Anne Majumdar

When it comes to South Pacific destinations, we tend to think first of sun, sea and sand. But the reality is that there’s a whole lot more on offer.

Tourism boards and tour operators are working hard to promote the South Pacific islands’ other experiences which offer travellers a more meaningful holiday than the simple flop and drop.

Small ship expedition cruise specialist Lindblad is one such operator which aims to take travellers beyond the beaches with its new South Pacific itineraries which set sail next year.

Sales director Lesia Bain told KarryOn the voyages will incorporate a look at local history, both ancient and more recent, cultural interactions as well as great snorkelling and diving.

“We have a terrible tendency with the Pacific to think only of its beaches,” she said.

“But it’s not just about that – there is a very different, cultural footprint right across the Pacific.”

How to have a more meaningful South Pacific holiday KarryOn

Beqa Island firewalkers, Fiji

Destinations include Easter Island, the Pitcairn Islands, Tahiti, Fiji and the southern Line Islands.

While some of the ports of call are well-known, others have remained off the tourist track and so offer extremely authentic experiences, Bain explained.

Find out how Lindblad works with local communities to ensure it leaves a positive impact.

In addition to an onboard divemaster to help guests explore the marine environment, there are cultural experts to help uncover the local history and traditions.

The new itineraries tie in well with Tahiti Tourisme’s recent efforts to promote the destination’s wide range of attractions and not simply its beach luxury.

How to have a more meaningful South Pacific holiday KarryOn

Image credit: Tahiti Tourisme

“Tahiti Tourisme is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the creation of the first overwater bungalow in our islands this year,” Rob Thompson told KarryOn.

“But while overwater bungalows are synonymous with the Islands of Tahiti, they are not unique to us any longer.”

As a result, the destination rebranded four years ago with the aim of spreading Tahiti’s “backstory”.

The focus has been on promoting the people, history, nature and culture in addition to the experiences on offer. For example, ancient marae (temples) can be found across the islands, with Taputaouatea listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site just this year.

And there is the cuisine.

“Being a melange of Polynesian produce with French gourmet and Asiatic influences, the cuisine is unique and fantastic,” Thompson said.

“This is becoming more and more of a drawcard in a region not normally known for its food.”

How to have a more meaningful South Pacific holiday KarryOn

Image credit: Tahiti Tourisme

Vanuatu has adopted a similar tactic in recent years, according to the Australian representative of Vanuatu Tourism Office (VTO) Bart Druitt.

“We will always have Australians who want to travel to Vanuatu to enjoy the white sands and aqua waters of places like Champagne Beach and Port Olry but gradually the message is getting through that Vanuatu is actually an archipelago of 83 islands full of diversity,” he told KarryOn.

Image credit: Vanuatu.com.au

Image credit: Vanuatu.com.au

The 2016 Vanuatu International Visitor Survey showed that 86% of the 82% of respondents who would consider returning to the destination was interested in visiting the outer islands, known for live volcanoes, coconut plantations, cultural festivals and friendly locals.

“Travellers are being inspired by pictures and stories of incredible adventures in Vanuatu like visiting the active Mount Yasur volcano on the island of Tanna, or swimming in blue holes on Espiritu Santo,” Druitt said.

“A fly and flop holiday at a beach or resort is no longer the only drawcard of Vanuatu.”

Papua New Guinea is also actively promoting its history and culture. The Kokoda Trail and other destinations like Milne Bay and Rabaul are rich in military history particularly relevant to Australian travellers.

It also has great diversity across the country with 800 distinct languages and a range of cultural traditions.

“Australian and New Zealand visitors are choosing to travel to the impressive cultural festivals that take place from June to November each year and ensuring culture is a key part of their Papua New Guinea holiday,” Whicker said.

Have you visited any of these South Pacific destinations?