We will be visiting many of these ports on our upcoming Explorer of the Seas in Fall of 2017.
Welcome to Cruise Critic! If you'd like to participate on our forums by joining in the conversation, please Register Now! Be sure to visit our FAMOUS Roll Call forums, where you can meet other cruisers sailing with you and share a tour or shore excursion and SAVE MONEY!
I've collaborated summaries of the main South Pacific ports I've visited, to hopefully help other travelers looking for tour ideas, and to offer some insight into what each island has to offer.
This is from my personal experience over 9 South Pacific cruises, and gives a bit of insight on independent vs cruise line tour options.
Something to keep in mind - Avoid lying under coconut trees! It sounds like an idealic resting spot however quite dangerous if a coconut drops. On my first cruise, a coconut dropped and fractured a lady's jaw.
My General rule of thumb - if you're happy to walk around and explore fairly close to the ship, independent sightseeing is pretty low risk as you should have enough time to make it back to the ship. However if looking at a full day quite a distance from the ship, or looking at going to an island etc, I like to organise the excursion with the cruise line to make sure that I won't miss the ship in the event of a delay.
Isle Of Pines, New Caledonia
Isle Of Pines is a picture perfect island of New Caledonia.
Currency is XPF South Pacific Francs however I have found that they are sometimes happy to accept small Australian dollar notes.
The first beach where the ship docks is absolutely beautiful. Powder soft sand, trees for sheltering. Perfect for swimming and enjoying a tropical beach.
There are some souvenier shops here, as well as an ice cream stand and a few little food stalls (not available every port day).
There is also a stall here where there are ladies weaving grass hats as a complimentary welcome gift to cruise visitors.
If you cross the road (to the right hand side), you'll come across a second beach with a large sacred rock taking pride in the centre. There is not as much sand area for lying by the beach however the snorkelling here is just amazing, especially around the rock.
This is a port where you can easily sit by the beach and include a perfect day at the beach.
Independent Tours - the locals do run an Island tour for appoximately AUD$10 - $15 per person. I did this tour a few years ago, went for approximately an hour and we drove around to see the local school, church, a look out, and learn about their way of life.
Ship Tours - I normally don't do a tour in Isle Of Pines as it's such a perfect island to enjoy on your own, however on our recent cruise our wine somellier in conversation mentioned that he did a Turtle Bay & Brush Island tour and loved it. On his recommendation, we booked this tour (after a bit of hassle being on a waitlist!) and absolutely loved it! Just amazing and worth every cent. This would approximately 2 hours in duration. We sailed on a speed boat away from the main beaches of Isle Of Pines, on to the most clearest emerald blue waters. Here we sailed until we found some sea turtles. Speedboat stopped, we jumped out into the water (1 metre depth), and it was a fantastic opportunity to touch and get up close with a turtle this big. We then got back onboard the speedboat, sailed towards a stunning Brush Island. Saw a giant sting ray on the way which was amazing. On arrival at Brush Island, this beach was just amazing and we had time to swim and enjoy the crystal clear water.
While you can do a tour if you wish to see something different, a tour is certainly not required for Isle Of Pines.
Mystery Island, Vanuatu
Mystery Island is a tiny small island of Vanuatu. You can walk around the whole island in 40 minutes. The side where the ship tender drops you off is the best side for swimming, and there's plenty of space to setup your beach towels and relax.
The other side of the island (only a three minute walk from one side to the other!) is perfect for snorkelling. There are more rocks on this area and it does drop fairly deep quite quickly, however snorkelling is quite good on this side.
In the centre of the island, the locals setup their market stalls selling graass skirts, flower leis, coconut bras, souveneiers of all types. This is one of the best ports to stock up on items for Island Night (depending on the cruise line, if they do theme nights. Celebrity Cruises doesn't tend to do dress up theme nights on South Pacific cruises).
You can get your hair braided, hire a canoe, or get a photo in the photo prop "bubbling cannibal pot" with some locals.
Currency is Vanuatu Vatu however I have always found no issues in using small Australian dollar notes.
Independent tours: the locals do offer a number of local excursions such as snorkelling, swimming with turtles, fishing for example.
Ship tours: It's quite new that cruise lines are offering escorted tours at this port. From what I've seen while browsing, they do tend to be swimming / snorkeling escorted tours.
Lifou, New Caledonia
Lifou is part of the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia.
Stunning island to enjoy the beach and snorkelling.
Currency is XPF South Pacific Francs however I have found that they are sometimes happy to accept small Australian dollar notes and/or US dollar notes.
Where the ship tender stops, this beach is beautiful to ensure a lazy day. Plenty of beach space to setup a towel, perfect for swimming. There is some basic snorkelling here, some sea turtles wich tend to hug the pier.
There is a fantastic market stall setup by the locals selling souvenirs, fresh fruits, and other food offerings.
Also available is hair braiding, and massages. The massages are fantastic - $10 for 10 minutes, $20 for 20 minutes.
To the immediate left, there is a hostel style accommodation however some beautiful gardens and traditional huts you can walk through.
If you walk up the hill 2 minutes from where the ship docks, you'll come to a main road.
To the left, is Baie De Jinek and a beautiful church look out.
Baie De Jinek is a preserved natural marine reserve, and simply stunning clear bay with so many tropical reefs and coral to explore. Some of the best snorkelling I've experienced on a cruise. To get here, this is a 15 minute walk to the LEFT of the main road. You'll get to a fork in the right, turn RIGHT. Locals sell as "pass" to enter the water for approx US10 per person which allows you to snorkel for approx 2 hours. Bring your own snorkelling equipment. They have now built a ramp to walk into the water.
There is normally a limit of how many guests are allowed per day (approx 200 per day), so this definitely is a first in best dressed system. Get in early and do this first thing to avoid missing out.
** Something to note, if cruising P&O they actually sell the Baie De Jinek passes through the cruise line. So book these onboard before you travel as a preference.
** Royal Caribbean and Celebrity do not presell the passes.
At the fork in the road, if you would have turned LEFT (instead of right), you will a beautiful church and look out, with some stunning views over the island and of your ship.
Going back to where the ship tender leaves you, at the main road, you can go RIGHT for a walk through the island village and visit some hidden caves. Locals charge approx AUD$10 per person for entry, where you walk through a rainforest, grottos, and into a stunning cave with a fresh water hole you can swim in. The cave is quite dark, however locals had torches for light.
It's a 10 minute walk from the entry to the grottos to the cave, however quite a hike so make sure you have shoes with good grip.
Ship tours: I don't know a lot about cruise line operated tours so would recommend referring to the website.
Cruising and docking at this port, it's not the picture perfect image many imagine when they picture Fiji, however that perfect beach is not too far!
Currency was Fijian Dollars.
We cruised to Fiji and this port for the first time this year. As we were there over a weekend, I wasn't sure how much would be available for us to organise independently, so we opted on the side of caution and booked a ship excursion.
Independent tours: There did seem to be quite a number of local tour operators standing around offering tours and sightseeing etc, however I didn't stop to read much on what was on offer. Something to however keep in mind - if you're wanting to spend that day at a beach island by the beach, please keep in mind that the ones the locals send you are quite close to the mainland and not that stunning. The cruise ship excursions are the ones that take you further out to the more stunning beaches.
Ship tour: While at this port, we booked the Ooh La La Savala Cruise which was just amazing. This tour was approximately six hours in duration, and we sailed from the ship to Savala Island approx 40 min. This island was truly paradise, and an uninhabited island 1.5acres in size. Sand perfect powder white, snorkeling here was amazing as was the opportunity to see the baby shark feeding and reef glass bottom boat tours where you could hand feed fish. Lunch was a fantastic bbq style buffet including alcohol, together with a coconut presentation. This was the perfect tropical island day at leisure and would definitely recommend this tour and would do it again!
This is also quite an industrial docking port of Fiji, and definitely do recommend doing a tour.
Currency was Fijian Dollars.
Again, same as Lautoka, we cruised to Suva for the first time this year and again unsure what was on offer locally over a weekend, we again booked a shore excursions.
Independent tours: There were quite a number of locals offer tours and sightseeing, however I didn't take much notice of what was available to select from.
Ship tour: We booked the Jewel Of Fiji tour which was a fantastic cultural day tour. The drive was approx. 1 hour in duration to a local village where we participated in a traditional kava welcome ceremony, viewed some presentations on local art and the use of coconuts, learnt about the history of the village and viewed village cooking techniques. Lunch was a traditional Fijian buffet with beautiful meats cooked in the ground, fish kokoda salad, curries, and a sandwich bar. After lunch, we went on a 20 minute long boat cruise over the rapids until we reached a rainforest where after a 5 minute walk we came across a beautiful waterfall to swim in. Back on the longboat to the village and back to ship, this was definitely a tour to rave about and fantastic for a cultural insight into Fiji.
Noumea, New Caledonia
Noumea is a main city in New Caledonia, and often known as the Paris of the South Pacific.
The larger ships over 70,000 tonnes generally dock at the industrial shipping port. As this is a working port, they offer a complimentary 5 minute shuttle between the ship and the smaller cruise ship terminal in the city centre / return back to the ship.
This smaller cruise ship terminal is where the small ships dock (more often the P&O Australia ships).
Carnival Australia, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises will dock at the industrial shipping port and have the complimentary shuttle on offer.
I've generally found most places only accept XPF South Pacific Francs (with the exception of some that will accept AUD or USD). Most shops and restaurants as well as attractions took credit card, however to be sure, I'd stock up on XPF Francs.
I've been luck enough to visit Noumea seven times, and I truly believe the key with Noumea is getting out and seeing something!
Many do write that they dislike this port. To be honest I've found that if you just walk around, there's not much to see and you will just go back on the ship.
You don't have to do a cruise ship excursions, however I recommend having a plan of what you'd like to see and do when there.
I've travelled both on ship tours independently, so will offer an insight on both below:
Ship tour: My favourite ship tour here has by far been Amadee Island. This is a full day tour, just under $200 per person however when compared to the price of a half day tour, I've found this tour fantastic value. This is a 45 minute catamaran ride to Amadee Island which is a stunning island. Here you can just spend the day relaxing at leisure or you can take advantage of the activities on offer - glass bottom boat cruise, reef shark feeding cruise, climb the lighthouse, sarong tying demonstrations, coconut tree climbing destinations. There's some fantastic swimming and snorkelling also right off the beach. Lunch is a very yum French style buffet with barbequed meats, fresh salads, fish, cheeses, sweets & fresh fruits, all accompanied with French wines and non alcoholic drinks. While enjoying lunch, there's a fantastic cultural dancing performance.
I have also on my first visit been on a ship tour which was a city tour with morning tea. Great to see an overall view of the city however with morning tea and some great views from a look out. However in hindsight what I know now, there are other ways to get a much better taste of Noumea.
Popular for families of for those with mobility issues is the Tchou Tchou train which takes you around the city, however again, you're only really seeing Noumea from a moving vehicle.
Independent tour: there's so much to see and do in Noumea, which most can be done independently for a fraction of the cost.
Noumea has a HOP On HOP Off (HOHO) bus service on offer. This is available from the smaller cruise ship terminal in the city centre, in the terminal building (with large white roof). In there, there are number of tour operators offering different day trips, however I've opted three times to explore Noumea by HOHO bus.
Based on pricing from March 2015, pricing was AUD$15 per person for a days worth of bus loops which take you to see the main city highlights.
HOHO bus highlights include:
- Lemon Bay / Baie De Citron (which is a nice quiet beach area for relaxing - not as stunning as the smaller island beaches, but still quite nice and clean). Lots of restaurants looking over the water.
- Aquarium is fantastic for families. Not huge, perhaps would take up an hour but amazing exhibits and the tropical fish are just stunning.
- Shopping Centre (quite small, a few shops, nothing super amazing that caught our eye).
- Anse Vata beach which is also quite nice, however a bit further away. You'll find Lemon Bay more than adequate.
Some HOHO buses also included a stop at the port for Duck Island. The HOHO stopped, and then you could catch a water taxi across a few minutes to Duck Island approx AUD$5-10 per person. Much cheaper alternative than doing Duck Island through the cruise line, and you can spend all day there if you wish.
Another HOHO used to include Tjibaou Culture Centre which is beautiful to walk through and experience.
Coconut Square is the main city centre, opposite to the smaller cruise ship terminal. Lovely square park in the middle where you can relax and enjoy. There are some bakeries / take away shops nearby so you can get some lunch and enjoy on the grass. Fantastic frozen yogurt shop there too however found it a little pricey as it goes by weight. There are some nice boutique shops around here, however I found we did more window shopping than actual shopping.
There's a great supermarket named CASINO right near the smaller cruise ship terminal where you can buy some different foods, snacks, wine etc.
We are visiting Noumea again in November this year, March 2016 and November 2017. I look forward to learning more about this port and finding different things to see and do! Our cruise this coming November is quite low key so I'm thinking perhaps of finding a nice delicatessan and patisserie, and putting together a picnic basket for us to enjoy on the beach.
Below is an extract from my review from March 2015, and what we did in Noumea earlier this year. It was a perfect day of a bit of sightseeing, trying some local foods, and just relaxing.
Here, we walked inside the terminal where they had quite a number of tour operators offering different day trips. We opted for the Hop On Hop Off bus for approx AUD$15 per person for a days worth of bus loops which takes you to the main city highlights. We were quite specific in what we wanted to see this day, so we just used the HOHO pass as a method of transport. Our first visit was L’Atelier Gourmand, a beautiful patisserie just a 10 minute walk from the Aquarium. This patisserie is was full of locals coming in for their daily baguettes. We had some beautiful cakes, petit fours and a large baguette for approx. AUD$15 total. After morning tea, we walked back to the Aquarium which had fantastic exhibits of all the beautiful tropical fish of the South Pacific. We spent an hour here, before making our way to Lemon Bay /Baie De Citron where there is a number of restaurants and bars all lined up. We had a tapas lunch at La Barca with food and drinks coming in at approx. AUD$50 for the two of us. We had a walk around the main city centre Coconut Square where there was a number of local stores and boutiques, before heading back to the ship.
Port Vila, Vanuatu
Port Vila is very similar to Noumea, in that you really need to do plan before visiting to see the best of the island.
Currency is Vanuatu Vatu however all the local tour operators and market sellers were happy to accept small Australian Dollars, and the duty free shops happy to accept credit card.
Where the ship docks is by all the container ships lined up, and the locals have setup a long chain of market stalls selling souvenirs, clothing, grass skirts etc. There are also a number of local drivers waiting to take you around the island, and offering independent tours.
There is some great duty free shops along the main street (about 5 minutes from where the ship docks), and I've found the best priced duty free at Fung Kwei. They accept credit card, and will deliver the duty free back to the ship for you, and this will be returned to you on the last night of the cruise.
Ship tour: I'm not sure if this still is on offer through the ship however one of the tours I went on was Mele Island. This was a beautiful island off the mainland for the day, fantastic for swimming, snorkelling, canoeing. We went snorkelling with a local guide who found starfish and the most beautiful tropical fish. We had a deli style lunch with a cultural sing and dance, and then went on a village walk and learned about their way of life.
My favouite ship tour was Round Island Safari. This was a full day tour finishing with duty free shopping on our request. An amazing tour, got a great feel for the Vanuatu culture. Extract from their website: Witness the art of fire walking and learn about traditions, sacrifices and preparation men undertake prior to this ritual. Enjoy morning tea. Take a quick dip or wander around tropical gardens at Eden on the River. Stretch your legs, take photos or enjoy a quick 15-20 minute swim at idyllic Secret Beach. Pass villages for glimpses of modern village life and remnants of the American forces World War II involvement. Lunch at a rustic local restaurant. Continue along picturesque Havana Harbour to the beach used in Survivor Vanuatu. Return via Klems Hill Lookout for superb views over Mele Bay, Hideaway Island and the township in the distance.
Independent tour: It's quite easy to get around Port Vila independently as there are so many local drivers and taxis's and public buses on offer. All the vehicles look the same!!
On our visit to Port Vila, there was six of us and we were able to get a driver on arrival from ship to Cascade Waterfalls, then to the port for Hideaway Island, and back to the ship for less than the cost of one person's tour cost if we would have gone through the cruise line on a ship tour.
Cascade Waterfalls are a beautiful nature walk of approx 10 - 15 minutes through the rain forest until you arrive at the waterfalls, where you could swim in the waterfall pools.
Hideaway Island is a 5 minute boat ride from the mainland. This is fantastic island to spend some of the day / some of the day for swimming, amazing snorkelling, and you can also post a waterproof postcard in the underwater post office!
Santo / Luganville, Vanuatu
This port is part of Vanuatu, and again you really do need to have a plan to see and do something when there.
Where the ship docks are a number of market stalls setup, and also local drivers offering sightseeing tours. All payable in AUD cash.
Ship tour: I one traveled on the tour Canoe The Riri River which was a nice river cruise with some swimming at the end in a lagoon. Nice, but not amazing.
The Magical Water Music Tour was amazing, and definitely worth seeing! A great insight into local culture. Extract from the tour guide: Travel north by minibus along the coast, then inland to a northern village populated by Banks and Torres Islands locals. Be greeted by warriors, enjoy a refreshing coconut drink and settle in to watch a kastom (custom dance), and the preparation of kava and other traditional and sacred customs. The highlight, unique to this isolated region, is a water music performance. Ladies from Vanuatu’s remote northern tropical islands, in traditional dress including arm bands and headwear made from flowers and leaves, wade up to their waist to perform mystical water music.
Independent tours: It's quite easy to get a local driver here. We had a driver take us to Blue Lagaoon a natural water swimming lagoon, absolutely stunning with tarzan style swinging vines etc. This was approx $20 per person.
Wala isn't as popular as it was before, however some cruises are still appearing to include Wala randomly.
This is quite a small island, with market stalls, and the locals offering escorted walks throughout their village. We paid $5 per person at the time, took about an hour, however was amazing to see the different exhibits they had set up for us.
Be aware of swimming here as many do report "water mites" that bite / sting when entering the water.
Currency - Vanuatu Vatu, small Australian notes accepted.
Champagne Bay, Vanuatu
Currency - Vanuatu Vatu, small Australian notes accepted.
Wow Champagne Bay. Definitely one of my favourite places, just a shame it's not visited often!
This port is the essence of the Vanuatu culture and the people are just beautiful. On arrival, they are lined up in a processing singing welcome songs to great each and every tender for the first hour or two!
There are great market stalls setup along the beach, lots of fresh fruit for purchase as well as souveniers. Also some great animals to have your photos taken with - turtles, birds, snakes.
Independent tours: There are a few local tours running to a blue lagoon which you can organise when you're there, however I haven't done one before.
This port is just breathtakingly beautiful. Spend the day relaxing on the beach. I haven't seen amazing snorkeling here, however the water is perfect as is the powder soft sand.
One of the great things about Champagne Bay is the fresh lobster. I'm very cautious with eating lobsters / crabs prepared in such a setting, however you can purchase a live lobster picked from their buckets full (they're alive and moving around quite a bit!). Cost varies depending on tail size. You see them boil the lobster in front of you, and it's served on a banana leave with fresh lime. Just beautiful.
They also have a selection of bananas, mangoes, pineapple, fresh peanuts just pulled from the ground etc, all available for purchase.
Hope this helps give you some ideas of what you can see and do on your next cruise! Please feel free to email me if you have any questions at all I can help with
I can help with a couple of the islands:Im sorry VROGERS, I just got in this post today. I appreciate your input. We are not going yet until summer. There are enough time to take in all your advices.
Just where the tenders arrive there will be a bus and for about $5 will take you to the local beach where swimming is great. I recall this bus stopped at a few stops along the way one stop was I think Bloody Marys this was a popular stop.
Local bus again that does a circle around the whole island. Stops at popular beaches. We actually hired a car and did this ourselves at our own leisure. Tendering can be dicey on COOK Islands due to currents.
Main port so no snorkelling close to city, but a cab to nearest beach could work. We stayed in Papette pre and post cruise and hotel was a bit of a drive but on the beach.
Memory can't recall what did here, but think beach was close to where ship tendered, think we walked to the church on the top of the hill.
Hope that gives you a bit of insight.
Happy travels it is one of my fav spots ever...V