The South Pacific region in Oceania, which encompasses Melanesia as well as parts of Micronesia and Polynesia, is renowned for pristine beaches, sparkling blue waters and island resorts. Resorts don’t exactly conjure up a picture that seems affordable to the average person, right? You may therefore be asking, can I travel the South Pacific on a budget?
The short answer is yes! In practice, it’s a little more complicated but it’s still very doable. You’ll just have to plan and research more than you would for somewhere like South East Asia. It’s not really a turn-up-and-go-for-it kind of region. This is due to a variety of factors, including limited transport options and the sheer distance between islands.
Imagine an area larger than the whole of the European continent, but with thousands of small islands randomly dotted around it. Then thousands of kilometres of deep water between them. The South Pacific is home to some of the most remote islands in the world. Despite the logistical difficulties it can still be done and it’s more than worth visiting! Let’s look at some commonly asked questions about travel in the South Pacific on a budget.
I Can’t Afford a Resort! Where can I stay?
There are a surprising amount of choices for budget travellers in the South Pacific. It can get a bit trickier on the less frequented islands but all of the major islands have hostels. Most can be found on Agoda. If you can’t find any on Agoda or similar booking sites, you may need to ask Uncle Google and book directly with the property.
Obviously some islands are a bit pricer than other places in the world. Most still fall well within the budget category though. Expect to pay somewhere between US$10-20 for a bed in a dorm room on most islands. Or US$20-160 when there are no dorm beds available. Below is list of prices valid as of March 2020. Some of these prices have decreased in recent years as some islands have become more popular destinations.
For the islands of Wallis and Futuna, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Nauru a little bit of research is required. As the third least visited and least visited countries in the world, Tuvalu and Nauru have limited choices for accommodation. There are only 2 places in Nauru! Due to that and the limited international flights serving them, these four islands could be the hardest in the world to travel on a budget.
Travel the South Pacific on a Budget – Couchsurfing
If you haven’t heard of Couchsurfing, you can check out my article about it here. In a nutshell, it’s a platform that allows you to get in contact with locals who are willing to open their home to you. It can be a bit hit and miss on some of the islands, because there are barely any hosts. But in places like Fiji and Tonga there are many hosts willing to take you in.
Couchsurfing isn’t just about getting a free bed. It’s about cultural exchange and giving you a window into local life. It can give you some of the best travel experiences you’ll ever have. Like sitting down to a traditional meal with your hosts. Or insider information on the quiet beaches and best islands to visit. There is also a facebook group based on a similar idea, but only for females called Host A Sister.
Travel the South Pacific on a Budget – Village Homestay
This could be the way to go in places like American Samoa and Tokelau (arranged through the Tokelau Liason Office). It’s a very similar concept to Couchsurfing, but is usually organised by a government department, who will vet hosts to make sure that guests have the best experience possible. As with Couchsurfing, it’s a great way to get a feel for local life.
Travel the South Pacific on a Budget – Volunteering
This could be an option if you intend to stay in each place you visit for several weeks. Sites like WWOOF and Workaway offer volunteer opportunities. For most jobs you are expected to work a certain amount of hours in exchange for food and board. Many engagements require you to stay for a minimum period of 2 weeks to a month.
Isn’t it just all resorts?
No. The locals don’t live in resorts. They generally live in simple houses in residential areas. In many cases, they are happy to share their home and food with travellers. There are also volcanoes, hills that can be hiked, lagoons, atolls, reefs to be snorkeled, waterfalls to be seen. The list goes on!
Do I have to Fly Between Every Island?
No. You cannot fly between some countries in the South Pacific. For instance, if you want to get to the Cook Islands, the only place in the South Pacific you can fly there from is New Zealand. No other island chain has air links to that chain. The same goes for Niue. Tuvalu and Kiribati, on the other hand, can only be reached via biweekly flights from Fiji. There is only 1 weekly flight between Tonga and Samoa/American Samoa. If you want to get to any other island chain from either of these countries, you need to go via Fiji or New Zealand. Then Tokelau has no air links at all! You can see now why planning your trip could give you a headache!
When it is an option, flying is definitely the easiest way to go but it’s not cheap. Those biweekly flights from Fiji to Tuvalu are over US$500 for a round trip. The weekly flight from Tonga to Samoa/American Samoa is over US$300 for a one way trip of less than 2 hours. Auckland, New Zealand to the Cook Islands is around US$250 return.
If you have a bit of time, it’s also possible to buy yourself passage on any of the cargo ships that visit the islands. They have a small passenger allotment that is never full. This is of course much cheaper than flying but it will take time. A lot of time. You may also not be able to get to the exact island you want on the first try. It will definitely be an adventure though!
Most island chains have scheduled ferry services between other islands in the same chain. Frequency can vary wildly depending on the country though. Some like Fiji have very developed water transport systems to most islands. Ferries to many islands leave throughout the day. The more remote chains, like the Cook Islands don’t have any scheduled ferries. Locals normally have their own fishing boats for getting between the islands. So your options would be either fly or make friends with a boat owner.
Isn’t Food Expensive?
Yes and no. While it is true that most food is imported, there are still a lot of locally produced foods. A traditional meal at a local restaurant can turn out to be quite reasonable. Somewhere between US$4-25. Food at supermarkets can be expensive because it’s mostly imported. Tropical fruits grown on the islands seasonally will also be quite cheap. I honestly can’t think of anything better than eating bananas and coconuts everyday! Check in with locals and see what they’re eating. As most locals receive modest wages, eating like a local would be your best bet for keeping your expenses down.
Can I do It By Myself?
Yes! Absolutely! The Pacific islands are super safe and full of caring, helpful people. Don’t be surprised if people in cars stop to check if you need a lift somewhere when you’re walking along a road. It’s really easy to hitchhike on all islands. You could even end up doing it accidentally!
Public transport will also give you a chance to make some new friends. It’s almost impossible to take a bus in the South Pacific without someone wanting to get to know you. It’s also quite a cheap way of getting around, with local buses costing anywhere from US$0.45-2.50.
It’s also easy to hire bicycles and scooters on most islands. Bicycles are a great way to get around the smaller islands and range in price from US$8-25 for a 24 hour period. Scooters are great for the bigger islands and can be hired from US$10-35 for 24 hours.
If you really want someone to share the adventure with, you can check out social media groups to see if anyone else is travelling there at the same time you plan to. It can sometimes be invaluable having someone to share car rental costs with, to make sure you see all the waterfalls and volcanoes you may never get a chance to see again.
Why I should I Go?
Let me answer this one with pictures
How Do I Get There?
This will depend where you are in the world. The most accessible of all the South Pacific Island chains is Fiji. It has international flights arriving from every continent. It can also serve as a base for getting to other island chains. If you can’t get a flight to Fiji, then New Zealand would also be a great option, especially if you’re planning on going to Tokelau, Niue or the Cook Islands.
Get Yourself Into The Right Frame of Mind For Travel to the South Pacific on a Budget
I wish I could say it was easy but it’s going to take a lot of organising. Possibly months to get an itinerary that works logistically and financially. It definitely requires a lot more planning than places like Asia where you can just turn up. There are so many things to take into account, ranging from flight schedules to intermittent transport options. Once you’re there though, things will get easier as almost everyone speaks English and islanders will always want to help you. You know what? You got this!