Time for a beach holiday. Photo / 123rf
When it comes to beach-focused holidays, it’s hard to beat our Pacific neighbours. Any time is generally a good time for an island getaway, but if you’re planning a trip and not sure when to book, keep these tips on your radar, writes Sara Bunny.
Whether you’re making memories with a family group, escaping on a romantic getaway for two, or heading for adventure in the outer islands, Fiji is the sort of spot that ticks the boxes for every type of traveller. Weather-wise, November-April is generally the hottest and wettest time to visit, while May-October is when you’ll find milder temperatures and drier days.
In the hot season, it’s no surprise that mid-December-mid January is the busiest as sunseekers make the most of their holiday break but if you prefer to avoid the crowds, February-March is generally much quieter and cheaper. While the dry season is slightly cooler, you can still expect warm days with temps sitting around 25C. It can get busy though, with Southern Hemisphere dwellers turning up in July-August to beat the winter chill, as well as European travellers on a big adventure during their own summer break. If you’re planning a winter trip sans kids, be sure to get in before the July school holidays.
When it comes to top events in Fiji, keep a lookout for the Bula Festival in Nadi in July, the South Indian Fire-Walking Festival in August, Fiji Regatta Week in September, and Diwali festivities in October.
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With the Aitutaki Marathon in March, the Aitutaki Liftoff in late August featuring weightlifting and a range of endurance events, and the thrilling Vaka Eiva canoe champs on Rarotonga’s Muri Beach in November, sporty types have plenty to choose from in the Cook Islands. From May to October, easterly trade winds attract kitesurfers from around the globe to Rarotonga’s Muri Lagoon and Aitutaki’s stunning open waters, with the week-long Manureva Festival in August for the pros and lessons on offer for beginners.
But of course, if you would rather lie by the beach with a book, there’s plenty of time for that too, with warm temperatures year-round. Like most places in this corner of the world, Rarotonga’s high season is July-August, when weather is tip-top but accommodation prices are higher and local cafes are packed. Low season falls between January-March, and brings short, sharp downpours and temperatures up to 30C, but far less traffic in Rarotonga’s famous lagoon. Shoulder season in the Cook Islands runs from April-May and September-October, when humidity levels are at their lowest.
Like many tropical locales, Samoa has two distinct seasons instead of four: wet season and dry season. Between November and April, the wet season is in full swing, and it’s also the time when about 70 per cent of the annual rainfall that keeps Samoa’s lush waterfalls flowing takes place. That’s not to say it rains constantly, more like short bursts before the skies clear again, but it’s when humidity hits its max and temperatures climb into the early 30s. If a bit of rain is going to spoil your fun, dry season between June and September could be your best bet, when humidity levels are at their lowest and temperatures hover in the late 20s. However, dry season is also high season, (July and August are typically the country’s busiest months), and as trade winds start their swirl around the Pacific, there’s a higher chance of strong breezes from July onwards.
Budget-conscious travellers might have most luck over April and May, when hotels can be cheaper before the crowds escaping the Kiwi winter start to descend.
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Clear waters, amazing wildlife and laidback vibes beckon visitors to the “rock of the Pacific”, where temperatures are warm throughout the year. But if you really want to see the humpback whales that swim close to Niue shores, July to September is your best bet. As scores of huge humpbacks pass by the island annually to breed and raise their calves, it’s not uncommon to see the majestic mammals splashing a mere 20m from shore, and licensed local operators run tours to see the whales up close. As well as sea creatures, you can also expect to find some of the country’s best weather around this time, (with a month or two either side), best conditions for diving and snorkelling, and highest visitor numbers. From November to March, fewer tourists can mean better deals on flights and accommodation, but it’s also the time when the barometer climbs to the late 20s, with more showers and higher humidity.
Combining lush landscapes and bountiful beaches with luxe hotels and shopping galore, it’s easy to see why Hawaii is a Kiwi holiday hotspot. Consistent temperatures between 25-30C mean you’re pretty much guaranteed tropical warmth all year round, and here, seasons are defined more by tourist crowds than weather. In December and January, US holidaymakers flock to the “Aloha State” to escape the American winter, causing price surges in their wake. June and July see another tourist spike, so if you’re looking to escape the Southern Hemisphere winter, waiting until September will give you the best chance of avoiding the mid-year crowds. Hawaii’s spring low season from March-May is another ideal time to visit, as prices have usually cooled off, rainfall is lower, trade winds have reduced to a breeze and gardens are in full bloom.
Hawaii boasts events galore, including the Aloha Festival in September, April’s Merrie Monarch Festival on the Big Island, a dance spectacular known as the “Olympics of hula”, and King Kamehameha Day in June. On the quirky side, the Waikiki Spam Jam in late April is a huge celebration of the country’s favourite canned meat.
If the beach is your happy place, you’re sure to find your bliss on one of Tonga’s white sandy shores. With more than 170 islands in the kingdom, beaches include coral-fringed spots for top-notch snorkelling, remote sandy spits for romantic strolls, sheltered lagoons for family-friendly paddling, and palm-lined stretches for lengthy lounging. And best of all, you can always find a secluded patch of seaside paradise if avoiding other tourists is the goal. While temperatures vary slightly between the widely-scattered islands, the best time to visit Tonga is generally between May and November. It’s when humidity levels are more comfortable, and if you visit between July and October, you may even spot humpback whales on their annual migration. From late June to early July, the annual Heilala Festival includes street parades, a beauty pageant, and a range of King’s birthday celebrations that showcase the traditions and culture of Tonga.
Whether you’re dreaming of Bora Bora’s overwater bungalows, Tahiti’s bustling markets, Moorea’s sandy bays or something further afield, French Polynesia is a true Pacific paradise. Here, where 118 islands are scattered across a patch of ocean the size of Europe, you know there will always be something new to explore. June-September is the peak season but it’s also arguably the best time to visit, with sunny, settled weather sitting around 25C, low rainfall and excellent diving and snorkelling. September is the month with the longest daylight hours, and the time you’re most likely to see humpback whales breaching the water’s surface – but you can also expect bigger tourist crowds. Either side of peak season, December-February is for those who like it hot, with temperatures soaring to the early 30s with high humidity, while March-May means mild weather, the odd shower, and a quieter island vibe.
Top festivities on the events calendar include the five-day Tahiti Pearl Regatta in May, and Heiva I Tahiti in July, an action-packed cultural festival with singing, dancing, and chest-rattling percussion beats.
With 80 islands to skip between, Vanuatu boasts ancient culture, diverse scenery and some of the best diving in the world. Here, finding a sandy, palm-lined stretch beside striking turquoise waters is easy, with some of the most popular seaside spots including Espiritu Santo’s Champagne Beach, and Efate’s Paradise Cove and Coconut Beach. April-October is a prime time to visit, (especially if you can avoid the June-August tourist rush) as it’s outside the wet season and humidity levels are at their most manageable. With Southern Hemisphere travellers on the move for summer holidays, December-January is peak season across Vanuatu, however, if you’re looking for a quieter experience on the main islands and the chance of cheaper hotels, February-March is often a good bet for budget-conscious and crowd-averse visitors. Just be prepared for a few showers and be sure to pack a good mosquito repellent.
If you’re planning a trip, keep a lookout for the incredible Naghol land diving on Pentecost Island from April-June, and the sacred kastom rituals on Ambrym Island that are often open for visitors to attend, like the Fanla Rom Dance and the Yam and Magic Festival.
A unique mix of French and Melanesian culture, New Caledonia has a style and vibe all of its own. Sitting alongside the main island of Grande Terre, its five smaller siblings – Ouvéa, Lifou, Maré, Isle of Pines and Tiga, make up the nearby Loyalty Islands Province within the New Caledonian archipelago. Regardless of which spot you choose, you’ll find soft white sands and lush tropical scenery, although Ouvéa and Isle of Pines are most popular with beach-lovers.
On these charming isles, September-November is peak season, when the weather is at its pristine best and the chance of rain is lowest. Although, with an average of 345 sunshine days a year, rain is never too much of an issue in this corner of the Pacific. You can often find better travel deals between February and July.
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Away from the beaches and outdoor activities, immerse yourself in the Kanak culture of the indigenous peoples of New Caledonia. Many of the islands offer homestays in traditional Kanak huts, and there are a range of tours on offer that delve into Kanak customs and foods. With French the official and most widely-spoken language, it’s helpful to brush up on a few key phrases before you go.
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