The Islands of Australasia
By Mark Johnson
Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
Scattered over a vast expanse of empty ocean the size of Western Europe, the tiny Cook Islands is a castaway’s dream come true. If you’ve ever fantasised about escaping to a remote desert island, far from the hustle and bustle of the modern world, then look no further than these 15 fascinating islands, where you’ll find a thousand years of Polynesian culture sitting side by side with some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the South Pacific.
The jewel in the crown is Rarotonga, the largest island – a bewitching blend of craggy mountains, dense jungle and glorious bone-white beaches – but you really need to get out and explore some of the other islands as well.
The Solomons remains an undiscovered gem for adventure travellers, divers and those seeking a genuine Melanesian experience. Flee the dusty streets of Honiara and maybe a wander through the museum, and hit the water. In the Western Province, coral islands encircle huge lagoons, volcanoes bubble away underwater, locals practise magic and summon sharks.
This is a famous dive destination, thanks to the wealth of coral reefs in the Central Province area, like the Nggela Islands. Exciting underwater topography and hundreds of sunken WWII wrecks await your perusal around Ghizo Island.
Papua New GuineaTravelling in PNG can be quite the challenge. With almost no tourism infrastructure and limited information available in books and on websites, it can feel like you’re stepping into the great unknown. But this is exactly why travellers find this country so compelling. Nothing is contrived for tourists and every experience is authentic - even the main island of Bougainville is a largely DIY travel experience. The striking natural beauty and countless complex cultures offer some riveting and truly life-affirming experiences. The island of New Guinea, of which Papua New Guinea is the eastern part, is only one-ninth as big as Australia, yet it has just as many mammal species, and more kinds of birds and frogs.
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