Nine short international trips you should take (that aren’t Bali)

You don’t have to fly very far to escape to a distant international destination that’s nothing like Australia. With the South Pacific on our doorstep (and the other islands of Indonesia), exotic getaways are just a few hours away.


Fares to the Cook Islands remain high after returning from Covid-19 quarantine, but from June Jetstar will fly non-stop from Sydney within five and a half hours. The Cook Islands have been off the radar of most mainstream Australians (less than 27,000 visit each year), but these are the Pacific islands we come to visit. The chain of 15 small islands is surrounded by 2 million square kilometers of ocean, and even its capital, Rarotonga, is only 69 square kilometers (a circle around the island in 40 minutes). But it has it all, from the best sunset bars in the South Pacific to luxury hotels on lagoons to the mountainous hinterland you can only hope to see in Tahiti. Go a little further and explore one of the world’s most iconic lagoons in Aitutaki, or leave the modern world a few minutes away on islands like Mangaia and Atiu that receive fewer than 1,000 visitors a year . Cook


Sua Trench - Famous swimming hole, Upolu Island, Samoa, South Pacific sept4coverquiz iStock TRAVELER permission print and online AFR L&L 25 Nov 2022 Samoa story re-used by Paul Best.

Sua Trench, a famous swimming hole in Upolu, Samoa. Photo: iStock

Of course, it was only a matter of time before mainstream Australian tourists discovered Samoa; until then, it remained one of the best-kept secrets in the South Pacific. The most traditional of all the Polynesian islands, the locals live in traditional villages in extended families ruled by chiefs. Samoa is very safe, local houses do not have walls. Tourism is both complex (you’ll find some of the best luxury resorts in the South Pacific on the beach) and simple (pay a local family about A$5 to visit local hotspots like waterfalls and swimming holes). You’ll find some of the best dive sites in the South Pacific, as well as year-round waves (while reef breaks) for intermediate to expert surfers. Take a ferry from Upolu, Samoa’s main island, to the big island of Savaii for a complete escape to this affordable paradise, which also has several luxury resorts. Fly direct with Qantas and Virgin from March.Samoa Tourism


Snorkel along the unspoilt northern coast of Tanna, Vanuatu.

Snorkel along the unspoilt northern coast of Tanna, Vanuatu. Photo: Vanuatu Tourism

It’s only a three-and-a-half-hour flight to Vanuatu (direct flights from Brisbane on Air Vanuatu or Virgin Atlantic from March), but the islands are as wild as those you’ll discover within 24 hours of home. A visit to Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu, only scratches the surface of all that Vanuatu has to offer. Vanuatu has 83 islands – some of the most inhospitable on earth, full of active volcanoes, 120 different languages, no one on the beach, and locals living in the forest. You can choose to stay at a luxury resort on the three most visited islands, but the options are endless. Even on its main island, Efate, less-visited islands are easily accessible by a 1-hour drive and 15-minute boat ride from Port Vila. Or fly 45 minutes north to Espiritu Santo, which has everything from luxury private island retreats to affordable eco-villas on secluded beaches. Or fly to Tanna to visit the most accessible active volcano on Earth.Vanuatu Tourism

new caledonia

Plage de Shini Photo credit: New Caledonia Tourism Single use only for travelers

Shiny Beach, New Caledonia. Photo: Stephen Dukandas

New Caledonia is only a two-and-a-half-hour flight from Australia, but when you disembark at this French outpost in the South Pacific, you’ll have no idea where you are. It has the longest continuous barrier reef in the world, making it one of the best places on earth to charter a yacht and dive and snorkel safely. Many tourists may know Noumea – the country’s vibrant and cosmopolitan capital, where you’ll find some of the Pacific’s best French restaurants and Parisian boutiques – but that’s just the beginning of what you’ll find here . Take a short flight or cruise to the lesser-known islands, where the local Kanak culture still dominates the local way of life. Cruise ships may have discovered the charms of New Caledonia’s Loyalist Islands, but there’s still so much to discover about these islands. New

solomon islands

Epave du World Discoverer // World Discoverer Wreck AFR Travel - Cruise Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands on Ponant's Le Soleal © Studio PONANT Story by Mark Coultan uploaded 10th January 2023

The World Discovery sinks off the coast of the Solomon Islands. Photo: Elie Vannier/PONANT

The Solomon Islands are one of our closest neighbours—you can fly direct there in less than three hours—but they’re one of the least visited island groups in the South Pacific. This is what the Pacific Islands used to be — adventure travelers love its world-class diving, hundreds of WWII shipwrecks and planes that often lie in shallow water, perfect, uncrowded waves, and great connections with locals who still live traditional lifestyles. People mix together. But luxury travelers can also check into high-end eco-resorts, often on private islands next to some of the world’s largest lagoons. With nearly a thousand islands, the easiest option for travelers is to fly to the western province, an hour’s flight from the capital, Honiara, which is the center of most of the country’s tourism. It has it all, from surf breaks to dive operators, to bed and breakfasts and five-star private island resorts.



Photo: Elliott Grafton

Especially if you’ve been to Fiji before – don’t forget: Fiji isn’t an island, it’s 333. Fiji is just a four-hour direct flight from the east coast, and it became Australia’s number one international destination immediately after our Covid-19 border closures ended. There’s something for every type of traveler – from high-end families to budget-conscious travellers. Most tourists never leave Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island, home to tourist hotspots such as the Coral Coast and Denarau Island. But take a boat trip a little further afield to the Mamanuca Islands, or to the 20 islands of the Yasawa Archipelago, just beyond. Or take a small plane to Vanua Island and Taveuni Island, the second largest island in Fiji, to experience the best diving and surfing activities in the Pacific Ocean among the islands covered by virgin forests. More adventurous travelers might also consider a cruise to the remote Lau Islands, or an eco-adventure in the Kadavu Islands.Fiji Tourism

Papua New Guinea

2JCHMTR Papua New Guinea's Bagana volcano belches smoke as we approach from the air xxbougainville Photo: Alamy

Smoke spews from the Bagana volcano in Papua New Guinea. PPhoto: Georg Berg/Alamy

Seen as the world’s last frontier, the reputation of its capital, Port Moresby, has always kept tourists away. But don’t be put off; this is one of the world’s most pristine destinations, and you can fly direct from Brisbane, Cairns and Darwin. While the main island is an adventurer’s dream – with active volcanoes and forests full of tribes still living the ancient way of life – it’s easy to escape to the stunning islands off Papua New Guinea’s east coast. Small cruise ships sail these waters for several months each year, and tour companies offer a variety of group itineraries. Everything from luxury to budget resorts and hotels can be found on the east coast of Papua New Guinea and its offshore islands. You won’t find better visibility and a greater variety of marine species to dive in, while surfers can access some of the least crowded waves on the planet at a surf charter or surf camp. papua new

new Zealand

Winter scene in the snow, Queenstown.

Winter scene in the snow, Queenstown. Photo: Destination Queenstown

Who wouldn’t want to live next door to New Zealand? Just three hours away from one of the most adored islands in the world. The best thing about New Zealand compared to Australia is its size: you can pretty much see the entire country in two weeks. From the adrenaline capital of the world in the south (Queenstown) to the sailing capital in the north (Auckland) and beyond, the country’s winter-free north teeming with sailing and swimming options, New Zealand is brimming with some of the best on earth Scenery and some of the tallest mountains in the Southern Hemisphere. Its two islands (North and South) are completely different – offering visitors a diverse experience. Most of its South Island is dry and mountainous, while its North Island is mostly forested. Visit stunning wine regions, ski in the North and South Islands, and try unique New Zealand-invented activities like bungee jumping and jet zealand net

Lombok, Indonesia

Rice field, background Rinjani, Senaru, Lombok, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Asia tra19-trade

Photo: Supplied

It’s the island next to Bali (4 hours by ferry or 20 minutes by plane) and it has everything Bali has to offer without the crowds. You can even fly there direct with Qantas. For 20 years, Lombok has been threatening to become the hot new thing in Southeast Asia, but aside from tourist hotspot Senggigi and backpacker hangout Gili Trawangan, it remains as calm as ever. Its south coast was originally known for its surf offerings, attracting hungry wave seekers from all over the globe. Adventurers can trek up Gunung Rinjani, the country’s second tallest volcano, which dominates the landscape, and the Gili Islands are islands for every kind of traveller. The archipelago, consisting of three islands in northern Lombok, is Asia’s most One of the beautiful islands.Indonesia. Travel

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