How to Choose Your Cruise: South Pacific
Imagine the bluest water and a warm, scented breeze. Then contrast it with hypnotic fire dancing against a backdrop of ancient, active volcanoes. Even the most imaginative descriptions interpretations are no match for the islands of the South Pacific, where nature harmonizes with cultural traditions.
French Polynesia is a collective of more than 100 islands in the South Pacific Ocean, including Tahiti, the Marquesas and the Society Islands. Melanesia consists of Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia. Collectively, these regions contain most of the South Pacific’s islands, which stretch from the eastern shore of Australia to the west coast of South America.
The geography may be unfamiliar, but the appeal is obvious: These havens are far removed from everyday life. Visitors can learn about the local cultures, luxuriate on idyllic stretches of sand or look beneath the surface of the waters to discover a variety of animal and plant life, all reminding us of the wonders of our planet.
The challenge of choosing a South Pacific Silversea cruise is not the why of it but the where. Here is your guide to departure and arrival ports in the South Pacific as well as the nuances of the itineraries.
South Pacific Cruise Turnaround Ports
Silversea uses a handful of ports to embark and disembark guests from their adventure into the islands of the South Pacific.
Papeete, Tahiti: Papeete, the capital of the islands of French Polynesia, is on Tahiti, the largest island and a popular turnaround port for South Pacific sailings. Halfway between Los Angeles and Sydney, Tahiti is equally removed from the U.S and Australia, although its time zone is the same as Hawaii’s.
Besides its commercial cruise port, Papeete is home to Faa’a International Airport, making it a busy crossroads for visitors and locals throughout the South Pacific and a convenient place to begin or end a transpacific adventure. Alluring black and white sand beaches also result in one of the island’s most eye-catching souvenirs: the black pearl.
Lautoka, Fiji: Lautoka, the second-largest city in Fiji and also a cruise port, is home to lush parks and botanical gardens, bustling markets and an iconic Hindu temple. Visitors also can glimpse everyday Fijian life through its traditional villages and local bus tours, which stop at the tucked-away Saweni Beach. The still-functioning Lautoka Sugar Mill, in operation for nearly 120 years, is one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. There are no public tours, but the rail lines are still visible throughout the island. If you’re spending time there, be sure to pack rain gear because Fiji experiences frequent showers. The wet season, when rain occurs most days, typically is November through April.
Valparaíso, Chile: The capital of the region of the same name, Valparaíso is a European-influenced epicenter of culture and of the country’s naval operations. Steep elevation changes make for stunning vistas, whether you’re at the top of the city looking down to its massive port on the South Pacific Ocean or at sea level looking up at its rainbow of cliffside homes and steeples.
Cruisers looking for longer South Pacific itineraries might begin or end their journey in Valparaíso, a 23-day sailing to or from Tahiti. If you’re headed to the South Pacific, pack your sandals, but for Valparaiso, pack your walking shoes and spend some time in this multilayered Chilean city. It was once the home of poet and Nobel Prize-winner Pablo Neruda. It’s now a popular museum offering stellar views. “If we walk up and down all the stairs of Valparaíso,” Neruda wrote, “we’ll have walked all round the world.”
Cairns, Australia: Cairns, at the far north of Queensland, may be best known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. The city prides itself on its many outdoor offerings, including the world-renowned reef Daintree reef system under the Coral Sea; its Wet Tropics World Heritage Rainforest, which Sir David Attenborough called “the most extraordinary place on Earth.” Al fresco bars, cafes and markets are concentrated along the dreamy Cairns Esplanade, making it an ideal outing day or night. From Cairns, Silversea explores Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands before docking in Fiji. Also on offer is a sailing that begins in Cairns and ends in Darwin, Australia; it’s typically a 2.5-hour nonstop flight, but this expedition cruise includes many incredible ports along the way.
Darwin, Australia: Darwin is the gateway to Kakadu National Park, a dramatic collection of natural marvels and the largest of Australia’s national parks. Darwin is also the capital of the country’s Northern Territory and a hub of Aboriginal art and culture. Port Darwin has a harbor on the deep water Beagle Gulf of the Timor Sea, named for the HMS Beagle, on which naturalist Charles Darwin sailed in the early 19th century. But Darwin also is one of the most modern cities in Australia, rebuilt in 1975 after Cyclone Tracy devastated much of it. Darwin is closer to Indonesia than it is to Melbourne in southern Australia.
Classic South Pacific Cruise Itineraries
Board the 392-guest Silver Shadow for a luxurious getaway from Tahiti into the wild blue yonder.
Round trip Papeete: This 11-night tour of French Polynesia includes eight ports of call and five sail dates (Jan. 26, Feb. 19, March 2 and 26, and April 6). Two sea days allow a welcome pause from the excitement of stops in far-flung islands such as Fakarava in the Tuamotu Archipelago; Hiva Oa and Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas; Rangiroa; Raiatea; Moorea Island; and an overnight on Bora Bora in the Society Islands
Two sail dates (Feb. 6 and March 13) are 13-night cruises that include the Cook Islands and calls in Rarotonga and Aitutaki.
Expedition-Style Cruise Itineraries in the South Pacific
In 2023, Silversea guests bound for a South Pacific expedition will board the 144-passenger Silver Explorer; in 2024, these sailings will be aboard the 254-passenger Silver Cloud.
Valparaíso, Chile to Papeete, Tahiti
The longest-listed South Pacific cruise currently aboard Silversea is 25 nights and kicks off March 18. This epic sailing visits three countries across its more than three-week journey, so guests can immerse themselves in the cultures of the Pitcairn Islands, French Polynesia and the remote islands of Chile.
Papeete, Tahiti, to Lautoka, Fiji
This 13-night journey is currently waitlisted; cruisers could be drawn to its ambitious schedule of 13 ports (one each day) across five South Pacific countries: French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji and the little-known island of Niue. Or this April sailing could attract parties interested in the ultimate luxury “spring break,” island-hopping through paradise. (There is a single sea day, but because of crossing the International Date Line, guests also lose a day.)
Lautoka, Fiji to Cairns, Australia
This 17-night voyage departs April 26 and includes such ports as Champagne Beach and Vanuatu, which is one of 16 ports on the sailing spread across five countries, including three calls in Vanuatu; three in the Solomon Islands; and a staggering eight in Papua New Guinea. If you love the water, this itinerary serves up an abundance of fish and coral for guests’ snorkel-viewing pleasure.
Darwin, Australia, to Cairns, Australia
Depart from Darwin on Sep. 12 for nine days in Indonesia and eight in Papua New Guinea before returning to Oz. In total, this 19-night South Pacific cruise employs expert guides to steep guests in the flora, fauna and people of these fascinating nations. A round trip to Australia is a chance opportunity to spend time in the Land Down Under before and/or after the sailing.
Cairns, Australia to Lautoka, Fiji
Get enchanted with the South Pacific for 16 nights on an expedition through the Coral and Solomon seas. This sailing to Fiji from Down Under makes 15 stops across five countries, sailing into such ports as Rabual in Papua New Guinea, which lies inside the flooded caldera of a giant (still live) volcano. Many are familiar with the geysers of Iceland or Yellowstone, but Fergusson Island in Papua New Guinea has ample natural hot springs that erupt and also steam food for the local community.
Lautoka, Fiji, to Papeete, Tahiti
On this 13-night islands-only sailing from Fiji to Tahiti, guests will traverse four countries to a dozen ports of call, including highly coveted Bora Bora. A visit to the Cook Islands gives Bora Bora some competition; some travel experts consider Aitutaki, part of the Cook Islands, one of the world’s most beautiful islands.
Papeete, Tahiti, to Valparaíso, Chile
You’ll talk about this 23-night South Pacific expedition the rest of your life. Set sail for four days in the Pitcairn Islands where guests can meet descendants of the historic Bounty mutiny. Two sea days will then take guests to Easter Island, where the Rapa Nui people protect and preserve the moai, the world-famous Easter Island statues. After an overnight on Easter Island, a stretch at sea will then take guests to the fabled Chilean islands of Alexander Selkirk and Robinson Crusoe.
Darwin, Australia, to Lautoka, Fiji
Embarking in the north of Australia, passengers on this three-week expedition to Fiji can expect 20 thrilling ports of call across five countries. Onboard guides will train guests to spot wildlife as they sail toward the remote islands of Australia and Papua New Guinea, including the Aboriginal community of Yirrkala. It’s then on to the Solomon Islands, which are home to natural wonders including the Marovo Lagoon, one of the world’s largest saltwater lagoons and a double barrier reef system, which is ideal for snorkel trips. Spend two days in enchanting Vanuatu, often honored as one of the world’s best beaches, before calling on Yasawa, an island chain in Fiji open to tourists only since 1987 and location of both “Blue Lagoon” films.
Lautoka, Fiji to Papeete, Tahiti
A leisurely two weeks takes guests on this South Pacific sailing to Fiji, Tonga, the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. Some ports of call, such as Ringgold Isles in Fiji, are mostly uninhabited. In Tonga you can spot humpback whales, hike Mt. Talau, or spend the day at a vanilla plantation. If you didn’t think island hopping across some of the most picturesque places in the world could get any better, your ship will cross the International Date Line mid-voyage, essentially blessing guests with an extra day of vacation.
Papeete, Tahiti, to Valparaíso, Chile
Guests onboard this autumn South Pacific expedition to South America are in it for the long haul, spending 23 nights on Silver Cloud sailing from Tahiti east toward the Valparaíso. Along the way, passengers can set foot in 13 ports across three countries, with 10 restorative days at sea sprinkled throughout. An overnight in Adamstown, the capital of the Pitcairn Islands, is a neat way to see the last British Overseas Territory in the Pacific. Besides shore excursions to experience the towns and villages, guests onboard this expedition sailing can also enjoy kayaking, hiking, and Zodiac tours that let them take in the stunning South Pacific scenery.