Places with photo galleries in Australia and Pacific
A whisk away with the ferry from Tahiti lies laid back island of Mo'orea. Nothing much is going on here, which is exactly the reason to come here. The main thing is chilling out in the shallow, crystal-clear water of the lagoon, which can easily be stretched to a snorkeling trip, and exploration of the island on bicycle or scooter. There are several exotic bays cutting into the island, creating fine photo opportunity with the jungle covered jagged mountains as backdrop. Stretches of small white beaches fringed with the mandatory coconut palms can be found all along the coast. The slow pace and the light development (compare to other French Polynesian islands) make Mo'orea a very mellow destination, and is probably what you expect Tahiti to be in the first place.
To grasp the charm of Tahiti you need to see the island as a whole, rather than a string of single sights. The west coast is the most groomed and have a handful of sights that cater to the few tourists that actually venture out of their resorts. This include the fine lighthouse at Point Venus, the pretty garden of Maraa cave and the lovely located Gauguin museum (yes, the French painter) that actually does not have a single original painting of the guy (understandable though, consider their values). The road from Papeete to Tahiti Iti (the sizable lump attached to Tahiti's southeast end) wind along the coast passing a range of small patches of beaches, where none are of the white-sand-palm-fringed-postcard-worthy quality that the French Polynesia is otherwise known for, and ending in Tahiti Iti, where the famous Teahupoo wave is breaking.
The capital of Solomon Island is a weird place. Run down and devoid of anything slightly pleasing to the eye. The drab town can seem sleazy at first sight, but any small talk with the dodgy looking characters in the streets will only bring out big red smiles (betel nut) and handshakes. The colourful central market is the main (well, only) point of interest. A rowdy affair (as rowdy as it gets in the Solomons) and a great place to meet people from the outer islands. Don't judge the Solomon Islands based on your first impression of Honiara, for the only thing that is the same is the great Melanesian friendliness.
Malaita island is inhabited by "salt water" people along the coast and "bush" people in the mountainous inland. In the past, the salt water people escaped the headhunting bush people by making artificial islands out of blocks of dead coral near the outer reef. Here, they built houses, planted palm trees and made a protected living. Since the introduction of Christianity, the tribal warfare has stopped and the salt water people have now moved back on the mangrove covered shore. Every time they needed more land, a slab of traditional man-made coral estate was added – a practice that continues to this day.
A beautiful area of shallow water protected by an outer reef and sprinkled with hundreds of jungle and palm-tree covered islands. The dense foliage stretches right to the edge where the corals take over below the crystal clear surface. The emerald green water does also contains its share of WWII leftovers like everywhere else in the Solomon Islands. Though most islands are uninhabited, small friendly villages are dotting some of the shores and boast some rather extraordinary sights right smack in their backyard – like birth caves at Mbiche village and maybe-ancient rock art at Bareho village (nobody knowns its origin). Keep in mind that the lagoon covers a large area and transport is costly due to the expensive gasoline.
From the top of the sheer cliff that shelters the bay, you can look straight through the clear water and see mingling sharks (yellow reef sharks) at the bottom. Sea turtles do also occasional cruise by and can be seen in the surf. You cannot access the black sand beach at Sharks Bay, but you can go around the northern tip, climb down a ladder, and walk along the rather deserted beach on the other side. A beautiful and tranquil walk that can be extended all the way to Port Resolution (needs a bit of inland walking) where the gorgeous White Sand Beach lies.
The people of Vanuatu are not shy to show you their way of life. A visit to a Kastom village will no-doubt involve some traditional dance, like the Namba dance on Tanna island. The chief will call the men together by banging the tam-tam, and soon after they will all appear buck-naked with only a bundle of leaves, a so-called Namba, covering their private parts. They will clap, sing, jump, and stamp their way through the tribal dances right on the dirt under the canopy of a giant banyan tree. It is an amazing performance to watch and has a refreshingly authentic feel to it, far from those tacky tourist shows you can see elsewhere in the South Pacific.
Wow! Standing on the rim of an active volcano when it suddenly erupts aggressively is a not-to-be-missed experience in life - that is, if you survive the flying lava. Mt. Yasur on Tanna island is the perfect volcano for that. It is active big time and the crater can easily be reached by foot or even 4WD. At daytime, it is a rather impressive sight with smoke, bangs and flying rocks heading for the sky, but it is nothing compared to the real show at night time. Red hot lava is thrown into the air, changing shape, and landing (hopefully) on the inner side of the crater. If the activity is not too intense, you can even climb the higher rim on both sides of the greater crater and look straight down into the flaming center (there are four crates within the one volcano). Tourists have been killed by venturing too close, so listen to any advice from the locals.