.

Overnight in Honiara, Solomon Islands.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 17 Solomon Islands - Nadi, Fiji
After some free time this morning we board our afternoon flight from Honiara to Nadi, Fiji.

Overnight in Nadi.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 18 Fiji: South Coast Discovery / Suva Exploration
Today we travel along the scenic 'Coral Coast' with its fields of coconut palms and sugarcane. Our destination for the day is Suva. Along the way we will pass by small villages and long stretches of coastal forest. This part of the island is mainly inhabited by indigenous Fijian people who tend small market gardens and produce all their food requirements locally.

Suva is more than just the capital of the Fijian Islands, and today we spend the day discovering the highlights. Suva is located in the southeastern corner of Viti Levu and became the capital in 1882, replacing Levuka on the island of Ovalau. Its rapid growth through the establishment of trading companies, missionary churches, and colonial government has left many buildings from the turn of the century.

Our touring will bring us to sights such as the President's residence, Albert Park and Thurston Botanical Gardens. You will gain a fresh insight into Suva with its rich colonial past. A beautiful harbor city, Suva is built on a peninsula reaching out in the sea. While here we will stroll through the harbor with it's tall modern buildings balanced by rich traditional colonial architecture. As we wander through the Thurston Botanical Gardens we will admire the palms, gingers, lilies, and other island flora.

Victoria Parade will reveal a variety of Fiji's most important buildings. Burns Philip, built in 1930 on Marks Road, was the first building in Suva to have an elevator. Its large imposing design with a central tower has been copied throughout the Pacific. Close by, Sichuan Pavilion Restaurant and the Garrick Hotel date from 1929. Formally the Pier Hotel, it retains its original post-supported verandah and elaborate second story balcony. The Catholic Cathedral was the initiative of Bishop Julian Vidal, Australian Bishop of Fiji. The pyrmont stones came from the Hunters Hill, Sydney, and were carried in ships as ballast. The timber flooring came from Quebec, Canada. A short distance away is the Old Town Hall, built in 1904 as a memorial to Queen Victoria on her Diamond Jubilee. With its cast lacework, it is one of Suva's finest examples of colonial architecture.

We end our touring today with the excellent Suva Museum, which houses the most comprehensive collection of Fijian artifacts. Set in the heart of Suva's historical Thurston Gardens, the Fiji Museum is unrivaled in the islands for the extent of its collection of anthropological and historical material, having been founded much earlier than other Pacific Island Museums. It holds a remarkable collection which includes archaeological material dating back over 3,500 years and cultural objects representing indigenous, Indo-Fijian and other communities that have settled in the island group over the past 200 years. We later return to Nadi for our overnight.

Overnight in Nadi.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 19 Fiji: Mamanuca Islands Escape
Today we enjoy a sailing tour of the uninhabited islands of the Mamanuca Island Group. The Mamanuca Islands of Fiji are a volcanic archipelago lying to the west of Nadi and to the south of the Yasawa Islands. These glorious islands are picture-postcard Fiji with their eternal sunshine, pristine beaches and coconut palms.

During our sailing adventure we will spend time ashore on uninhabited coral islands set amidst perfect blue ocean lagoons. Set among deep blue waters with fringing coral reefs of turquoise and pastel green, the Mamanuca Islands offer visitors some of Fiji's most outstanding island beauty.

Overnight in Nadi.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 20 Nadi, Fiji - Apia, Samoa
This morning we fly to Samoa.

The independent island nation of Samoa is located about midway between Hawaii and New Zealand. The Samoan islands have narrow coastal plains with volcanic, rocky, rugged mountains in the interior. The two main islands are Upolu and Savaii, and we will tour both during our time here. The old ways have been lovingly preserved on Samoa, the South Seas islands steeped in a relaxed and communal Polynesian lifestyle. Samoa was previously located east of the international date line but in 2011, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele announced his country would move the International Date Line to the east of the country, so that Samoa would lie to the west of the date line. This change took effect on the night of 29 December, so that the Friday was skipped altogether and the following day was Saturday 31 December.

Samoans originally arrived from Southeast Asia around 1500-1000 BC. The oldest known site of human occupation dates back to that time and is at Mulifanua on Upolu Island.

Overnight in Apia, Samoa.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 21 Samoa: Upolu Island Touring
Today will be spent touring the island of Upolu. The entire country of Samoa serves as a cultural storehouse of fa'a Samoa, the traditional Samoan way of life. Most Samoans still live in villages featuring fales (oval houses), some of which have stood for centuries (though tin roofs have replaced thatch). The island of Savai'i is especially well preserved, and today much of Apia on the island of Upolu looks like it did when Robert Louis Stevenson settled here in 1889. Our sightseeing today will include a visit to the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, situated in the hills to the south of Apia. This museum, with its spectacular setting, showcases and preserves the memories and lifestyle that drew him and his family to Valima, Samoa.

After some morning exploration in the capital of Apia we will travel east along the north coast, passing picturesque villages and landscape. Our route then takes us south over Le Mafa Pass and down towards the south side of the island. At the southeastern corner of Upolu is a cliff like mountain; which forms a dramatic backdrop to the deep sands of Lolomanu Beach. The setting faces a group of small islets offshore. Along the south coast one can find many idyllic stretches of white sand and black rocks overhung by coconut palms!

The combination of tropical climate and fertile soil make Samoa the perfect breeding ground for rainforests and other lush landscapes such as mangrove swamps and marshes. These ecosystems are all alive with native wildlife, such as seabirds, skinks, flying foxes, geckos, as well as a plethora of unique flora. One of the best remaining rainforests is O Le Pupu-Pue National Park on Upolu. This park runs from the southern coast up into the mountainous interior of the island. Bird lovers, and those who love exploring nature on foot, will love this place. Another place of paradise is the Tafua Peninsula Rainforest Preserve in the southeast.

Overnight in Apia, Samoa.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 22 Samoa: Savai'i Island Touring
Today will be spent exploring Savai'i, the largest island of Samoa. Savai'i is one of the largest of all Polynesian islands, and this great volcanic shield is also one of the least populated. Here we will find traditional villages with oval-shaped houses sitting alongside freshwater bathing pools fed by underground springs. Savaii is relatively undeveloped and regarded by many as the "real" Samoa.

For our sightseeing we will depart from our hotel early in the morning and head for Mulifanua wharf in order to connect with the morning ferry to Savai'i. The crossing takes about 90-minutes, and will provide us with some great views of the Samoan islands. Upon arrival we will be met at the wharf and proceed with our island touring. At Savaii's fresh produce market we can view the locally grown produce and handicrafts. We will stop at the Mu Pagoa Falls that drops into the ocean. Our drive to the Taga Blow holes is through lush vegetation, plantations and traditional villages. These blowholes are a natural spectacle not to be missed. Following the blowholes we will witness a tapa making demonstration, an art form that is rarely practiced these days. The tapa is made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree, and it is amazing to watch a thin bark stretched to form a fabric type material. We may break for lunch at the Aganoa Beach where you will have the opportunity to relax under the shade of a tree. We later head back to the wharf for our return journey.

Overnight in Apia, Samoa.
Meal plan: breakfast,lunch

Day 23 Samoa: Manono Island Touring
Our tour today will visit Manono Island, which offers an insight into Samoan culture and life. An hour's drive to the west and then a further 20-minutes by boat brings us to Manono Island. The boat leaves from Cape Lefatu, with views of the crater island of Apolima along the way. Once reaching Manono we will be greeted by our Samoan hosts for a brief lecture on Samoan customs and etiquette. We will have the chance to learn about locally grown products, as well as the various local uses of the coconut.

This island is completely enclosed by a reef, and the colours of the crystal clear water are simply stunning. Today there are only four villages on the island with a total population of 889. Electricity was only introduced here in 1995. This is the third largest island of Samoa, but has an area of only three-square kilometres and was in years gone by, the most important of the group of islands in a political sense, for it was here that the highest chiefs lived. In Manono there is a very Samoan atmosphere, no noise, no dogs, no vehicles, and the main thoroughfare is a footpath that follows the coast. We will enjoy a magnificent stroll viewing the lush beautiful gardens with cooling trade winds.

This is a real paradise for anyone looking for adventure, friendly people and an island that has hardly changed in the last 100 years. Life is very different than elsewhere. The men go to the coral reef spear-fishing every morning on their traditional canoes and come back only once they catch enough fish to feed the family.

Overnight in Apia, Samoa.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 24 Apia, Samoa - Fiji and connect with flight home!
Today we fly as a group from Samoa to Fiji, and you then connect with your International flight home.

THOSE travellers booking their own flights must consult with us re the timing of the group flight from Samoa before booking onward flights from Fiji.

BON VOYAGE!
Meal plan: breakfast