Oceania is a vast, arbitrarily defined expanse of the world where the Pacific Ocean – rather than land borders – connects the nations. It is home to glistening white beaches, coconut palms swaying in the breeze, beautiful coral reefs, and rugged volcanic islands rising out of the blue ocean. Its diverse nations have both some of the world's most cosmopolitan and internationalised cities such as Melbourne, and some of its most remote and culturally isolated villages.
Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are by far the largest countries in this continent with the first two the most visited. Oceania also includes the vast island nation groupings of Polynesia to the far east, Melanesia in the west and Micronesia to the north.
By far the largest and most populous country in Oceania.
A major destination, with well-developed facilities for travellers. Technically part of Polynesia as the indigenous Maori are Polynesian and providing the major air hub to the rest of Polynesia
Tropical rainforest, great scenery and culture. An adventurous, rarely visited, travel destination.
No other name quite conjures up images of paradise like this one. Stunning paradisical islands sprawling for thousands of miles across the remote South Pacific.
Closely related to the ethno-cultural makeup of the oft-included Papua New Guinea, Melanesia is home to the always popular destination of Fiji.
- Apia — a little shabby and run down, but useful as an initial stop off point for first time visitors
- Auckland — multicultural metropolis and largest conurbation in Polynesia that scores well in quality-of-life polls
- Brisbane — capital of sun-drenched Queensland and gateway to beautiful sandy beaches
- Christchurch — known as the Garden City, it is filled with trees and old-English buildings
- Melbourne — multicultural and sports-mad, this city includes many cultural institutions
- Nouméa — features beautiful beaches and colonial mansions and is not (yet) a heavily-touristed destination
- Papeete — not a tropical paradise, but has shopping, eating, drinking and is nice for people-watching
- Port Moresby — spread out capital of Papua New Guinea, but can be very dangerous
- Suva — the major commercial and political centre of Fiji, Nadi is the tourist capital
- Sydney — the largest and most cosmopolitan city of Australia, home to the Harbour Bridge and Opera House
- Abel Tasman National Park — great treks through forests, hills and beaches
- Aitutaki — the classic picture postcard of a palm tree fringed tropical island with turquoise waters
- Bay of Islands — pretty spot in New Zealand with historical significance
- Bora Bora — the most beautiful lagoon of French Polynesia, but incredibly pricey
- Coral Coast — amazing white sand beaches and palm trees
- Great Barrier Reef — the largest coral formation in the world, great for diving
- Moorea — budget alternative to Bora Bora with beautiful scenery
- Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park — the iconic rock formations in the middle of the Outback
- Vava'u — group of more than 50 islands in Tonga, a common destination for yachties
Australia and New Zealand are both former British colonies. At one time it was envisaged that the two colonies would become a single country.
Papua New Guinea was, at one time, a United Nations trusteeship, administered by Australia.
Various islands have been annexed by Britain, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Australia and the United States.
This has had an influence on the aspects of culture. Many areas speak both an indigenous language, and the language of the colonial power, often mixing in interesting blends. There has also been an influence on the food and architecture.
Common cultural heritage
See the country articles for detailed information on how to Get in.
The major countries of Australia and New Zealand do of course offer connections from all continents, although there are few direct flights from South America. There are some other gateways offering other opportunities to get in to Oceania, and for interesting itineraries. Air France connects New Caledonia direct with Tokyo and Paris and also flies to Tahiti. Onward connections to Sydney and Auckland are possible. Fiji Airways connects Fiji with Los Angeles with connections through to Sydney, Auckland and Tahiti. Tahiti is connected to Los Angeles, and you can fly to the Cook Islands direct from there. Air New Zealand provides a service to Tonga and Samoa from Los Angeles and Auckland. The Los Angeles service is subsidized by the New Zealand government as a form of aid to the the two countries. Manila, Guam and Honolulu offer a gateway to many countries of Micronesia, mainly on Continental Airlines.
The smallest islands with less tourism present additional challenges to get to. Many are entirely deserted, and some have restrictions on access.
A South Pacific cruise.
Without a yacht, or a lot of time, the only way for travellers to get around between the main destinations of Oceania is by plane. Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland, and Los Angeles have good connectivity to the region. It is usually possible to fly from the west coast of the United States through to Sydney or Auckland via Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji or even the Cook Islands.
However, air routes tend to come and go depending on whether the airlines find them profitable or not. Much of Micronesia, having been under US Administration, is serviced by Continental Airlines. Much of English-speaking Polynesia receives regular flights from Air New Zealand. Melanesia is mainly serviced by national and Australian airlines. Don't expect daily flights. Patience is required.
Flying between Micronesia and the other two areas is problematic and may involve flying all the way to Honolulu or a complicated route through Manila, Sydney and Auckland. Continental Airlines has (January 2011) a weekly flight from Guam to Nadi in Fiji.
Some flight options within Oceania, amongst others, are:
- Guam has connections through to the United States, Japan, and a usually very expensive connection to Cairns in Far North Queensland and to Fiji.
- The Tonga, Samoa and Fiji triangle is fairly well connected, although there is only one flight a week each way between Samoa and Tonga at present.
There are some options for boats, cruise ships, private yachts, adventure cruises, and even cargo ships.
Consult the guide for the destination you are visiting.
All island groups are fascinating and with time and money you can spend months just travelling around. There are some stunningly beautiful islands (Samoa, Cook Islands, French Polynesia), some fascinating cultures and festivals, some wonderful diving and totally deserted beaches. Check the individual country sections for details.
In the water
- Coral and Tropical Fish. There are locations for diving throughout Oceania, for coral and tropical fish, explore the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, Fiji has some reef around Nadi, and specular unspoilt brightly coloured coral on the more remote islands. Samoa is favoured by scuba divers. Cook Islands has accessible reef just off the beach on the main islands. Vanuatu has accessible some accessible reef too, but the facilities there make it more challenging to access than Fiji.
- Sail. Vava'u in Tonga is a popular destination for yachts crossing the Pacific. Yachts can also be chartered there.
- Sub-tropical diving - Diving and snorkelling opportunities still exist even without a tropical reef. Tasmania has some diving spots.
Skiing and snow sports. New Zealand has reliable winter snowfalls, mostly on the South Island in winter. The Snowy Mountains in New South Wales have the largest ski resorts in the southern hemisphere.
Although staple foods from outside the region, such as rice and flour, now have a firm foothold, the traditional staples of roots and tubers remain very important. The cheapest is usually cassava, which also plays a food security role as it can be left in the ground for a long time. Sweet potato is a very important crop and is found in most parts of Oceania with the major producing area being the Higlands of Papua New Guinea. Taro and yam are also widespread. The latter is the most valuable of the roots and tubers and there are many customs associated with its cultivation. In the Sepik area of Papua New Guinea, for example, sex between married couples is supposed to be forbidden while the yams are growing. On the other hand, in the Trobriand Islands the yam harvest is a period of sexual liberty.
Kava is a drink produced from the roots of a plant related to the pepper plant and found mainly in Polynesia as well as Fiji and Vanuatu. It has a mildly narcotic effect. Other names include 'awa (Hawai'i), 'ava (Samoa), yaqona (Fiji), and sakau (Pohnpei). Traditionally it is prepared by chewing, grinding or pounding the roots of the kava plant. In Tonga, chewing traditionally had to be done by female virgins. Pounding is done in a large stone with a small log. The product is then added to cold water and consumed as quickly as possible, invariably as part of a group of people sitting around and sharing the cup. Check the rules before taking any out of the country, however, as importing kava can be illegal.
The islands may be remote but sexual diseases know no boundaries. Usual precautions apply.