The South Pacific confounds even the savviest map buffs with its splatter of dots spread across the world’s biggest ocean. What you can’t tell from a map, or even most tourist brochures is that these palm-laden pinpricks are as diverse as the region is vast. While the postcards might look similar, Fiji and Tahiti are not interchangeable or even much alike when it comes to landscapes and culture.
South Pacific islands are culturally and geographically divided into Polynesia (from the Greek meaning ‘many islands’) and Melanesia (meaning ‘black islands’). Polynesian islands include Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island while Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands are Melanesian. The colonial history of the islands has resulted in a modern-day patchwork of English- and French-speaking island groups (plus Spanish in the far eastern Easter Island).