Make the most of your $$
I hear two things in regards to backpacking in the South Pacific, one that it's "not south east Asia and that it won't be cheap", and that "don't worry you can still do it for cheap", and I don't think that either of these give you any useful advice. What will make or break your trip is how you spend the money that you have. my recommendation is, cheap out as much as you can on accommodation, transportation, and food, while spending as much as your budget allows on activities and tours. This will go against the natural habits that you've built as a backpacker, but trust me, on the islands, this is the way to go. In terms of food, if the island you're staying on has any good local food, it's guaranteed to be cheaper than imported food. See two good examples below:
My reasoning behind saving on accommodation is simple. The islands of the South Pacific are some of the most incredible places in the entire world. You should embrace them, and spending loads of time in your accommodation is simply a waste of time. Accommodation can get expensive in the South Pacific, so it's a good place to try and cut your costs. I always stayed at the absolute cheapest airbnb, or guesthouse, and I never regretted it.
Getting from place to place in the South Pacific can be the most exciting part! I highly encourage you to be daring, and find the cheapest transportation available. Hitchhiking, sailing, and hiking will leave you with much more striking memories than flying or being driven. In terms of safety, islanders are unbelievably friendly and will help you out whenever you need!
Hopefully saving on those parts of your trip will help clear up your budget, because there is one time when it's pretty important to spend, and that's when it comes to activities. Almost all land in the South Pacific is privately owned, meaning that you'll either have to pay an entry fee, or pay for a tour to enter it. (Except for Tonga! Where all of my incredible hiking on Eua was free!). So unlike other parts of the world, where the best experiences are the free ones, in the South Pacific if you stick to the free stuff, you'll be missing out on the majority of what your island has to offer. Even in the rare case that something can be done for free, tours in the South Pacific seem to almost always be worth your while.
Check out my Budgets page to see my estimated price breakdown for much of the south pacific.
Plan Your Routes
Unlike other parts of the world, countries in the South Pacific are not always directly connected together. While cargo ships do obviously run direct routes from country to country, I do not have experience taking them. However, I have heard that it is an amazing experience if you have the time, so I highly recommend doing some research if that prospect sounds appealing. This article by Thomas H. Booth is a great source. My next trip to the region will definitely involve them.
If you're flying from one country to another, you'll find that most routes involve connecting via Auckland, Brisbane, Nadi, or sometimes Sydney. This presents a great opportunity to take a short break in western style civilization to restock your supplies, or recharge your batteries, but will become expensive and annoying if you're forced into a layover every flight. To avoid this, plan the order of your countries carefully. Below I've listed some countries with direct flight connections to take advantage of.
- Samoa (Apia) <>
Am. Samoa (Pago Pago) <> Tonga (Nuku'alofa)
- Cook Islands (Rarotonga) <>
French Polynesia (Pape'ete) <> New Caledonia (Noumea) <> Wallis <> Futana
- Samoa (Apia) <>
Vanuatu (Port Vila) <> New Caledonia (Noumea)
- New Caledonia (Noumea) <>
Vanuatu (Port Vila) <> Solomon Islands (Honiara) <> Papa New Guinea (Port Moresby)
- Micronesia (Yap) <>
Guam (Hagatna) <> Northern Marianas (Saipan)
- Palau (Koror) <>
Guam (Hagatna) <> Micronesia (Chuuk) <> Papa New Guinea (Port Moresby)
- Micronesia (Pohnpei) <>
Marshalls (Majuro) <> Nauru (Yaren) <> Kiribati (Tarawa) <> Tuvalu (Funafuti)
- Guam (Hagatna) <>
Micronesia (Chuuk) <> Micronesia (Pohnpei) <> Micronesia (Korsae) <> Marshalls (Kwajalein) <> Marshalls (Majuro) <> Hawaii (Honolulu)
**While chatting with the CEO and pilot of Talofa Airways on a flight from Pago Pago to Nuku'alofa, he mentioned that he's trying to start offering direct flights connecting Samoa with Wallis and Futana, as well as Niue, so if you're planning a trip including one of those two, try and see if that's an option.**
In addition to these connections, Fiji Airways directly connects Nadi, Fiji to...
- Kiribati (Tarawa and Kiritimati)
- Samoa (Apia)
- Solomon Islands (Honiara)
- Tonga (Neiafu and Nuku'alofa)
- Tuvalu (Funafuti)
- Vanuatu (Port Vila)
- Hawaii (Honolulu)
- Wallis and Futana (Wallis)
- Nauru (Yaren)
- New Caledonia (Noumea)
Ask the locals for help
Locals are your best friends in the South Pacific! Seriously! Even if you think you know what you're doing/where you're going, it never hurts to ask a local. Most are extremely proud of their heritage and country, and are excited to make sure you love it as much as you do! Little things like telling the bus driver or even a random passerby where you're trying to get to will allow you to meet interesting people, and confirm that you're going the right direction. This isn't South East Asia, no one is trying to scam you, even airport taxi drivers and market stall salesmen.
Island time is a real thing. Don't expect anything to open/close at the posted time, don't expect buses to come on schedule, or planes to fly every day. Try to come home a bit early every day to account for delays, and leave a buffer day between local connections and important dates/international flights. This is so that when your domestic connection, whether its a flight, boat ride, or even just day of hitchhiking, is late or cancelled, you don't miss an important deadline, such as an international flight.
It's a cliche you've heard a million times to "Throw away half of what you were going to bring blah blah blah" and it's true, you're definitely going to bring more stuff than you need, but here are some (hopefully) more practical pieces of advice than simply "bring less". These are my recommendations for the South Pacific, so obviously general backpacking advice you've read about also apply here.
There is no need for long pants in the south pacific. Straight up, don't bring them. If you're coming from South East Asia and you had them for temples, or from somewhere cold, give them away, or throw them out, they'll take up too much space. Same goes for long sleeve shirts, and any coats that are meant to keep you warm. If said warm clothes are too expensive to throw away, you shouldn't have brought them in the first place.
Instead, bring a few (3-4) pairs of lightweight shorts, and thin t-shirts. I made the mistake of bringing shorts that were made from cotton, which meant that my four pairs took up an entire 14x10 packing cube! That doesn't seem like a big deal, but when you're lugging it 20km across an island with no transportation, trust me you'll notice.
Many places you go in the South Pacific won't have consistent access to electricity, so it's a good idea to invest in a solid rechargeable battery. I used a Anker Powercore 26800 and it never let me down, but as long as the one you pick can last you at least a week, you'll be fine.
There are so many incredible sites to see in the South Pacific, you'll be kicking yourself if you don't bring a waterproof camera. I was skeptical if it was worth it to invest what seemed like a fortune on a GoPro Hero 7 Black but it has to go down as one of the best purchases of my life. You will not find a better souvenir of your adventures than that one incredible photo or video that your camera will capture for you.
People overdo it with their medkit recommendations. Any problem you might have on an island has been had by the locals. They will have whatever you need. A basic first aid kit is useful, but even with that, keep it light. If your island has people, it'll have first aid, and you'll be fine. Same goes for toiletries. Some deodorant, soap/shampoo, and a tooth brush is all you need. When you run out of something you can buy more, you don't need to pack enough for the whole trip, please don't.
- Running shoes that dry quickly, no other shoes needed
- Light windbreaker rain jacket
- Some waterproof zip-lock bags
- Waterproof Tape (Super useful for repairing mosquito nets)
- A couple of carabiners to clip wet stuff to your pack
- If you've got room, your own snorkel. Having one will save you loads of $$ on rental fees
Best of luck!