Melanesia is the term we use to describe one of the largest archipelagos in Oceania – one that is often considered one of the most beautiful places on earth. To be precise there are actually 2,100 islands with a total land area of 2,700 sq. km. After that it is a bit like a puzzle within a puzzle. The four main island groups are: The Caroline Islands (a mere 500 small coral islets), the Gilbert Islands (16 atolls and coral islands), The Mariana Islands (an archipelago formed by 15 volcanic summits), The Marshall Islands (another 29 that form the Ratak ad Ralik Chain – or more, poetically, the Sunset and Sunrise Chains! And then there´s Bikini Atoll (don´t you just love these names?) with 23 islands, plus the island of Naurau and the Fiji Islands – another 9 main islands and 330 other islands and 500 islets, only 110 of which are inhabited. In other words…don´t worry, you´ll find one you like.
Melanesia (which derives from the Greek words for ”the black islands”) is one of the three large areas of the South Pacific, also known as Oceania, that stretches from the western South Pacific to the Arafura Sea, between Australia and New Guinea. Most of the main islands in Melanesia are independent states except for Guam and Wake Island (both US territories) and the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
So as you can see, Melanesia, with its wealth of tropical islands is just waiting to be discovered! Here, in this veritable ”bounty land”, you can take your pick of incredible beaches, world-class diving and snorkeling sites plus there are lots of interesting historical places to visit that illustrate the islands’ ethnological and cultural diversity. There are plenty of reasons to visit Melanesia: Perhaps it is the rich variety of exotic bird and animal life that interests you. Here, “primeval” is the word that springs to mind! Reptiles are numerous and Palau is home to fruit bats.
With their forests, minerals, fishing industry and sugar exports, the Fijian Islands have one of the most developed economies in the Pacific. The two main islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu and the capital is Nadi. Before or after you set off for more remote spots, why not stop off in this bustling island “city”? It´s a great place to eat, drink (organic) and shop for local products, or take one of the many excursions on offer. There is a whole range of tours and activities. From here you can catch a local flight or a ferry to many of the smaller islands. Here, you´ll the kind of “peace and tranquillity” you won´t find many other places on the planet. The Fijian Islands are 2,000 km north of New Zealand´s North Island. Remote enough for you? With the emphasis today on traveling without damaging the environment, and giving back something to the places we visit, this may be the place to do just that. This is eco-tourism at its best. And if we treat it with respect, perhaps this fragile eco-system and culture will still be around for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. To immerse yourself in nature, and get off the beaten track (even more than you already are!), head for Taveuni Island (The Garden Island) where you can hike through pristine rainforests, learn about the rare flora and fauna and get back to nature in a big way in this island paradise. It´s like your very own Jurassic Park.
If it´s swaying palms and turquoise waters you´ve come for, then take the ferry from Nadi to the Mamanuca Islands close by, perhaps the most scenic islands of all in this archipelago, and the place where the movie “Castaway” was filmed starring Tom Hanks. One glance at the picture will be enough. You´ll be sold. And although you can spoil yourself in 5-star retreats and luxury lodges if you like, you can also keep things simple and stay in one of the backpacker lodges that cater to those who come to enjoy some of the best diving, surfing or other watersport activities in the world. Looking for golf or tennis? Denarai Island is the spot.
Getting off the beaten track is not as difficult as it may seem, you could always hitch a ride on a passing yacht if you´ve plenty of time, but it may be a little quicker to grab one of the international flights from L.A., San Francisco, Honolulu or one of the major Australian cities such as Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane or Sydney. In fact, you could also combine it with a trip to Australia or New Zealand as many do. It´s a dream come true.
Heritage Expeditions (www.heritage-expeditions.com) of New Zealand offers conservation-driven voyages on the good ship, ”Spirit of Enderby” (50 passengers) to some of the least-explored regions on the planet including Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea with 2 expeditions per year in April and October. This is an unparalled travel experience for any photographer, bird and wildlife enthusiast, conservationist or simply anyone with an adventurous spirit.
The following countries are usually included as part of this vast area:
More to come :)