How to travel the remote countries in Oceania?


As there is no airline or country which has connections to every single one of these South-Pacific countries, it requires a little bit of research and planning for visiting them.

So the main question I'd like to answer in this post is:

What is a feasible way to go visit them?

Except for the few connections between the countries and the far distances between them, there are other aspects that need to put a light on, like, minimum amount of time required but how to manage not spending too much time at one of these remote countries, which are the best months of the year, and last but not least, what amount of cash is required.

Yes, there are many islands in that area but not all of them are own independent countries.

So I'll start with some geography first.



Geography

There are many islands in the south pacific and many of them belong to another country like New Zealand, France or the United States.

1. All Oceanian territories and countries:

Australia
American Samoa (United States)
Cook Islands (New Zealand)
Fiji
French Polynesia (France)
Guam (United States)
Kiribati
Marshall Islands
Micronesia
Nauru
New Zealand
New Caledonia (France)
Niue (New Zealand)
Norfolk Island (Australia)
Northern Mariana Islands (US)
Palau
Papua New Guinea
Pitcairn Islands (United Kingdom)
Samoa
Solomon Islands
Tokelau (New Zealand)
Tonga
Tuvalu
VanuatuWallis and Futuna (France)


2. Applying the UN Country Filter

From all these many islands nations are just a few own and independent countries and belonging to the UN. Which namely are:

Australia
Fiji
Kiribati
Marshall Islands
Micronesia
Nauru
New Zealand
Palau
Papua New Guinea
Samoa
Solomon Islands
Tonga
Tuvalu
Vanuatu


3. Selection for this post

And that at the end leaves me an even smaller circle to overwatch, as I have been to a few of them
already. That is the impediment with this post, I do not cover all countries in Oceania in here. Nevertheless, it might provide some information to fellow travelers anyway.

These are the countries that will be covered in this post:

Kiribati
Marshall Islands
Micronesia
Nauru
Samoa
Tonga
Tuvalu



Advertisement

My route

As I was traveling to some of them already some years ago, I didn't put them as a waypoint and go visit them again on the trip (wouldn't make much sense, even tho they are all wonderful).

There is an article from Bill's Excellent Adventures about traveling the Oceania countries. When I was preparing for my trip, which took many months, almost up to a year, I regularly consulted his valuable information. Thanks Bill, that helped me a lot at the beginning of my plannings. However, for me, his suggestions were not sufficient in the end as he splits the countries into three different areas and therefore is meant to visit those countries on two different trips.

Also, as in this fast-paced world, some of the information was already outdated. At the end it didn't matter how valuable the information was, it didn't suit my schedule and itinerary and therefore had to come up with another breed, also because circumstances frequently change.


The scope of the trip

My plan was to visit Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Tuvalu, Tonga, Samoa.


These seven countries because, they are the only own and independent countries in Oceania which I haven't visited yet and when I do the effort and tackling the long flights from Europe to there, my intention was to visit all of them in one row.

Out of financing point of view, this is the best option, because traveling near that area of the planet is a costly and enduring thing.



How long in each of these countries?

The planning of this journey took me a lot of effort, as I wanted to visit them all in one row but with as much time as necessary to have a good amount of days in each of these countries.

Means, I wanted to spend in each country between 2.5 and 6 days maximum, with the favorite of having in each country for about 3 days. Why?

1. Because I have only limited annual vacation and cannot simply spend two months on vacation.

2. All these countries are small, very small. I don't like the thought to spend one full week as a tourist in a place like Nauru or Kiribati or Tuvalu. Because a) there is not so much to do to fill one week with it and b) it is expensive!

After finalizing the scope the daunting work of finding appropriate flights started.


And this was my route I traveled in the month of May for 5 weeks:

0. Flying in to Fiji
1. To Kiribati
2. To Marshall Islands
3. FSM
4. Nauru (via Marshall Island and Kiribati)
5. Tonga (via Brisbane and Auckland)
6. Tuvalu
7. Samoa

Route for travel around South-Pacific Countries



Best time of the year

This is definitely possible to estimate and not too difficult. I would not try going to prepare a customized itinerary for the travel date from November to Mid of April. During that time is highest alert for cyclones and in that area of the world, these come very frequently and in an angry devastating posture.

Airlines there are quicker than an eyelash when it comes to canceling flights.

From May to September is the best time to chose, whereas the best time is probably in May and June, as New Zealand and Australia are not having school vacations in these months and so airport are less busier and delays are less frequent.



How difficult are these countries to get to and in?

I never had to compare more flights for a journey that I had to on this. It's indeed a tricky thing to prepare and search out optimal flights to these countries when not having a huge amount of time for traveling there.


Connections and combinations

There are not many flights to almost all of these countries. All in and outbound flights can be counted in maximum one hand. The distance between each of them is not to underestimate.

But in total, I had to do about 500 flight searches to find out which country has a connection to another one and also to find out which place is the optimal landing base.

Yeah, I did probably much more flight searches than that and I better do not think too much about it, all I know it took me almost one year to find the best connections with a good combination of (cost/flight time/amount of visiting time).
Advertisement

The required amount of time (at least)

My goals were to visit those seven remaining countries under the circumstance, that I don't need to spend too much of annual vacation but having enough days to have a GOOD stay for having lots of impressions.

So I didn't want to touch down in one country and then the next day already depart again - no that would be a waste of time and money as well. The best that I found would be, as a few amounts of weeks for the whole journey, but with at least 3 days in each country.

The shortest itinerary I was able to assemble was 4 weeks but that had the effect that I only had two days in Tonga. So I went for the (almost 5-week itinerary).

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to create an itinerary where I would not need to spend more than 4 days in one country. Out of comparing dozens of possible flight connections and travel dates, I ended up having a choice between an itinerary of staying 5 days in Nauru or staying 5 days in Micronesia. As Micronesia has much more to offer than Nauru for a tourist, I went for the Micro-Option.

Before showing and explaining the different options of routes on how to travel through these countries, I'm going to highlight some points to understand each of these countries international onward possibilities.



Country Descriptions and comparison

0. Fiji

Is going the be the hub of the whole journey. Fiji has the most in- and outbound connections and two international airports Nadi and Suva. There is no way of traveling through the south pacific without stop and go from Fiji. So its best not having any previous issues or banns in within that country :).

1. Kiribati

When searching for Kiribati in Google Maps it will show up a Kiribati somewhere very far out in the middle of nowhere. Because Kiribati is made of Islands which spread over a distance of astonishing 3500 kilometers, one part of country Kiribati is as far apart from the other one as east China to west China.

Most of the "travel"-nationalities, or the nationalities that have money for traveling to such a place, can get an easy visa on arrival.

The most famous area where people go on vacation in Kiribati is Kiritimati (or Christmas Island), which is on the very east. However, the capital Tarawa is on the very west. But, Kiritimati is a bad option for visiting the country Kiribati with the intention to continue to other Oceania countries, because it is so far on the east and therefore the worst option when trying to book a flight to other Oceania countries.

So Tarawa on the left the best place to go, to get in and out of Kiribati.

There are four countries which make it possible to fly to Tarawa in Kiribati. Unfortunately, all flights are operated by Nauru Airlines, no other airlines goes to Kiribati. I heard by May 2018 is a further flight from Tuvalu?


Tarawa in Kiribati is not an astonishing place to visit when having a typical south pacific paradise in mind with nice beach resorts and high-quality service. The beaches aren't nice for swimming (they're even dirty with trash) and it requires some good reasons why someone wants to travel to that place. Flights there are expensive and in- and outbound flights are only operated by one Airline with very few flights per week. Kiribati is definitely an obstacle in the planning due to lack of flights and that makes it a bit an annoying country :)


2. Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands also is lying on the east-west or west-east route of the United Airlines Island Hopper. It's on the same route as the Federated States of Micronesia, where the plane departs in Honolulu and flies over the Marshall Islands, continues to the FSM and finally a few hops later it arrives in the Philippines.

Convenient East-West United Airlines Island Hopper Flight

United Airlines has this Island Hopper route. The plane starts in Manila and hops over Palau, Guam and then after Chuuk (FSM), it lands in Pohnpei (FSM). It then continues (via Kosrae) to the Marshall Islands and finishes (via Kwajalein) in Honolulu. Easy to remember this one for the planning as it only flies three times a week from East to West and West to East.


One Island of the Marshall Island is called Kwajalein and the Island Hopper lands there. However, as a normal tourist, it is not possible to enter the country via Kwajalein. When I started planning my schedule I had one option that brought me to the Marshall Islands with the Island Hopper coming from Honolulu and I had one plan of getting off the plane in Kwajalein. I'm glad I did some more research about Kwajalein as I soon found out it's a US military base only and no-one enters the country except when being a member of the US military.

The Marshall Island with the capital and airport in Majura is an important hub in this whole Oceania journey. As the airport in Majuro is the only place for getting a connection towards the south of Oceania.



3. Federated States of Micronesia

Not to be mixed up with the subregion Micronesia. There is a country called the Federated States of Micronesia and there is a subregion called Micronesia.

Pohnpei is the largest island in the FSM and also the most developed one. There is no dry season and it rains almost every day with an ugly mix of rain, sun and clouds.

The risk that your nationality cannot get a visa on arrival to enter the FSM, is very very low.

As of 2018, the only two airlines that fly to Micronesia are Nauru Airlines and United Airlines, yes, the Airline that drags off passengers without having done anything wrong.

These are the only airlines but the good part in this, there is no other option to think about and therefore the decision which airline to take is taken easily by this circumstance.


Nauru Airlines is coming from the south via the Marshall Islands. Also its the ONLY airline that connects FSM and the Marshall Islands with the "south". Official Schedule from Nauru Airlines.

Based on the fact that FSM is on a frequently flown route by United Airlines and Nauru Airlines, and the fact that almost no-one needs a visa prior arrival, I would say getting to the FSM is EASY! (But be prepared for getting dragged off a plane in the United Airlines).



4. Nauru

The third smallest country in the world comes right after the Vatican and Monaco in sizing matters. With around 200-300 tourists per year its also one of the least visited country in the world.

Not to forget obtaining a Visa here prior arrival. ALL countries (except for Israel ?!?) outside of Oceania need a visa prior Arrival.

Its a good idea NOT planning a trip to Nauru between November to February as its high season for cyclones that time. As there is only one Airline that flies to Nauru, it's not a big pleasure being stranded there because this only Airline does not like to fly through cyclones.

The agony of choice regarding flights is not existent. With only Nauru Airlines its easy to find a flight :). On the schedule, the flown route looks easy, but in reality, the complexity can increase quickly. As there are very limited flights and when there is a flight, the plane does not just fly from A to B and back to A, but instead flies from A to B to C to D to E and a day later all the way back.




5. Tonga

Like Nauru, which is in Oceania's subregion Micronesia, Tonga is lying in the subregion of Polynesia. Visa should not be a problem, as most popular travel nationalities get it on arrival.

There are quite a few options for getting there without too much hassle. With lots of connections from Fiji, both Suva and Nadi, flights from Sydney, Auckland, or all the way from Honolulu.

Amount of days spending in Tonga can be adjusted easily as there are enough options of flying in and out. The challenge just starts when the other countries during the journey are directing and consuming the number of days all for their own and Tonga soon will leave behind in the itinerary, then it can become to another tricky situation when striving for a seamless itinerary without too much stop over time in Fiji.

What I was surprised about was, that there are almost no flights between Samoa and Tonga.


6. Tuvalu

Fitting Tuvalu into the itinerary among all other countries in Oceania isn't done easily. There is exactly one Airline, namely Fiji Airways, which flies to and back from Tuvalu on Tuesday and on Thursday. Always from Fiji Suva airport. That's it!

My goal was from the beginning of my plannings to fly into Tuvalu on Tuesday and out of it on Thursday. That was like a must have!

I didn't want to become stranded in the fourth smallest country of the world from Thursday all over the weekend until next Tuesday. Not even want to imagine the situation when the flight gets canceled and the island holiday in Tuvalu would get extended for a few days. So this must-have requirement was a tough one to fit into the itinerary.


7. Samoa

Same as Tonga,  Samoa located in the subregion Polynesia. Nothing to worry about for anyone regarding visa, everyone can get in without it. Except, the only people who need a visa are the inhabitants of American Samoa Passports.

And if the question comes up if "American-Samoa is different than Samoa?" The quick answer is yes, American-Samoa is NOT the same as Samoa. Samoa is an own country, whereas American-Samoa belongs to the United States. Also, Samoans are the first every day who stand up to go working and American-Samoans are the last, as there is 24 hours time difference between those two countries, even tho only 30 minutes flight between them.

Flying in and out of Samoa from Fiji is not a problem as there are daily flights. Also from Honolulu is one flight per week.



These Countries compared

First I only compared the above 7 countries against each other in the following categories. Then I thought it's an easy thing to add the other countries (including Australia and New Zealand) into the graphics so that it provides some more information. Also it's easier when having, for example, a country like Australia to compare against.

Expensive: How expensive are these countries to stay, eat, travel around?

Difficult: How difficult are these countries to get in and out?

Scuba Diving: Is Scuba Diving possible, is it worth it, is it nice?

Things to do: Is there much to see and do and good to spend a lot of time in the country?




Costs

Yes, it's not cheap to travel in that area. But, I will not say that dump phrase "its just once in a lifetime", cause I heard that dumb phrase dozens of times already and everyone in every place tells me you should go and take a look at this site and that monument and that "its just once in a lifetime". Can someone tell me which of any sights on the world is not a "just once in a lifetime" sight when being on a vacation?

Advertisement

So yes, it does cost money, especially when coming with long-haul flights from all the way from Europe over Fiji and then spread out to the different countries. The flights are rare, airlines have their monopoly. Distances are long between the countries. That makes it pricey.

Accommodation cannot be compared to affordable Asia. The amenities in the rooms are very basic but the prices like in a 4-5 star hotel. It has to be accepted as it is, pricey and better not think about it. However, thankfully there are not too many options to compare due to rarity.

The costs sum up quickly. Traveling from Europe an amount around USD >6000 needs to be calculated with.



What problems could arise (and how to minimize them)? 

When talking about risks, a terrorist attack is definitely not meant here. Its far away from ISIS, probably ISIS doesn't even know about these countries :)

But more like the circumstances of higher violence. And there is a lot of it that can make the whole schedule completely broken and not just the itinerary, but also the money wallet.

Getting around in that area is expensive in accommodation, food, and transport.

Delay or Cancelations of flights

Having one canceled or delayed flight could mean Game Over for the whole itinerary, and that risk is much higher than more than in many other places. 

In the Oceania area are often just a few flights per week to one place. Means, when one flight gets canceled or delayed, it probably means there is a heavy cyclone around or an airline has a broken plane. And as these airlines in the area do not have spare planes available, one defective plane could quickly end in a delay of many days (or even weeks). When that happens, the chance to catch the successor plane connections on the journey is dramatically low and that leads to a dead end where all further flights wouldn't be able to reach anymore.

How to avoid or minimize?
-Pray for nice weather and quality mechanical parts in airplanes.
-Fitting in some spare days in one place, unfortunately, is a bad idea, as the problem could arise in any place and affect any of these airlines and not just in one or two specific countries or airline of these.
-Go when the weather is supposed to be calm in average and out of cyclone season, which is from May to September.


Money

Most of these countries don't have the opportunity to exchange currency and I would not bet on the always-on availability of the ATM's, in case they even have something like an ATM in remote areas of some islands.

Calculating and exchanging cash beforehand can be a tricky task as well, but I would not want to run out of money in such a place.

How to avoid or minimize?
- Bring enough USD and AUD. These are the currency used there or preferred for exchange.


Tsunami and Earthquakes

That area is located on a very volcanic active area. There are no active volcanoes around but the area is often shuttered by earthquakes. An earthquake in that area could start a tsunami and when a tsunami in that area is happening nearby one of these countries, it can be devastating. As in a country like Tuvalu, the highest point is 3meters above sea level, it would simply wipe the whole country and drag everything out in the ocean.

It doesn't even need to be something severe. A small earthquake can cause damage to infrastructure and when infrastructure is damaged, it easily can affect the airport, and then its already a problem.

How to avoid or minimize?
- Not going there


Plane crash

As far as my researches go, I found out that there haven't been any drastic crashes or plane accidents. The airlines in these areas might easily cancel or delay a flight, maybe just because a bird has shit on the landing scope or a mosquito cause to much wind. But, at least their highest priority is to have a fully functional airplane before they depart.

How to avoid or minimize?
- When afraid of a plane crash, surely a ship can be used for traveling there.



Conclusion

This post already became longer than I planned. Even tho I know this information will soon be outdated anyway, it might help someone else who intends traveling in that area. So have a great journey!




3 comments:

  1. there is a direct flight between tuvalu and kiribati as well as between Tonga/Samoa/American Samoa. If coming from North America you would get off the Island Hopper at Pohnpei or Marshall Islands and head south via Air Nuaru and aim to get to Fiji. From there you can do a loop through Tonga and the Samoas back to Fiji (or the reverse). From Fiji you can also go from Tuvalu, Kiribati and Marshall Islands to catch the Island Hopper back to Hawaii. So directly across from Hawaii, then down from Marshalls to Fiji via Nuaru. A circular trip through Tonga and the Samoas and then Nadi back up to Marshall Islands. So its possible to link the Island Hopper trip as far through as Palau to a southern loop from Marshalls back to the Marshalls, with a side loop from Fiji through the Samoas/tonga. The "Hub" air ports for this are Marshall Islands and Nadi Fiji.

    Coming from the South (eg NZ or Aus) it makes sense to go first to either Fiji, or to Tonga or Samoa and make your way to Fiji. You can fly up to the Marshalls either via Nuaru or via Tuvalu & Kiribas. Do the Island Hopper through to Palau and on your way back do the reverse leg of that big loop.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Airlines you would/could use for this type of trip include United, Air Nuaru, Air Fiji, Talofa Airlines, Real Tongan, Samoan Airlines Air Kiribati (this one links Tuvalu with Kiribati, Air Fiji flies up to Tuvalu)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Genial. An dieser Planung war/bin ich auch gerade dran. :) Bookmarked!

    ReplyDelete