World travelers can easily be swayed by the museums and history of Europe, the culture and flavor of South America, the familiar landmarks and big cities of the United States and Asia, or even the rugged adventure of Africa; but you're missing out if you limit your travel plans to these familiar locales. For something truly unique, consider the world of Oceania, where you'll see landscapes not found anywhere else on Earth.
So where exactly is Oceania? Well, it's the region that includes much of the central and south Pacific, and there's a whole lot more there than just endless ocean. The area is not only home to Australia and New Zealand but to thousands of islands grouped into sub-regions known as Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Sometimes referred to as "the eighth continent," Oceania includes people from many different cultures who speak hundreds of languages and have individual customs and traditions. That means a visit to this region comes not only with amazing scenery and crystal blue seas, but also offers an opportunity to learn how people live half a world away from your own.
Ready to see the sights? Check out this gallery of some of Oceania's most incredible places!
You won't believe this New Zealand scene
Fjordland National Park in southern New Zealand has plenty to offer visitors, but nothing compares to the majesty of Milford Sound. In this otherworldly landscape, sheer cliffs covered in deep green vegetation rise thousands of feet out of inky blue waters. Waterfalls hide around each bend, drawing in boaters, kayakers and tourists riding in seaplanes. For added adventure, you can also access the sound from the Milford Track, a 30-mile hike through the jungle that takes most tourists a few days to complete.
Visit one of the world's greatest natural wonders
Stretching 1,400 miles along the northeast coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef easily ranks among Mother Nature's greatest creations. This world's largest reef system is visible from space and is made up of 900 islands and 2,500 different reefs. Incredible when seen from the sky, this site is even more amazing when examined from the water. More than 1,500 fish species and countless other marine creatures swim through the colorful coral to the delight of divers and snorkelers.
Go green in Guam
Guam, which is a U.S. territory, is home to several exquisite beaches, but none amaze visitors more than Talofofo. Surrounded by limestone cliffs, caves filled with ancient pictographs and ruins left by the local Chamorro people, Talofofo also comes with something only a handful of beaches in the world have — green sand. Colored by a mineral known as olivine that's found in local rocks, the emerald sand stands out against the clear blue water and can vary in color based on weather, time of day and other factors.
This beach puts Bondi to shame
The crescent-shaped Bondi Beach near Sydney, Australia, consistently ranks among the top strips of sand in the world, but it pales in comparison to the swirling white sands and winding turquoise waters of Whitehaven Beach. Located along the Queensland coast, Whitehaven covers a 3-mile stretch of Whitsunday Island and is only accessible by boat or air, which means it's a whole lot quieter than the mainland beaches. Even better, the sand is made almost entirely of silica, so you can walk barefoot to and from your towel without burning your tootsies.
Cave pools and blowholes in Tonga
Halfway between Fiji and the Cook Islands in the south Pacific, you'll find the 169 islands that make up the nation of Tonga. While you'll find plenty of turquoise waves crashing into white sandy shores — this is Oceania, after all — the islands also offer some more unusual draws. At Anahulu Cave, tourists can swim in crystal clear waters surrounded by limestone structures formed over thousands of years. Waves crashing into the rocks at Mapu a Vaea form natural blowholes that spray water 100 feet high. Visitors can also explore Tofua, a volcano that blew its top and now houses a clear blue lake within its crater.
You know those Easter Island heads?
Even casual travelers have often heard of Easter Island, which is home to around 1,000 ancient carved heads known as Moai. Carved around 1,200 AD by the Rapa Nui people, they are still drawing visitors to this extremely remote Pacific island hundreds of years later. And what's cool about it is that many people don't know the entire story. All those ancient heads you've seen in pictures only reveal part of the story, namely that the statues have bodies, some of which have been carefully excavated and left to view on this incredible island. Check out the quarry to see the highest number of Moai, or tour the island, where they have been arranged along beaches and hilltops.
Gaze into the depths of hell in Vanuatu
The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu boasts an attraction that will satisfy the most adventurous — or insane — among us. Sign up for a tour of Mount Yasur on this tiny slice of paradise, and you'll ride through a lush tropical jungle in a four-wheel drive vehicle to the top of a very active volcano. Considered to be one of the most accessible live volcanoes in the world, the lack of fences or barriers means you can walk right up to the rim and gaze down into its bubbling, cracking crater — if you dare.
Slide on into Samoa
Situated halfway between Australia and Hawaii, Samoa is home to cascading waterfalls, rainforests packed with species you've never seen before and one seriously cool natural attraction. Tucked away in the jungle are the Papase'ea Sliding Rocks, a series of waterfalls that form natural waterslides. The longest is 15 feet and sends riders into a crystal clear plunge pool at the bottom. This amazing site is just a few miles from the Samoa Cultural Village, where you can explore local customs and try your hand at traditional crafts, like weaving and woodworking.
Mariana lattes ... no, not that kind
Ancient cultures of Oceania were all about stone building, and that's also true in the Northern Mariana Islands near Guam. While swimmers flock to the sugary sands of Managaha or the more rugged terrain of the Forbidden Island beaches, history buffs will be blown away by the lattes. And no, this has nothing to do with Starbucks. Latte is the name given to mysterious stone structures on the island, which are particularly plentiful in the Rota Latte Stone Quarry.
Let your heart guide you to New Caledonia
A French-speaking territory in the South Pacific, New Caledonia is home to many of the wonders associated with the islands of Oceania, from gorgeous blue lagoons to lush vegetation, but the most unbelievable site here is a work of Mother Nature. On the tiny island of Voh, in the shadow of Mount Kathepaik, lies a massive mangrove swamp. And stretching across a 10-acre area of that swamp is a perfect heart. Take an aerial tour to view this amazing shape, or climb the nearby mountain and gaze across the mangrove from the visitor viewing area.
Beware the "Blue Lagoon" cave guardians
The 1980 film, "Blue Lagoon," features scenes shot at the magnificent Sawa-i-Lau Caves in Fiji. Tourists can swim in clear blue waters as sunlight streams through cracks in the cave's ceiling, but there's a catch; before you can dive in, you must attend a traditional ceremony at a local village to ask the Guardians of the Cave for permission. After you enjoy this double-dose of native culture and cave swimming, step outside to embrace the other glories of Fiji. They include some of the world's best beaches to water sports, boating and more.
A ship graveyard in the Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands were right in the cross of many WWII missions, so it's no surprise that the sea floor around these islands is littered with shipwrecks. So many submarines, ships and other vessels lie at the bottom of the Pacific, the area from Guadalcanal to Savo and the Florida Islands is known as "Iron Bottom Sound." The scene makes for world-class diving and snorkeling. And when you're ready to come up for air, you'll find plenty of jaw-dropping beaches along Marovo Lagoon for swimming and sunbathing.
No one on your Instagram has been here
One of the smallest countries in the world, the island nation of Nauru in Micronesia welcomes a whopping 200 tourists a year. That means you'll not only have bragging rights among your friends who think they've been everywhere, but you'll also have many of Nauru's sites to yourself. Start with the beautiful Anibare Bay, which is known for white-sand beaches and awe-inspiring coral needles that soar above the waves. Make a trip to Command Ridge, which is scattered with tanks and other WWII artifacts, then explore the moon-like landscape of the area's abandoned phosphate mines, which give the island an out of this world appearance.
Stonehenge in the South Seas
England's Stonehenge has mystified and impressed visitors for centuries, but you might not know that Oceania has a similar structure on the island nation of Palau. This island, which requires all visitors to sign an eco-pledge before embarking on their adventures, features ancient and mysterious stone monoliths lined up on the hillside at Babeldaob, as well as plenty of marine life to attract divers in an area called Blue Point. For even more adventure, take a 30-minute hike through the thick tropical jungle to Ngardmau Falls, the tallest waterfall in Micronesia.
Are you sure Wai-o-Tapu is on Earth?
Yes, we know New Zealand is home to "Lord of the Rings" filming locations, but for something truly spectacular and otherworldly, head to Wai-o-tapu near the town of Rotorua on the northern end of the island. Here you'll find a geothermic wonderland, complete with colorful hot springs, pools and craters in a variety of colors. Bubbling pools of mud sit alongside geysers that shoot 100 feet high, while the vibrant orange and green hues of the Champagne Pool can leave visitors wondering if they're still on Earth.
A sacred Aboriginal site
Near the remote town of Alice Springs in Australia's sparsely populated Northern Territory, a massive sandstone structure rises out of the earth. Uluru, more commonly known as Ayers Rock, is a sacred site that is more than 1,000 feet tall and has a circumference of almost 6 miles. It's a photographer's dream, changing color with the angle of the sun and glowing coppery red at sunset. While a large number of visitors once climbed the stone, climbing is officially banned as of October 2019 to honor the sacred nature of the region.
Vanuatu's twin caves are a major draw
If your only goal while visiting the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu is to gaze at azure water and sink into soft white sand, you won't leave disappointed, but this group of islands also features a pair of caves for more adventurous travelers. At Blue Cave, you'll pass through a small hole in what looks like a large rock in the sea and enter a cavernous cave. Natural holes form skylights that let the sunshine in, causing the walls and ceiling to take on a glowing blue hue. Millennium Cave, on the other hand, is a muddy, slip-sliding adventure that takes you down a canyon, through the jungle and along a river into a cave packed with stalactites and other amazing sites. This ain't Club Med, OK?
Could this volcano erupt as you climb?
Located near Indonesia, Papua New Guinea is home to a majestic volcano named Mount Tavurur. Eruptions in the 1930s and again in 1994 covered the area in ash and gave the landscape an otherworldly appearance that you wouldn't expect to find in Oceania. Brave visitors climb right to the rim, while others watch from a distance thanks to the nearby Volcanic Observation Center — which will hopefully be there to issue a warning before the volcano blows its stack again. The volcano last erupted in September 2014.
The rarest birds on Earth are found here
On the 15 islands that make up the Cook Islands, you'll find lush tropical rainforests, turquoise beaches at Aitutaki and Rarotonga and a mighty mountain known as Te Rua Manga, or The Needle, that offers stunning views of the surrounding jungle. The mysterious Anatakitaki caves provide a glimpse at the Kopeka birds, which aren't found anywhere else on Earth. These tiny, fast fliers communicate via sonar using clicking sounds, which echo off the stalactites and cathedral-like ceiling within the caves. In the surrounding jungle, you'll find several species of native birds.
50 shades of blue in New Caledonia's waters
Rivers, lakes, lagoons and bays — not to mention the mighty Pacific Ocean — there's an endless array of water on the French island of New Caledonia in the South Pacific. As depths change and salt water mingles with fresh, the seas in this area take on a staggering variety of blue hues that would make any artist jealous. Enjoy white sand and sky-blue seas on the Isle of Pines, or try snorkeling among the countless fish species at Baie de Jinek. Anse Vata offers world-class surfing, and for divers, there's the Needle of Prony, a natural cathedral-like rock structure located about 6 meters, or just over 19 feet, below the surface.
Guam's quiet slice of paradise
When you've had your fill of the typical white sand and swaying palms at Asan Beach and Gun Beach in Guam, take a trip to the quieter side of the island at Shark's Cove. Free to visit and located within Tanguisson Beach park, Shark's Cove requires a 30-minute hike along gravel and dirt paths. When you emerge onto the sand, you'll enjoy a secluded rugged seascape, complete with coral reefs, towering limestone cliffs and plenty of solitude.
Play castaway in Fiji
Made up of more than 300 islands, around 100 of them inhabited, Fiji is one of the world's top spots for pristine beaches. The majority of visitors head for the Mamanuca group of islands, which are home to five-star resorts, reefs teeming with tropical fish, soft, white sand, water sports, fishing and more. If you're intrigued by Fiji but want a little more privacy than you find on the larger islands, check out the uninhabited island of Monuriki. Accessible by boat, this gorgeous landscape was featured in the 2000 flick, "Castaway," and has also served as the backdrop for several episodes of "Survivor."
Cast a line in Kiribati
You may have never heard of Kiribati, but this South Pacific nation, which consists of 30-plus atolls and reef islands, is home to about 110,000 people and not a whole lot of tourists. In addition to pure white sand and turquoise waters for beach lovers, it's also a sport fishing paradise, particularly for those hunting bonefish or giant trevally. Even better, the geography of the area also offers an enormous saltwater flat for flyfishing and old-school angling techniques, which means all your fishermen friends will be able to cast a line.
It's like Assateague but with crabs
The U.S. east coast island of Assateague is home to wild ponies that are corralled to the mainland for auction each summer in a pony swim that draws thousands of tourists. The same thing takes place on Christmas Island, which sits 1,650 miles off the coast of Australia, except the horses are replaced by 120 million bright red crabs, which scuttle from the woods to the sea each October. It's an incredible site, but those who visit at other times of the year can also enjoy plentiful bird-watching opportunities as well as world-class diving and beaches.
Embrace your inner mermaid in Matapouri
In the Northland region of New Zealand, on the northern tip of the island, you'll find Matapouri Bay, a beautiful beach surrounded by lush vegetation and sparkling blue water. As you approach the shoreline, you'll also spot some glowing emerald tide pools known as the Mermaid Pools. A sacred space to the local Maori people, they placed a rāhui — based on the Polynesian concept of tapu which labels something as sacred and prohibits entrance — over the pools in early 2019 to protect the fragile ecosystem that has been damaged by tourists. While swimming is not permitted under the rāhui, at least until the area can be better managed for long-term use, you can still visit and gaze down into the gorgeous grottoes.
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