Forget about Hawaii or Bora Bora – the following islands are just as idyllic and far less touristy. Picture smooth white sands, neon green waters and coconut palms, all hidden deep within the Pacific Ocean. Which of these would you rather get stranded on?
The smallest island country in the world, Niue is about 2,400km (1,491mi) northeast of New Zealand, at the heart of the triangle of Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands. It is also one of the largest raised coral atolls on the planet, which explains why it feels like paradise on earth. Think white-sand beaches, warm crystalline waters and corals clinging to rocky shores. You won’t find many people roaming around here, but you’re more than likely to spot brightly coloured fish and friendly humpback whales frolicking in the water.
There are about 15,000 residents spread among the 15 Cook Islands, which makes the destination particularly tranquil and naturally perfect for a low-key escape. The most popular of the bunch, Rarotonga, is still fairly undiscovered. You’re meant to appreciate the joys of the simple life here; and by simple, we mean hiking through lush rainforests and swimming in aquamarine lagoons before mingling with locals on “island nights” – these involve dancing and feasting on local delicacies such as rukau leaves or an ika mata salad.
Comprised of 500 islands in the Micronesia region, the Republic of Palau is where to go for powdery sands and blue lagoons. Visit the Rock Islands in the Southern Lagoon of Palau (which are 300 islands shaped by ancient relics of coral reefs) to kayak around crocodiles gliding through mangrove swamps or snorkel among World War II wrecks. Don’t miss Milky Way cove – its turquoise waters contain limestone mud which is said to be rejuvenating – or Jellyfish Lake that’s home to millions of harmless golden jellyfish.
Just south of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific is Vanuatu, a nation of 80 islands boasting magical scenery and rich marine life. Underwater, you’ll find yourself scuba diving among rainbow-coloured fish, coral reefs and fascinating World War II wrecks. And when you come back to the emerald surface, a whole other world of heavenly lagoons and dreamy waterfalls awaits. Make sure to visit the Blue Lagoon on Efate Island; it comes with rope swings, kayaks and picnic tables so you can make a day of it.
It’s no wonder some compare Huahine to the Garden of Eden. This pristine green island close to Tahiti and Bora Bora is less visited than its famous neighbours, which explains the unspoiled landscapes and relaxed way of living. Huahine comprises two equally pretty parts; Big Huahine hosts the slightly more touristy yet charming village of Fare, while Little Huahine offers isolated lagoons and white-sand beaches. Sacred temples are also found throughout the island, amid coconut palms, vanilla orchids and banana groves.
This Unesco-protected islet floating in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand is such a well-kept secret that only 400 visitors are allowed to visit it at a time. This ensures Lord Howe’s amazing biodiversity remains intact. The island is a prime birdwatching destination – hundreds of thousands of 14 different species of seabirds breed here – while its waters brim with fish and coral reefs. Sunbathe on white-sand beaches or try kiteboarding, windsurfing and hiking through verdant kentia palm and banyan forests.
Creamy sands and strikingly clear waters are the main draw of Uoleva. But what’s even better is the fact that the island is practically off the map – a tropical retreat floating in the Tonga archipelago, without roads and shops, stripped down to its sheer natural beauty. There are only five small resorts here, but they’ll make sure you’re super-happy here. And you really can have it all – from scuba diving, kitesurfing and paddleboarding to swimming with humpback whales in azure waters. The food is exquisite, too.
The Mamanuca archipelago of Fiji comprises 20 islands, but seven of them are covered by the Pacific at high tide. Of the remaining 13, the uninhabited Monuriki feels like a secluded oasis made up of coral reefs, soft sands, coconut palms and volcanic cliffs. The island might look familiar to cinephiles as it was the set of the film Cast Away (2000), starring Tom Hanks. Sea birds, sea turtles and the endemic green iguana will keep you company here – but remember to bring your own food, if you don’t want to end up like Hanks.