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 on these lands that comprise southern Oceania, with the first two the most visited. Within Oceania are the vast island nation groupings of Polynesia to the far east, Melanesia to the west and Micronesia to the north.
Cities to visit
Australia and New Zealand are both former British colonies. At one time it was envisaged that the two colonies would become a single country. In the past, Papua New Guinea was a United Nations trusteeship, administered by Australia. Various islands have been annexed by Britain, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Australia and the United States.
The presence of all of these cultures has created an influence on aspects of culture norms and development. In many areas at least one, often more indigenous languages, and the languages of one or more of the colonial powers, are spoken by the majority as people have coexisted or joined with the influx of other cultures. This mix has influenced cuisine, architecture and other facets of culture.
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 two countries. Manila, Guam and Honolulu offer a gateway to the many countries of Micronesia, mainly on Continental Airlines.
The smallest islands with less tourism present travel challenges. Many are entirely deserted, and some have restrictions on access. Others require specialized services you may hire.
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 a weekly flight from Guam to Nadi in Fiji. United Airlines offers flights also. Aircalin has flights from Japan direct to New Caledonia
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.
Things to see
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.
Things to do
In the water
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 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 Highlands 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, relations between married couples are traditionally forbidden while the yams are growing. On the other hand, in the Trobriand Islands the yam harvest traditionally is a period of active relations within couples, and of sexual freedom in general.
Bars and Night life
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 before taking any out of the country, however, as importing or exporting kava can be illegal for travelers.
Usual travel precautions re: any socializing or involvement with local people apply, always, and take special care in remote areas and on remote islands. Prepare thoroughly for trips into remote areas. Do your research, be prepared, understand that wilderness areas are true wilderness.
Vanuatu has no reported cases of malaria currently although it has existed. Islanders are recuperating from flood losses (2014), and attendant human and infrastructure damage in the Solomon Islands, with some people who have contracted malaria. The malaria risk has lessened in Papua New Guinea this decade. All mentioned have a regimen of larval control practices.
Check with the WHO for the latest statistics.