SOUTH PACIFIC CRUISES

COMPLETE GUIDE TO CRUISING THE SOUTH PACIFIC

The South Pacific Islands are one of the worlds last true paradises. An archipelago of sun, white beaches, palm trees and incredible marine life! Taking a cruise to this art of the world is probably one of the most enjoyable and relaxing things you can do. 

Because the South Pacific is such a big area, there are loads of itineraries, ship options and wildlife to choose from. So, to help you choose your perfect cruise, we have put together this guide page to help you. 

Planning a cruise can often be a slight headache due to the number of decisions that have to be made. Below we have answered the most common questions we get from travellers considering a South Pacific cruise. 

Although we'll discuss expedition-style cruises in depth, there will be information on the main cruise lines as well. Please use our quicklinks below if you know what section you wish to read. 

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Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote with our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

South Pacific Cruises: The Complete Guide

​Overview

South Pacific Map

The South Pacific, also known as the Polynesian Triangle, spans 10 million square miles and includes around 1,000 scattered islands. The triangle can be separated into three distinct regions - Melonesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia (see map above).

The three major island groups lying at it's corners are Hawaii to the North, Easter Island to the South East and New Zealand to the South-West. Each offer something surprisingly different, with every region displaying unique histories, geology, cultures, languages, and scenery.

The region first captured people's imagination on mass when the letters of Robert Louis Stevenson's time in the South Seas were published. Stevenson offered up an account of paradise that swirled in the minds of many Late Victorians.

In truth, the author was dead right, the South Pacific Islands are a paradise. Not only do you find azure waters and white, sandy beaches, but the local people are incredibly welcoming. It's not all sunbathing and swimming though, for expedition lovers you'll find a wealth of culture, including the famous Easter Island Statues (aka the Moai).    

The statues are considered remarkable for many reasons but the most fascinating is the fact that they were moved 18 km (approx. 11 miles) without the use of wheels, cranes or large animals. Scientists have tried many experiments to understand how they were moved, but the exact truth still remains a mystery. 

You'll have the chance to take part in local festivities and meet the islanders covered in their tribal tattoos. The word “tattoo” actually comes from the French Polynesian “ta tau”, and literally means to write. In Polynesian culture tattoos are considered a sign of beauty and are commonly seen throughout the various islands groups. 

The South Pacific Islands are not as far away from America as you may imagine, especially the West Coast. The national airline carrier 'Air Tahiti Nui' offer 9 hour direct flights from LA to Tahiti, from where many of the South Pacific cruise depart. 

Best Time To Cruise The Islands

best time to cruise South Pacific

Because the South Pacific region covers such a vast area, the climates can differ somewhat.

This is particularly true as the equator runs right between the triangle. What is summer in Tahiti, is Winter in Hawaii. 

Because the region has a rainy season and, more alarmingly, a hurricane season, cruises are far more popular during the dry season. Below we have given some more information both Winter and Summer.   

​Summer

Summer is the high period for travellers not visiting by cruise ship. 

Although Summer is the warmest period, its also the most humid and has the highest chance of hurricanes and rain. As a result, cruises are not as popular during this period.

This is not to say that land tourists will not have a great time during this period. The hot weather makes for ideal sunbathing and swimming.

However, for people wishing to hike, bike, horse ride, or undertake anything physical, the heavy humidity may be uncomfortable.  

​Winter

Winter in the South Pacific is the dry season. This also means its the main cruise season. Cruises generally run from April - September south of the equator (Tahiti, Easter Island, New Zealand etc.). North of the equator this is reversed. 

Don't be put off though, thanks to their location, the South Pacific Islands are blessed with a lovely year-round tropical climate.

You'll still get plenty of chances to swim and sunbathe, it just won't be exceedingly hot. This is also the best time to surf, kayak, hike and be active as the oppressive heat won't sap your energy.    

Types of Cruise Ships

types of South Pacific cruise ships

The South Pacific region is enormous. Therefore, there are many ships on offer. In general terms there are three types of ships you can choose from. Each is discussed below. 

Once you have decided on the type of ship you want though, you'll need to decide on which ship you want. This is a harder question and one that requires some research. You'll need to consider options such as size, on-board facilities, staff ratio, food quality, added activities, and deck space.

Motor Yachts

Motor yachts are incredibly versatile due to their small size. 

Often, these small boats take less than 50 people. This means you can reach shallow inlets that large vessels cannot. 

However, it also means that you won't be able to traverse open seas in a  way that the larger ship can. 

Therefore, motor yachts are often used on itineraries that stay within a certain archipelago like Hawaii.

Good activity options are generally offered and you certainly won't have to queue! 

​Expedition Ships

Expedition-style ships are becoming more and more popular when it comes to cruising exotic destinations. 

Although bigger than moto yachts, expedition ship are generally smaller than the main cruise lines, but can still handle open waters very easily. 

his makes them ideal for exploring and offering adventure itineraries like kayaking, diving, snorkelling, and fishing. 

They're not cheap though as you'll have dedicated guides on board and daily zodiac trips to make shore landing and search for wildlife. 

Main Line Ships

Main line operators like Royal Caribbean, P&O, Princess, Celebrity etc. all offer cruises to the South Pacific.

The ships are big, seriously big. Most lines will offer cruises for at least 3,000 passengers! 

This means you get incredible onboard facilities such as cinemas, restaurant choices, pools, spas etc. 

However, it also means that you won't make as many shore landings, or be able to take part in extra activities like diving, horse riding, kayaking etc. 

This style of cruising is very popular and suits many people. 

South Pacific Cruise Cost

South Pacific cruise cost

Similar to ships, costs can vary quite significantly depending on how long you sail, what ship and where. The main line cruise options are generally the cheapest with prices starting from a $1,000 for a 7 night cruise departing from Sydney. Longer cruises can cost up to $4,000.

Main line cruises will not visit places like Tahiti and Easter Island, except on world itineraries. For a dedicated cruise to these unique islands, you'll need to take an expedition itinerary. 

For expedition cruises, prices start around $3,500 and go up from there depending on itinerary and cabin choice. For a great 2 week experience to Tahiti and Eater Island, expect to pay between $7,000 – $15,000.

​Other Cost Considerations

​Beside the main cruise cost, there are also a number of other cost factors to consider. 

​Solo Travelers

​Flights

​Visa and other Misc. Expenses

Choosing The Right Itinerary

Because the South Pacific region is so big, there are numerous regions and itineraries to choose from. Below we have given a quick overview of each. 

French Polynesia

South Pacific cruise itineraries - polynesia

French Polynesia is the ideal starting point for people wanting to visit the South Pacific. Consisting of five archipelagos, the region is exactly what people imagine when they think of paradise islands.

Papeete, the capital of Tahiti, is the departing point of most cruises within this region. The beautiful Society Islands are the most popular area and include Tahiti, Bora Bora , Moorea, and Huahine. 

Tahiti itineraries typically include Bora Bora,  Raiatea, Moorea, and Tahaa. To visit places like Hauhine or Easter Island, you'll need to take specialist expedition cruises. 

Micronesia

South Pacific cruise itineraries - micronesia

Micronesia is made up of four nation states - Yap, Pohnpei, Chuuk, and Kosrae. Slightly less popular than both Polynesia and Melanesia due to its remote location, itineraries to this region are only offered on small expedition-style boats. 

A handful of cruises depart from Rabaul, Papua New Guinea each Winter. You'll need to catch a flight to Cairns first though. Although not as popular, these cruises are truly epic and visit regions that see few tourists. 

If you want a large ship, you'll have to take a world trip and visit Micronesia on the way. 

Melanesia

South Pacific cruise itineraries - melanesia

New Guinea, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji await cruise goers to Melanesia. 

Fiji and Vanuatu are the main focus of the region and most cruises will base there itineraries around these two islands. Like Micronesia, its mainly small expedition-style boats that travel to this area, offering loads of activities like swimming kayaking etc. 

Micronesia is also the gateway to the Yasawas islands. Paradise on a postcard, the islands were used as the location for the Blue Lagoon films. 

World Itineraries

South Pacific cruise itineraries - world

A number of the main cruise lines offer worldwide itineraries that stop off in the South Pacific. 

These cruise, which can last from one to four months in length, typically make port at places such as Tahiti, Bora Bora, Marquesas Islands, Moorea, Rarotonga, Yasawa, Fiji, Some, and Tonga.

Another option is to take a 'repositioning cruise'. When ships need to reposition their location, they will offer the one-way route as a cruise option. Larger ships often reposition from Australia to Hawaii or mainland America. 

Hawaii

South Pacific cruise itineraries - hawaii

Made up of eight volcanic islands, Hawaii is an incredibly diverse region and one that is seen best by cruise ship. 

Most major cruise lines offer Hawaii itineraries during Winter (Nov - Mar), but some operators like Holland offer year-round options. 

You'll need to decide whether you want a purely Hawaiian cruise, or if you want to journey from mainland America which many of the itineraries do. 

Either was, you'll have a great time as the islands are packed with things to do and you'll make numerous shore landings. 

New Zealand

South Pacific cruise itineraries - new zealand

Although not what you would call quintessentially 'South Pacific', New Zealand is certainly part of the wider Polynesia region. 

You won't experience the warm, azure waters and deep tan, but you will get a diverse region full of activities.

If it's wine tasting, horse riding, canoeing, or mountain biking you're after, then a New Zealand cruise is probably your best bet. 

Many itineraries leave from Australia, whilst you can take numerous small ship excursions from both the South and North Island. 

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote with our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

South Pacific Wildlife

During ay expedition cruise to the South Pacific, your guides will take you to the best wildlife watching points.

The islands are a haven for tropical birds and each archipelago offers different and unique species to witness. However, it's beneath the waters where a kaleidoscopic world of coral and marine species await you. 

What wildlife you see really depends on where you sail. Obviously, the wildlife in New Zealand is significantly different to that of Tahiti. Below we have given a quick overview of some of the more popular species. 

​Types of Wildlife

Whales

South Pacific cruise wildlife - whales

Huge numbers of whales are seen throughout the South Pacific on most itineraries. humpbacks are most common. Orca can be seen in New Zealand.

Dugong

South Pacific cruise wildlife - dugong

Often referred to as Sea cows, Dugongs can only be seen on Melanesia itineraries around Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and the Solomon Islands. 

Sharks

South Pacific cruise wildlife - sharks

Throughout the South Pacific numerous shark species can be seen such as reef sharks, hammerheads and lemon sharks. 

Dolphins

South Pacific cruise wildlife - dolphins

There are over 10 species of dolphins found throughout the South Pacific. Most commonly seen are the spinner, spotted, bottlenose and rough-toothed dolphins.

Sea Turtles

South Pacific cruise wildlife - sea-turtle

Green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and olive ridley sea turtles can be seen in certain parts of the South Pacific. Itineraries around Fiji and Vanuatu are ideal.  

Tropical Fish

South Pacific cruise wildlife - fish

Snorkeling and diving anywhere in the Pacific Triangle is going to give you numerous tropical fish species including clown fish, parrot fish and angelfish. 

Seals

South Pacific cruise wildlife - seals

Both sea lions and fur seals can be found in large numbers on the southern island of New Zealand. Most itineraries to this region will see them. 

Frigatebird

South Pacific cruise wildlife - frigatebird

With deeply forked tails and a very large wingspan, frigatebirds inhabit tropical skies. Can be seen on any of the main islands around Tahiti, Fiji, Vanuatu etc. 

Penguins

South Pacific cruise wildlife - penguins

New Zealand is a hotspot for penguins with a total of 6 species on offer! Most itineraries will give ou the chance to see two or three.

Sea Eagle

South Pacific cruise wildlife - eagle

The beautiful solomon sea eagle is an endemic species to the Solomon Islands and you'll need to take an expedition cruise to these islands to see one. 

Eclectus Parrot

South Pacific cruise wildlife - eclectus parrot

 Native to the Solomon Islands, Sumba, New Guinea, and northeastern Australia, the eclectic parrot is totally unforgettable. 

Kea

South Pacific cruise wildlife - kea

The only alpine parrot in the world, kea can only be found in New Zealand. Quite a rare bird to spot, you'll have to be lucky!

Things To Do On Your Cruise

Because there are so many itineraries and destinations throughout the region, you'll have plenty of activity options when deciding on your cruise. 

Please note that not every activity is offered on all itineraries. You will need to check with your operator prior to booking. Many of these activities are also not included in the price.  

Kayaking

South Pacific cruise activites - kayaking

Kayaking is an extremely popular option when it comes to South Pacific cruises. It allows you to get closer to nature and explore areas your cruise ship cannot. All itineraries will charge extra for kayaking. 

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Bird Watching

South Pacific cruise activites - bird watching

Due to high number of tropical birds found on the archipelagos, bird watching tours are generally included in most expedition itineraries. Look out for the Eclectus parrot and the red-footed booby. 

WHERE

Diving

South Pacific cruise activites - diving

Diving is one of the best things you can do during your South Pacific cruise. The marine life is amazing and coral reefs are simply spectacular. You will need to have a certified diving license to participate. 

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Snorkeling

South Pacific cruise activites - snorkeling

Snorkeling is by far and away the most popular activity. No need for a dive license as you explore the vast coral reefs and beautiful blue ocean right from the deck of your cruise ship. Snorkeling will be included the price. 

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Photography

South Pacific cruise activites - photography

Although only select expedition itineraries will have a photography expert onboard, this is something you can do during any shore excursion. We suggest bringing an underwater camera to capture the amazing marine life. 

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Hiking

South Pacific cruise activites - hiking

Whenever you make port during your cruise you will have the option to explore the area. Often you'll have guided hikes up small mountains in order to get the best views of the land. Hiking will be included in the cruise price.  

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Surfing

South Pacific cruise activites - surfing

The surfing throughout the South Pacific is world-renowned. Hawaii is obivosul the most famous, but Fiji and Tahiti are right behind. Surf lessons are often available at an extra cost. Otherwise, you'll need to hire a surfboard. 

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4x4

South Pacific cruise activites - 4x4

Taking a 4x4 tour is extremely fun! Explore a landscape otherwise unseen and traverse roads and inclines that will get your heart pumping. These tours last several hours and will not be included in your cruise package. 

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Horse Riding

South Pacific cruise activites - horse riding

There's noting quite like horse riding along a ridge, looking down upon a beautiful blue ocean. Although not common, many islands do have this option. Once again, this will not be included in the price of the cruise. 

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 South Pacific Packing List

Your packing list may vary slightly depending on where and when you travel.

Cruises to New Zealand will be much colder than those visiting Micronesia or French Polynesia. 

The key is to work out what activates you'll be doing and pack accordingly. Most of the time you'll get away with a standard outfit like shirt and shorts. Below we have higgled some items to consider. 

​Items To Consider

Clothing: The weather will generally be warm. However it may get cold at night. Make sure you bring some light-weight shirts and a warm fleece. Trade winds blow quite hard during Winter, so you may also want a good shell jacket.  

Swimwear: Hopefully you'll be dig lots of swimming. Bring a good swim suit or bathers to get you by. Also bring your snorkel if you own one. 

Sunglasses: A good pair of UV sunglasses will be incredibly useful. The sea is vary glare and you'll find birdwatching and hikes to be more enjoyable with a good pair. 

Footwear: If you're on an expedition cruise you may want to co sider some high-calf waterproof boots as you'll be making a number of wet-landings. 

Bags and Daypacks: when hiking or birdwatching ashore, you'll no doubt want a good day pack to store your key items like phone, wallet etc. 

Important Accessories: Remember to bring a water bottle, suncream, earplugs, flippers, kindle, extra electrical sockets etc. 

Get a Cruise Quote!

Expedition Cruise do not sell tours, we simply provide impartial advice. If you would like an exact quote with our recommended specialist click Get a Quote.

South Pacific Highlights

Bora Bora

South Pacific cruise highlights - bora-bora

Bora Bora is often seen as the idyllic island. Gleaming white sands, beautiful coral and lush, forest covered hills make Bora Bora a true paradise. Have a go at the shark and ray feeding excursion which is free of charge, or take an exhilarating WaveRunner tour around the island. 

Samoa

South Pacific cruise highlights - samoa

It's easy to see why Robert Louis Stevenson decided to spend his last years here. A gentle 45 minute climb up  Mount Vaea will lead you to the authors tomb. The Deep Marine Reserve (a shallow reef with a large blue hole) is ideal for snorkelling as the walls of the hole are covered in coral and diverse marine life. 

Easter Island

South Pacific cruise highlights - easter island

One of the most famous archaeological sites on earth, the Easter Island statues have puzzled researchers and scientist for years. Much like Stone Henge, the mere though of how the stones were moved is enough to make you dizzy. The island also offers great hiking and bird watching opportunities.

Cook Islands

South Pacific cruise highlights - cook islands

The 15 Cook Islands are absolutely idyllic. This is enhance by how friendly the local people are. Snorkel in dee lagoons, bird watch in the forests or visit the Punanga Nui Cultural Market on Rarotnga for lovely hand made crafts. The local cuisine is also fabulous. 

Fiji

South Pacific cruise highlights - fiji

Fiji is probably the most visited location in the South Pacific (excluding Hawaii and New Zealand). Despite this, the island has a lovely feel and there is some amazing dive locations. In recent years the island has also grown a surfing fan club due to the clean breaks all year-round. 

Tahiti

South Pacific cruise highlights - tahiti

A famous paradise, Tahiti is quintessentially perfect. You'll find deserted beaches, clear lagoons and lovely forest walks throughout the island. Alternatively, follow in the footsteps of artist Paul Gauguin or visit the gallery dedicated to him. If you have time you can rent a car and really get exploring!

Huahine

South Pacific cruise highlights - huahine

One of the more isolated islands, Huahine offer all the elements you love like snarling, white beaches and  lush tropical vegetation, without any crowds. There is also a great four-wheel drive safari on offer here which makes you right up into the jungle-clad hills. 

Fiordland

South Pacific cruise highlights - fiordland

The stunning geography and wildlife of Fiordland’s Milford Sound on the South Island of New Zealand is hard to beat. Watch fur seals sunbathe on rocks and witness the might Bowen Falls that stand at over 160m in height. The towering cliffs offer epic photo opportunities. 

Kauai 

South Pacific cruise highlights - kauai

Nicknamed the Garden Isle, Kauai island in Hawaii is one the best looking island in the archipelago. The tropical rainforest that covers most of the island sits nicely against the stunning Na Pali coast where you'll find some of the most active volcanoes on earth. 

South Pacific Cruise Insurance

Insurance is mandatory on all expedition cruises to the South Pacific. Please use the quick calculator below to get a quote with our recommended specialist. Click here for a detailed page on choosing the right cruise insurance. 

South Pacific Cruise Video

Below is a short video by Tahiti Tourisme, demonstrating some of the delights to be seen in Tahiti. 

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