Oceania is a vast, arbitrarily defined expanse of the world where the Pacific Ocean – rather than land borders – connects the nations. It is home to glistening white beaches, coconut palms swaying in the breeze, beautiful coral reefs, and rugged volcanic islands rising out of the blue ocean. Its diverse nations have some of the world's most international cities, and some of its most remote villages.
Australia and New Zealand, often grouped as Australasia, are by far the largest countries in the continent and the most visited by travellers. Oceania also incorporates Polynesia to the east, Melanesia to the west and Micronesia to the north.
Melanesia consists of the island of New Guinea to the north of Australia, which is part Indonesia and part Papua New Guinea (PNG), as well as the other islands of PNG. Other countries in the southwest Pacific make up the remainder of the area. Australian aboriginals are not considered Melanesian.
Micronesian islands are on or north of the Equator.
Polynesia is mainly made up of the countries to the east of the Pacific. The most northerly island of Fiji, Rotuma, is also Polynesian.
Australia and New Zealand are both former British colonies. At one time it was envisaged that the two colonies would become a single country.
Papua New Guinea was, at one time, a United Nations trusteeship, administered by Australia.
Various islands have been annexed by Britain, Portugal, Germany, France, Australia and the United States.
This has had an influence on the aspects of culture. Many areas speak both an indigenous language, and the language of the colonial power, often mixing in interesting blends. There has also been an influence on the food and architecture.
Common cultural heritage
See the country articles for detailed information on how to Get in.
The major countries of Australia and New Zealand do of course offer connections from all continents, although there are few direct flights from South America. There are some other gateways offering other opportunities to get in to Oceania, and for interesting itineraries. Air France connects New Caledonia direct with Tokyo and Paris and also flies to Tahiti. Onward connections to Sydney and Auckland are possible. Air Pacific connects Fiji with Los Angeles with connections through to Sydney, Auckland and Tahiti. Tahiti is connected to Los Angeles, and you can fly to the Cook Islands direct from there. Air New Zealand provides a service to Tonga and Samoa from Los Angeles and Auckland. The Los Angeles service is subsidized by the New Zealand government as a form of aid to the the two countries. Manila, Guam and Honolulu offer a gateway to many countries of Micronesia, mainly on Continental Airlines.
The smallest islands with less tourism present additional challenges to get to. Many are entirely deserted, and some have restictions on access.
A South Pacific cruise.
Without a yacht, or a lot of time, the only way for travelers to get around between the main destinations of Oceania is by plane. Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland, and Los Angeles have good connectivity to the region. It is usually possible to fly from the west coast of the United States through to Sydney or Auckland via Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji or even the Cook Islands.
However, air routes tend to come and go depending on whether the airlines find them profitable or not. Much of Micronesia, having been under US Administration, is serviced by Continental Airlines. Much of English-speaking Polynesia receives regular flights from Air New Zealand. Melanesia is mainly serviced by national and Australian airlines. Don't expect daily flights. Patience is required.
Flying between Micronesia and the other two areas is problematic and may involve flying all the way to Honolulu or a complicated route through Manila, Sydney and Auckland. Continental Airlines has (January 2011) a weekly flight from Guam to Nadi in Fiji.
There are some options for boats, cruise ships, private yachts, adventure cruises, and even cargo ships.
Consult the guide for the destination you are visiting.
All island groups are fascinating and with time and money you can spend months just travelling around. There are some stunningly beautiful islands (Samoa, Cook Islands, French Polynesia), some fascinating cultures and festivals, some wonderful diving and totally deserted beaches. Check the individual country sections for details.
In the water
Skiing and snow sports. New Zealand has reliable winter snowfalls, mostly on the South Island in winter. The Snowy Mountains in New South Wales have the largest ski resorts in the southern hemisphere.
Although staple foods from outside the region, such as rice and flour, now have a firm foothold, the traditional staples of roots and tubers remain very important. The cheapest is usually cassava, which also plays a food security role as it can be left in the ground for a long time. Sweet potato is a very important crop and is found in most parts of Oceania with the major producing area being the Higlands of Papua New Guinea. Taro and yam are also widespread. The latter is the most valuable of the roots and tubers and there are many customs associated with its cultivation. In the Sepik area of Papua New Guinea, for example, sex between married couples is supposed to be forbidden while the yams are growing. On the other hand, in the Trobriand Islands the yam harvest is a period of sexual liberty.
Kava is a drink produced from the roots of a plant related to the pepper plant and found mainly in Polynesia as well as Fiji and Vanuatu. It has a mildly narcotic effect. Other names include 'awa (Hawai'i), 'ava (Samoa), yaqona (Fiji), and sakau (Pohnpei). Traditionally it is prepared by chewing, grinding or pounding the roots of the kava plant. In Tonga, chewing traditionally had to be done by female virgins. Pounding is done in a large stone with a small log. The product is then added to cold water and consumed as quickly as possible, invariably as part of a group of people sitting around and sharing the cup. Check the rules before taking any out of the country, however, as importing kava can be illegal.
The islands may be remote but sexual diseases know no boundaries. Usual precautions apply.