Island overview takes a look at the options for Pacific stopovers, and tries to help you decide which one is right for you

For round the world trips that cover both Australia or New Zealand and the United States, there is often the option of stopping off somewhere in the Pacific. It would be a mistake to think all of the Pacific stopover options are interchangeable, however. The Pacific nations have subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) different characters, and the range of experiences on offer can be very different. So if you’re only planning to stop in one place, it pays to pick wisely.

The Cook Islands

Of all the Pacific options, the Cook Islands is arguably most devoted to tourism. Fiji attracts the mass package tourism from Australia and New Zealand in far higher numbers, but the Cook Islands has a tiny population (around 20,000) so it’s all about proportion. Of all the islands, the Cooks are probably the most laid-back. There seems to be a blissful happiness about the people, and a fairly equal society – you’ll not see any of the poverty that is clearly visible in some of the other Pacific nations. The main island, Rarotonga, is hugely enjoyable whether you’re into hiking, kayaking or lounging by the lagoon. But it’s Aitutaki – which requires a separate flight – that is truly special. The lagoon here is often rated as the most beautiful in the world, and some of the luxury resorts that sit at its edges are magnificent. But there are also cheaper options if the budget doesn’t stretch. If you’re after a place to chill, the Cook Islands is arguably the Pacific’s best bet. If you’re an all action type or want deeper cultural immersion, you might leave a little unsatisfied. Think of the Cooks as happy, smiley and beautiful without too much complexity and you’re about there. On the ground costs tend to be in the mid-range – not nearly as cheap as Fiji or Samoa, but a darned sight cheaper than French Polynesia.

Best RTW? - The Navigator or The World Journey


Fiji is the most common Pacific stopover, and the one that’s usually easiest to work into RTW tickets. It has a population (around the million mark) that is significantly higher than that of its Pacific neighbours. Hence it can feel more like a ‘real’ place than the other island fantasylands, particularly if you break off the normal tourist trail. The main island, Viti Levu, has a lot going on. It has an intriguing mix of cultures via the native Fijians and the huge Indian population descended from indentured sugar workers during the colonial era. It’s also set up pretty well for adventure activities such as hiking and rafting. You can do urban in Suva and Lautoka, but the surprisingly grotty Nadi is the main tourism hub. From here, the cruises and island-hopping ferries head out to the Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands. Depending on which you head to, these are either havens on which to live out your Robinson Crusoe beach lizard fantasies or party resorts. The key thing about this part of Fiji (and the outer islands to the north and east of Viti Levu are arguably more interesting for anyone wanting to explore properly) is that it generally stays relatively dry. So while the rest of the South Pacific is drowning in the rainy season (generally between around November and April), Fiji’s western highlights aren’t nearly as soggy. And that’s handy to know if you’re travelling during that period. One more thing should be factored in when considering Fiji. It’s not an idyllic paradise – it is ruled by a rather unappealing military dictator (research Frank Bainimarama if you want to learn more) and you’re likely to see genuine poverty if you venture out of the cosseted resorts.

Best RTW? - The Globehopper or The Navigator or The Discoverer


It is the largest of the 118 islands and atolls that comprise French Polynesia. Tahiti is in the Society Islands, an archipelago which includes the islands of Bora Bora, Raiatea, Taha'a, Huahine and Moorea. The climate is tropical with the he average ambient temperature is 80°F (27°C) and the waters of the lagoons average 79°F (26°C) in the winter and 84°F (29°C) in the summer. But do not worry, most resorts and hotel rooms are air conditioned or cooled by ceiling fans. Summer is from November through April, with a warmer and more humid climate and winter is from May to October, when the climate is slightly cooler and drier. When you step out of the airplane, you'll immediately notice that the air is warm and humid. It’s probably the most expensive of the Pacific islands, and is very popular with honeymooners, but the lagoons around the islands are justifiably famous and stunning.

Best RTW? - The Navigator or The Discoverer




Hawaii - almost always called the Big Island to avoid confusion – is the largest of the islands and home to Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa (the largest and one of the most active volcanoes on Earth), Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, coffee and macadamia nut plantations, working ranches, and even green sand beaches. Kailua-Kona is the busiest part of the island on the dry, leeward side, and near the mega-resort Kohala Coast area with nearly zero annual precipitation. The saddle road (quite passable and a must see--despite what rental car companies say) passes between the massive volcanoes and connects Kohala with Hilo, the largest town on the windward side with annual precipitation of more than 300 inches per year. Unlike anywhere else on Earth and definitely worth a look.

Oahu, nicknamed "the Gathering Place," is the most populous and developed island. Its southern shore is home to the city of Honolulu, the state capital and largest city; four out of every five kama'aina (Hawaii residents) call it home. It is the governmental and commercial center of the state, and Waikiki Beach is arguably the best known tourist destination in Hawaii. Outside the city are pineapple fields, and the North Shore of Oahu, which is known each winter as the home of some of the largest waves in the world. The USS Arizona National Memorial at Pearl Harbor is also very popular visitor destination.

Maui is the second largest island in the chain and is home to 10,023 foot (3,055 m) tall volcanic mountain crater of Haleakala. It is nicknamed "the Valley Isle" for the narrow plain between Haleakala and the West Maui mountains. On the west side of the island are the resort areas of Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua, while the south side is home to Kihei, and Wailea. On the east side is the tiny village of Hana, reached by one of the most winding and beautiful roads in the world.

Kauai, the "Garden Isle," is home to several natural wonders, such as the Wailua River, Waimea Canyon, and the Na Pali Coast. Mount Waialeale is known as one of the rainiest spots in the world.

Molokai, the "Friendly Isle," is one of the least developed islands in the chain. It is home to Kalaupapa, the leper colony on Molokai's north shore that was the home of Father Damien.

Lanai was at one time completely owned by Dole Foods and was the largest pineapple plantation in the world; it is now home to several exclusive resorts.

Niihau is a privately owned island with an entirely Native Hawaiian population. Until very recently, the island was off limits to all but family members and invited guests of the owners. Tourism to the island is limited to helicopter, ATV, and hunting excursions originating on Kauai.

Kahoolawe which was once a former U.S. Navy bombing range, remains uninhabited. Efforts are being made to rehabilitate the island, but cleanup efforts continue.

Best RTW? - The Discoverer or The Classic


There’s a strong argument for Samoa being the Pacific’s best all-rounder. It’s bigger than the Cook Islands, but still has that laid-back, friendly Polynesian vibe (Polynesia does feel more welcoming than Melanesia, incidentally). There’s also a good smattering of beaches and lagoons for the sand and snorkel bunnies. Samoa has three trump cards, however. The first is that traditional culture and lifestyle is still very much in evidence. People are part of their village, and most houses are open huts called fales. You can see into them as you walk past, while kids and pigs run rampant on the grounds. The second key attribute is that Samoa is, to all intents and purposes, two main islands. Upolu and Savai’i are only about 90 minutes apart by ferry – and this means that you can see the best of the country without having to splash out for potentially costly extra internal flights. Thirdly, Samoa is a bit of a natural wonderland. There are hundreds of volcanic cones, mountains, rock arches and lava fields to explore, while the combo of powerful coastline and jungle-covered interiors make gives it that touch of wildness that gets outdoor types excited.

Best RTW? - The Navigator or The Discoverer


Vanuatu is probably the weirdest of the Pacific nations. In the colonial era, it was jointly governed by the French and British, and now the parts where the French and English speakers hang out are fantastically arbitrary. But there’s more to it than that – for a relatively tiny population, Vanuatu has hundreds of native languages, and once you start branching out from the main island of Efate, things start to get very odd indeed. You don’t really go to Vanuatu for the stereotypical images of white sand beaches and overwater bungalows. It’s somewhere you go to meet people who worship possibly mythical American airmen, climb up billowing live volcanoes and watch the chaps who inspired bungy jumping leap from high platforms with only vines tied to their legs. It’s relatively cheap on the ground, but internal flights will rack up costs. The other problem with Vanuatu is that it generally has to be done as a separate side trip from Australia or New Zealand – it doesn’t fit in with the routes for most of the RTW airlines.

Best RTW? - The Navigator or The Discoverer

Easter Island

If you like the whole middle of nowhere thing, then Easter Island should be your dream destination. It’s the most isolated inhabited island in the world, 2,200 miles away from continental South America, and 1,290 miles away from the next spot where people live. And that’s Pitcairn Island, which is hardly a bustling hub. In other words, don’t think about going for a swim to visit the neighbours.

More info here


Micronesia is not the easiest part of the world to visit. With United Airlines currently the only realistic option of getting around the scattered islands of the north Pacific, any itinerary that takes in one or more of the entities that make up Micronesia -Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Palau and the US territory of Guam - will rely as much on airline schedules as personal preferences.

But for those who take the trouble to explore this lesser-travelled route across the Pacific there is so much to experience that their time in Micronesia is likely to provide some of the main highlights of their entire trip.

More info here


Primarily, Palau is a diving destination – some say it’s the best in the world.  A combo of a giant encircling lagoon, numerous shipwrecks and relative lack of pollution makes for extraordinarily high quality SCUBA action. Prescient environmental protection laws and diverse aquatic life help too. Many of the great dive sites are also top class for snorkelers, whilst the hundreds of limestone Rock Islands that the underwater honeypots are found between are a wonder in themselves. I could happily spend days mooching around them in a boat, stopping off at pristine beaches and eating the coconuts, to be honest. On one of said islands, you can try one of the world’s weirdest experiences – swimming through a marine lake filled with millions of stingless jellyfish. Kayaking, cultural tours and four-wheel drive experiences in the jungles of the largest island, Babeldaob, are excellent too. More here

Best RTW? - The Wow Palau

With input from David Whitley, wikitravel and staff

We're often asked what are the best selling deals via the Pacific on the market. Again without giving away too much (we want you to book with us!), here are the via the Pacific top sellers 

Published by Stuart Lodge