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What follows are only basic snapshot summaries and breakdowns of the factors important to budget independent travellers. Both Australia and New Zealand have a lot to offer and in the case of Australia which is, spread over a wide area – it's impossible for this page to be comprehensive.
Huge numbers of backpackers head this way on
[gap] year outs and a
whole industry has sprung up around them, offering hostels,
working visas, car rentals, local guides, etc. So there's a lot
of detailed info available, particularly for Australia.
Unfortunately most is commercial in orientation, so don't get
suckered into all of this at home; just get a good guidebook and
head off – the rest is easy. Especially in Australia budget independent travel is a factory.
Yet few get into the Pacific unless on a round the world flight or side trip from Australia (Fiji and French Polynesia are the key stops). It is a region of small nations, tiny islands, forgotten overseas territories, expensive flights and poor connections. Technically it splits into three regions Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia – unfortunately we don't cover much of it.
If you're thinking that the destinations on this page are some of the countries you want to visit and need more planning information then you are strongly recommended to complement what you find here with any of the excellent guidebooks or activity guides for Oz and NZ. Trust us it will make life much easier and fill in the grey areas.
If you are set on going and need a guidebook or reading material please see a list of recommended guides/books here (go on, have a look!). All guides/books can be viewed in more detail and click-through purchased with Amazon in the UK, US or Canada. Plus shopping through the site is a big thank you (if you have been helped out). To see why click here.
Many thanks to Stephen Totterman for contributing the Vanuatu summary and for Katie Penman's Fiji summary.
It's worth looking, if you have not already, at the example layout to see the guidelines each section of information is based on – or for other travel advice and site home head for www.travelindependent.info
Get your bearings... show/hide map of the region
Intro: Crikey! The world's biggest island, smallest continent and an icon for round-the-world and exotic travel. Somewhere perfectly civilized, English spoken, a lot of beer drunk, the chance to earn some money and miles from home with loads of places to see on the way there and back. Australia is stunningly beautiful with great infrastructure, it is safe and well set up for tourist – especially backpackers. That also makes it extremely popular with younger visitors and expensive.
How you may experience Australia will depend much on your budget, age and time available. Australia in many parts is a 'tourist machine' of tours, transport, bars and accommodation catering at the lowest possible cost to an army of late teens (to early-twenty's) Brits, French, Germans and to a lesser extent Americans that pour into the country every day with little idea of what they want to see and do apart from have a good time and not spend too much doing so. If you too are on a limit budget you will get caught up in this and either have a fantastic time meeting new people, hanging out, parting – or feel out of place in wanting to get an early night for an early start. At the budget end, standards of food and accommodation are poor value when compared to say Chile, South Africa, NZ or Korea/Japan – such is the backpacking machine churning though traveller after traveller.
If you have a little bit of a higher budget, can afford your own transport and don't worry quite so much about cost then you can move yourself away from town centre mega-hostels – their often specific type of guest and crowded kitchens – into places where you can get the best from a stunning part of the world. For that reason and the fact it is plan and simple an expensive part of the world, you will enjoy it (at whatever age) with more if you have a solid budget.
As with money, time is another important consideration. Australia is huge (and the cost of getting around soon mounts up). For example, making it to Alice Springs its still the distance from London to Edinburgh to get to Ayres Rock. From Darwin, Perth and most major centre that are not on the East coast, it is a long way to anywhere. Roads are great, but you need time (or air-tickets) to travel them.
How expensive Australia is does depend a lot the current strength of its currency the Ozzie Dollar, but with a standard of living second only to Scandinavia and few bargains in big cities, living dirt cheap like in the rest of Asia is simply not possible. A myriad of things to see and do (and party culture), do mean you often simply haemorrhage money. Some travellers love it and end up staying for extended periods (working). Other loath it and quickly more on for less familiar and cheaper stomping grounds like South Africa, Korea, New Zeland or South East Asia.
Sydney, Melbourne, Fraser Island, Nimbin, the Gold Coast, the Great Ocean Road, neat animals and some generally beautiful diverse scenery and weather . If you have the money, sailing in the Whitsunday Islands is fantastic. Forget the various 'party boats' and plump for a traditional vessel for the best experience – either way it's not cheap, but almost paradise.
The speed you spend money and long distances. In many people's opinion the Great Barrier Reef is not too different (for the average tourist) to reefs that can be seen in Asia and Central America. It is a long way off the coast and in winter the trip can be rough. Although those with the money to dive it (or transfer by helicopter) during the best seasons will not be disappointed.
Typical tourist trail: Cairns to Sydney. Side trips down to Melbourne, Darwin to Alice or to Perth
Dangers: Spending too much money, never leaving
Hot/cold, wet and dry: Normally fairly hot pleasant weather. Darwin can be unpleasant in the wet season and Sydney/Melbourne and the far south can get colder than you might expect in the winter months.
Costs: Coming from Asia you're going to find
Australia expensive on a day-to-day basis. However if making
a comparison with Europe prices are comparable with parts. Nevertheless,
to summarise, Australia is expensive and the Australian
Dollar is a strong currency. Sticking to major cities (as
backpackers do) and covering the country's vast distances
you are going to bleed money, particularly if you want to live
it up to any degree. At least US$60/£40+ per day and that's
with cooking most of your own food. The country is well set
up for independent travellers, so with a student, YHA or
other backpackers' card you can find discounts on transport,
etc and with a highly competitive market you can find
some bargains. Just remember, getting around costs a lot of
money, so does drinking and giving in to all the great
things like parachute jumping (cheaper in NZ) that the
country has to offer.
Incidentally (and probably because it is a long distance trip and thus tourists stay longer and spend more) according to statistics gathered by the UN World Tourism Organisation, when you take total visitor numbers (5.9 million in 2010) and divide them by total tourist receipts the amount spent in Australia is the highest in the world at an average of over $5,000 per person. Way ahead of everywhere else on the list and [tellingly] 2.5 times more than New Zealand. - Ref.
Guide book: Many available, all good. The Lonely Planet: Australia is a good choice, but extremely popular. The Rough Guide: Australia version is a great alternative and recommended. It may not be as well geared to budget travellers, but who cares when there is so much free information and promotional [money saving] material available catered to backpackers available from hostel message/ad boards. It is however, [and typically] a really good read and not boring in the way the Lonely Planet can. For a full list of guides and reading material click here.
Other reading: Recommended by readers are: Down Under by Bill Bryson (known as 'In a Sunburned Country in the US and Canada) which has a fair bit of history and general humour in it. (see details – UK).
Locals: Fine, some backpacker jaded souls in places, mostly friendly
Other travellers: A lot of backpackers from all over the world, especially the UK and France. Many young first time backpackers, coming after graduating from school sometimes on 'Daddy's' money to work or seemingly just to get drunk – normally both. However too many travellers to pigeon-hole.
Everyone requires a visa for Australia,
except New Zealanders. Usually it's an electronic visa
called an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). If American you
need to head to Washington, Los Angeles or Ottawa – or you
can use embassy web sites. Nationals of Canada, Malaysia,
Singapore, Japan and most European countries (if staying for
less than three months) can get an ETA, valid for multiple
entries over one year. Applied for online, there is no visa
stamp in your passport (ETAs are computerised) and it saves the
hassle of queuing or sending off your passport. ETAs can be
applied for on the web with a credit card for AU$20 (see
www.eta.immi.gov.au) or from travel agents and airlines
(for an additional fee levied on top of the cost of the
If you want to stay longer than 3 months, you'll need to complete an application form and lodge it either in person or by post with the embassy or consulate. It'll cost AU$105 (or the equivalent in your country) and takes up to three weeks to process. If you think you might stay more than three months, it's best to get the longer visa before departure, because once you get to Australia extensions cost AU$160. Once issued, a visa usually allows multiple entries, so long as your passport is valid.
Working Holiday Visa (WHV). If you want to work to supplement the cost of your holiday through short-term employment a WHV might be possible. However if you want to travel to Australia to work seriously a WHV won't cut it. The WHV is for those aged 18 to 30 (at time of application), who are interested in a working holiday of up to 12 months in Australia. If your nationality allows it you basically get a 12 month multiple entry visa with the right to study for 4 months and/or work in Australia for up to 6 months (with each employer per visa). If you search the internet for information about the WHV Visa Subclass 417 (most nations) and 462 (Americans among other more exotic nationalities), you can find all the details.
These 12-month working holiday visas are easily available to British, Irish, Canadian, Belgium, French, German, Korean, Japanese, Swedish and Norwegian and Dutch. However, remember work is not always easy to find or guaranteed and a WHV typically only opens the door to casual work (often hard agricultural work which is seasonal) and is not a chance to make a wonderful career – as mentioned you are meant to work for no more than six months at any one job (per visa). You must arrange the visa before you arrive in Australia, and several months in advance. Working visas cost A$230; some travel agents such as Trailfinders can arrange them for you.
The all-important condition for the working holiday visa is that you have adequate funds both to support yourself during your stay – at least A$1000 a month – and eventually to get yourself home again.
Many options. Backpacker
buses (see getting around in the
on the road
section) are popular. Perfect if you are in a hurry or on
your own, but better avoided if there are a few of you in a
group who could club together for more independent means
(such as car hire or Greyhound Buses (for which you can buy
a mileage pass)). Car hire is quite expensive given the time you may need and that major rental firms will limit you
to a useless 100km/day, so buying a
car or, better, a campervan and splitting the cost between a
few is a cheaper option if you have the time.
There are quite a few car hire re-locations available around the country, if you keep an eye out and long-term rental deals from local smaller companies can be great value. You will always find the best car hire rates on the Internet.
Train travel is an other option and comfortable, but slightly more restricting as trains don't run as frequently or operate to as many destinations as buses. There are numerous good value rail passes and special 'backpacker' fares.
(air): There are many companies offering internal travel in Australia, the staples of which are Virgin Blue, Qantas and its budget arm Jetstar. They operate on the same basis as low cost/no-frills airlines in Europe, i.e. the sooner you book, the cheaper the price.
It's worth studying both airlines, because it is sometime cheaper to take the outward journey with one airline and the return journey with the other. Of the two, Virgin Blue is more no-frills while Qantas (not Jetstar) provides a free meal and drinks. Note that internal flights booked from outside Australia are free from 10% GST (Australia's VAT).
There is much more information in the budget airlines section of the 'on the road' chapter.
Tourist factor: 9/10 on the main circuit – it's no coincidence that this is the second most viewed page on this site!
Money: ATMs and credit cards
Accommodation: There is a huge variety and range of places to stay, and notably an excellent choice of hostels with good social scenes in most towns: book ahead for the best ones and for double rooms. Camping is widely available at campsites (if you can get to them with your own transport) or in some hostel gardens.
Hot water: Developed country, never a problem
Average cost: US$60-80 double room in Sydney hostel, prices lower outside big cities
Communications: Annoyingly most cheap places to stay charge for Wi-Fi, sometimes at a reasonable cost, sometimes a rip-off if you only need to pick up a few mails. If you don't have a your own device or need a keyboard/screen most hostels have a PC you can use. If you will be in country for a while a local SIM card and data package will be the best option to access the Internet when you just need to quickly book/check something or pick-up e-mails.
Food: Buy your own and cook it in hostels to keep costs down
Hassle and annoyance factor: None
Women alone: Fine
Local poisons for the body: Big drinking culture, smoking an expensive and difficult pastime (smokers in Australia have been squeezed out of bars and restaurants, as well as some beaches and most other public places). Check out Nimbin in NSW and bigger cities for the alternative scene.
Intro: It's a view maintained by many that New Zealand beats the hell out of Australia as a cheap, independent travel [backpacker] destination. Its smaller, cheaper, more compact, prettier and just better. Few would disagree that for a developed country it's good value and one of the most beautiful places on earth. Picking up a car to buy or hire is easy and the country hosts a perfect system of wonderful hostels.
Outdoor adventure activities are cheaper than Australia and there is a whole host of possibilities from oxygen-assisted skydives to white-water rafting/surfing to the well-known bungee jump. You might feel a little like you are on a tourist trail and the North Island is a little lacking in some ways, but the scenery, especially in the fjordlands makes up for it all.
still fifteen hundred kilometres on from Australia, New
Zealand is enjoying a tourist boom with a certain trilogy of
films putting its landscape very much on the map. Despite
this the country remains unfettered by the crowds you'd find
More a holiday rather than a travel destination. Everything is easily accessible, packed into a land area little larger than the UK but with a population of under 4million, with over half that in the three largest cities: Auckland, the capital Wellington, and the South Island's Christchurch. Elsewhere, you can travel miles through farmland from one attraction to another and hardly see anyone.
At major tourist attractions okay, it's busy, but a far cry from Europe's or North America's equivalents. And the scenery: well welcome to 'Godzone'.
Natural beauty and variety. Great set up for those wishing to explore independently and on a budget (when compared to alternatives such as Australia or Europe). Everything is easy and set up with travellers in mind. The fjordlands , volcanic activity, Wanaka, great hostels and the South Island in general. NZ's amazing back country hut system comes highly rated as does many short treks. General awesome natural beauty, great facilities and compactness .
Queenstown, often full
accommodation, the west (wet) coast (although lowlight
might be a bit harsh and some
certainly disagree), some of the North Island's
cities and sand flies. Christchurch and Auckland are
just big cities, with little to distinguish them from
most western world cities. The general feedback on
backpacker buses is only good if fitting into the crowd and
profile of typical ticket holder.
Visa strategy: Free on entry for three months for most nationalities – onwards ticket sometimes requested. Australian citizens can stay indefinitely. Many choose the one year Working Holiday Visa (one time only, for those under 30) so they can legally work while travelling.
Typical tourist trail: Too various to mention, generally a loop around the North and South Islands
When to go: Dec-March is busy season, worth doing some booking ahead. June-Aug (winter) is the off-season and quieter/cheaper to travel in, though with worse weather.
Hot/cold, wet and dry: Typical four season climate, can get hot at the top of the North Island. The weather is (on average) rainy in the west and dry in the east. There is little variation between seasons, temps are rarely higher than mid 20'sC or lower than 0C. Average is about 10C during winter, 20C during summer. Best weather is January – April.
Costs: Good value, getting around can be expensive, as can tours. Cook your own food to save money. US$40-50 per day, but with so much to do, like shark diving (better in South Africa), dolphin swimming, glacier climbing and extreme sports (which are poor value), costs can run out of control. For a better idea of prices see http://www.backpack-newzealand.com/costs.html
Money: ATMs and credit card
Getting around: Many travellers go for backpacker buses. If you are more than one person, hire or buy a car instead – you won't regret it. Generally buses can be a little expensive (more than hiring a car if sharing the cost). There are quite a few car and car sharing notices in hostels, re-locations available around the country, if you keep an eye out. Compared to many western countries, hitchhiking and sharing lifts between travellers is more common and some say is easy, but you'll need some experience in this means of travel to avoid waiting too long – even the pros expect average wait times of about an hour per ride (naturally hitchhiking is never a totally safe means of travel). Rail is quite limited and expensive. Many choose to cycle.
Comment: I used your site before I embarked on a ?year-long round the world trip and found it very useful. I ?noticed this comment on the New Zealand page: "The general ?feedback on backpacker buses is rarely good." I went on a backpacker bus and it was undoubtedly the best time of my travels. I've met plenty of people who have also been with the ?bus company I went with or the main alternative, and they al?l have very positive things to say too.
Guide book: Use the fantastic free hostel guides (BBH) for accommodation if hostelling. Recommended is The Rough Guide: New Zealand. The Lonely Planet: New Zealand is up to its usual standard, but far too overused for the liking of many. Again the Let's Go makes a good alternative. All these guides can be bought with ease in New Zealand: the Rough Guide is the cheapest to buy when in New Zealand. There are a number of Lonely Planet specialist guides for walking/trekking (see details - UK or USA) and cycling (see details - UK or USA) which are very good. For a full list of guidebooks click here.
Other reading: Recommended are: The Bone People by Keri Hulme. Set in remote New Zealand, this Booker-prize-winning novel tells the story of the ties that bind three amazingly different people. It is a rich reading experience, with characters so real it is sometimes painful to read, and always totally engrossing – (see details - UK or USA). Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff. Like The Bone People, but this book is much rawer. It's not pretty, but if you desire to learn about the Ma¯ori, this is for you. It is a portrayal of Ma¯ori society, and a story in which everyone is a victim until the strength and vision of one woman transcends brutality and leads the way to a new life. -(see details - UK or USA). For a full list of recommended reading click here.
Locals: Friendly and welcoming
Other travellers: Various, lots of Israelis and Dutch, but most notably – Germans and English. NZ is backpacker central. Many young 'kid' travellers
Tourist factor: 8/10 (NZ has become extremely popular in recent years)
Accommodation: Hostels, book ahead in peak seasons, especially for double rooms
Average cost: $24-$29NZD dorm, $55-$60NZD for a double. Most expensive in Wellington and Queenstown. Campsites are ~NZ$10 for unserviced and NZ$15-20 for serviced. A common recommendation is that an enjoyable way to save money is the Woofing programme, where you get to meet locals, eat very well, save money and learn loads of interesting stuff.
Communications: Internet widespread, but not that cheap. International calls with locally bought calling cards are very good value.
Health: Watch out for sand fly bites, otherwise no need for any special precautions
Books: Loads of bookshops
TV: Always in hostels and even cheap hotels. Like watching in the UK. Casualty, Coronation Street and the like.
Food: Easy to cook own food in hostels. Eating out is not too expensive... cheap takeaway – $8 NZD, main dish at a restaurant - $14 NZD. Most restaurants allow BYO wine which is much cheaper.
Vegetarians: Never a problem
Hassle and annoyance factor: None
Women alone: None (hitchhiking alone might not be the best idea)
Local poisons for the body: Beer and wine good value and can now be bought in supermarkets throughout NZ. There is now no smoking inside public buildings including bars, pubs and restaurants but they usually accommodate smokers in special smoking rooms or balconies etc. A lot of dope is grown in the North Island and around Motueka and Nelson so no worries about getting your mitts on some in the South or North Island (it's still illegal though). Another recent development in NZ – which has developed a reputation for it is – is the advent of Party Pills, made from BZP, which gives a similar high to ecstasy, but legally. Can be bought from shops open all hours over the counter but you must be 18 or over and unfortunately will probably be made illegal by the time you read this. There are plenty of other 'legal highs' – all come with buyer beware warning.
Get your bearings... show/hide map of the region
We are light on Pacific Island information as few pass through this region due to the cost.
Most of those that do, do so on round-the-world flight or trips to
Fiji (which has good connections and acts as the best hub)
from Australia. Technically the area splits into the following
divisions regions (overseas territories omitted):
Micronesia (Kiribati, Palau, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia), Melanesia – closes to Oz and Indonesia (Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Easter Island and Nauru).
Nauru is the only country in the region that requires a visa (of nationals of developed countries) and along with the rest of Micronesia the hardest (read most expensive) to reach. Fiji and of course New Zealand are the most developed for tourism and have the best air network to connect to other islands with Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga and Fiji all having reasonable access. Palau is best accessed from Seoul, Taiwan or like the rest of Micronesia from USA overseas territories like Guam.
There are plenty of cruise ships and private yachts, but no international passenger ferries. Forget about island hopping and remember many islands are very small with little to do (apart from kick back) with high costs (due to the need to import almost everything). There is a strong sense of historical/national pride, but little history to be found (excluding WW2 remnants mainly in Melanesia). Each region (and to a certain extent every island) has its own distinct flavour and culture – although the overseas territories (e.g. American Samoa, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Guam, etc.) do feel sterile in comparison to the sovereign nations having adopted much or their culture [and price range] from their big brother/sister.
Intro: Easter Island, Isla Pascua, Rapa Nui, Te pito o te henua (the navel of the world)... probably no one know the real name (if it even had one), and that enigma is at the heart of the island which is for many the very definition of remote. Arriving you find yourself in a time-warp between South America and Polynesia. You hear Chilean Spanish spoken, but notice flowers in the hair of girls and other distinct Polynesian flavours. The main 'town' Hanga Roa, sounds anything but South American. How you experience this will largely depends on if you have arrived from Tahiti or Santiago.
Easter Island is a tiny, expensive island about 5 and a bit hours flight (3,680km) from the nearest inhabited destination with an airport (the Pitcairn islands – of 'Mutiny and the Bounty' fame is probably remoter (and the nearest place with another living soul (2,075km if anyone is counting) – but accessible by boat only) Looking around will take a day, but two or three days (including the days you arrive/leave) is recommended to include time to get over the jet lag and take in the place. Actually seeing all the sites (which is costly as you need a tour or your own transport), despite what many sources will tell you, it takes no more than one whole day. Eastern Island is a wonderful, relaxed place and you could spend far longer – only if you want to chill, there are far better places for it (with regards to costs and services on offer.
The cost of getting to the island and around (see below) can be prohibitive for many, but it is a hell of a kick to come face to face with those heads and walk in such a remote, enigmatic place. Few places capture the imagination as this and despite being in real terms actually quite accessible (daily flights) you see few other visitors at many or the archaeological sites, relative to their fame.
The ocean, a dark deep blue looms large from everywhere – the curve of the earth just viable - with crashing waves on a rocky shore. The massive heads look ashore or have crashed ground wards. Then for the moments you start to wonder how and why and what it was like on this island 500 years ago (and how everything change (for the worst)). It certainly is a special place.
Volcanoes and you know what. In particular Roano Raraku (the quarry the heads come from), Ahu Tongariki (the most famous line-up) and Rano Kua/ORongo (crates and birdman site). Anakena must be the world's coolest beach.
Prices of food, getting there/away and around. It is worth remembering that when Captain Cook visited in 1772 many of the moai (the heads) where toppled. By the time Europeans established missions and Pervians had raided the island for slaves 50-100 years later all the moai were face down. Today there are four main line ups – all which have been re-raised. There are many moai sites on the island, but the typical moai you see is face down on the ground rather than majestically lines up. This is not a lowlight, only a point of note.
Dangers: Spending too long and too much. The island can be hot and dusty or prone to frequent rain showers (depending when you visit.
Visa strategy: Free on entry, same requirements as Chile
Typical tourist trail: A few days stop over between Santiago and French Polynesia. The main town, laying adjacent to the airport is the opposite end of the island to the main moai sites. Ahu Tongariki (the most famous photo of 15 standing moais) is the farthest corner away from the town. It is connected to Hanga Roa (the main/only settlement) via a loop road of good quality. To drive the whole loop – that passes 90% of the islands archeological sites – will take about 2 hours (it is about 70km). Typically you will spend a full day doing this, a half day looking around Hanga Roa plus climbing to the near-by Rano Kau crater (and birdman site) and a half day (or day), doing nothing, drinking pisco, surfing or some other (expensive) activity. You could probably drive to the main attractions every day for a week without being bored – only doing so comes at a high price (cost of transport, tours, rental).
Costs: Quite expensive (about US$50-$100 per day), but cheap accommodation can be found and you can cook your own food in many cabanas/hostels. The major cost is getting transport out to all the moai.
Money: The banks (just two – one is Santander) will give credit card advances when open at a fee. There is an ATM at both (but not in the airport – airport to bank is less than 15min walk), USD or EURs change no problem, but at a worse rate than mainland Chile. You can pay for most things with a credit or debit card so don't stress about cash.
What to buy: Many expensive, but very nice carvings. Lots of mini-moai
Locals: Fine (not many of them). There is a super chilled out vibe and small surf culture.
Other travellers: Fine, not to many of them. Large majority of Chilean (South American) visitors. Next come Japanese and the few round the worlders that make it here.
Tourist factor: 6/10
Accommodation: The options as you step off the
plane are huge if you did not book ahead. Options range from the nice hotels/guesthouses from about
US$40-100 to pitching your own tent and dorm beds. In between you have Cabanas (rooms with you own kitchen) and
resadencals (rooms next to or part of a family house). Many hostels have a minimum 3 night rule.
Pick wisely and go with one of these owners for a look and free lift
into town (although walking is easy).
Given how remote the location most arrivals have pre-booked accommodation and if you walk around town
many places are surprised to see walk-in business However many places are not available to book on the internet.
Note the best places to stay are the resceidetals which you almost certainly won't find on internet booking
engines. Any of the airport information desks will give you a free map with all the
places to stay listed.
If you have nowhere – don't worry. Walking from the airport turn left (ot of the airport), then first right (take second right to pass a hostel), the left. You will pass Chez Oscar (a good choice) and a few others. When you hit the LAN Chile office you are on main street. Turn right and you are in the town centre. That will take less than 10mins to walk. Everyone is super friendly and getting directions if needed is easy.
The cheaper places are the far end of town and won't offer breakfast – no great hardship since you have tonnes of eating places and supermarkets.
Internet: Some Internet cafes and Wi-Fi (pretty slow at times) just about everywhere (you see, even the world's most remote place has great Wi-Fi!)
Food: Restaurants are nice, with given the location a great quality, but quite expensive. Supermarkets have a reasonable stock for preparing your own meals. If you are eating every meal out, things will get expensive.
Getting there: Currently the only way to get to Easter Island is with LANE Chile from French Polynesia (once a week) or Santiago (daily). This was possible on a One World round-the-world ticket, but regulations change frequently. Flight range from US$500-1000 return.
Getting around: The only real way to see the island is to hire a jeep (US$70-100) or take a tour. A motorbike, quad or scooter is cheaper (US$60), but you will need a specific reference to motorbikes on your licence to rent anything two wheeled. Given the period rain showers in some seasons a jeep is far better. A jeep, split between a few people is the best option and you will see all the sights in a day. Around the town, you can hire bikes and walk to a few sights including one of the stunning volcanoes, bird-man site and ruins. The main sites at the far end of town are far too far to reach by bicycle or foot.
Guide book: There is no travel guidebook for Easter Island alone, but plenty of books on the history and culture for sale in town. So for you need to buy something or use the chapters in the Rough Guide: Chile (see details/buy with Amazon - UK or USA) or Lonely Planet: Chile (see details/buy with Amazon - UK or USA), which are both good. To be honest you just need information on the history of the island. Some hostels have nice books for loan. Also there are loads of abandoned South America guidebooks here. The new Moon Handbook on Tahiti (including the Cook Islands), has a fairly detailed section on Easter Island and has been recommended.
Other reading: There are many books relating to the history of the island and your guidebook and Wikipedia is probably the best place to start, but for a novel/biography set around the island, Among Stone Giants: The Life of Katherine Routledge and Her Remarkable Expedition to Easter Island by Andrew Tathum (see details - UK, Canada or USA) is highly recommended and informative/interesting.
Comment: Easter island – incredible! Yes, you can see the main sites in 2 days if you run but there is so much to see and do on the island and you can easily spend more time there – horse treks, surfing, scuba diving, trekking, dance shows, or just plain chilling out on beautiful Anakena beach and hanging out with the locals on the weekend. Flights are very often delayed or you may be bumped off the flight, so if possible allow extra time. Wherever you're going it's a very very long way to get back here and it would be a real shame to end up running around the island snapping away at the moai in 2.5 days instead of budgeting for an extra day. The best guide by far is "A companion to Easter Island by James Grant Peterkin" plenty of detail and very easy to follow and it will even tell you how to avoid the tour groups. Lonely Planet etc don't come anywhere close. You can buy it in the stores on the island. – Thanks Jason K
Rating: Although you only need two/three days at maximum, with not much to see, those heads and the island are compelling – 8/10
Intro: Over 300 tropical islands set in the South Pacific are, in our humble opinion, a must for all who want to forget the busy streets of Western lands and lose themselves in this surreal land. A complete antithesis to the North American, Western European and every other work-orientated culture, Fijians know how to relax and enjoy their surroundings: a way of life that they seem eager to share with those who care to visit. Escape the mainland for a taste of true Fijian culture, without the manufactured tribal dances and "grog” ceremonies that so many resorts offer. Many of the islands offer home stays which make it possible to be exposed to the true nature of the Fijians, a wonderfully friendly and inquisitive people. However, for you pamper-queens the Coral Coast of the main island offers five star hotels that you would expect the rich and famous to stay in, at minimal prices.
Highlights: The outer islands. Although the Yasawa to the north-west of the mainland are hugely popular, they are also over-priced and over-rated, although offer perhaps the best snorkelling and diving in this region. Best for 2/3 day trips only. Visit Ovalau, to the west, to experience an island totally uncorrupted by tourism (I have pondered long and hard as whether to reveal this, please don't spread the word and risk the island's innocence by making it too well-known!) Just off the coast of Ovalau is Caqalai (pronounce Thangalai) an island on which time stops and there is nothing to do but lie and relax, snorkel, or explore its five minute's walking diameter! Visit Nananu-I-Ra to the north for sheer beauty and tranquillity and excellent diving.
Lowlights: Suva, the capital, is very run down and notorious for crime (I myself was mugged, not very pleasant). However, worth visiting are the market and the Botanical Gardens.
colonial beauty spot, unfortunately Suva is now not what
Fiji is all about and I would advise spending a minimal
amount of time there. Pacific Harbour on the Coral Coast is
also to be avoided as it caters solely for ignorant tourists
wanting a nice restaurant and some souvenirs – over-priced
and far too western to be the real Fiji.
Visa strategy: None or on arrival.
Typical tourist trail: The mainland followed by visiting the Yasawas or Bounty/Beachcomber islands – all of which are very touristy and I advise that you avoid these, unless of course this is your thing.
Hot/cold, wet and dry: Hottest Dec-Apr which is also the rainy season – expect tropical storms. The best time to go is October when the weather is hot but not unbearable. Like most places, it can get chilly at night.
Costs: Pretty cheap – meals for $10 max. However be wary of the tourist rate which is often double what the locals pay and avoid shops around resorts as they tend to be twice as expensive!
Money: ATMs available at the larger resorts on the mainland but at very few backpackers' hostels. There are ATMs in the main towns but bear in mind there are only 7 main towns on the mainland, and much less on the other islands. Travellers cheques are easily exchangeable but take these into foreign exchange units, as banks tend to charge.
What to take: A camera to capture the beautiful scenery. Sturdy shoes if you intend on exploring the easily accessible rainforests or highlands. Mossie repellent, and lots of it!!!
What to buy: Clothes are fairly cheap here but fashionable items are few and far between. Buy some local handicraft as these help the local communities and the wooden tribal masks look great on your walls!
Getting around: The best way to get around are either the buses (make sure you get on an express bus or the journey will take hours and will stop every 5 minutes) or minivans – you stand by the side of the road and hitch yet this is very safe (don't get into cars, only minivans), cheap and readily available – ask for the rate before you get in. Be warned that you will be exposed to either the delights of Fijian music (DokiDoki) blasting on the stereo, or perhaps worse, Shania Twain!
Guide book: Lonely Planet is good, although be aware that the prices of things listed in it are highly likely to change! Moon handbook is a good alternative and in some ways better.
Fiji has retained many of its customs
and sensibilities, and you should respect these everywhere,
especially in rural areas. Exposing shoulders, knees,
cleavage and midriffs is frowned upon and deeply
disrespectful if in a village. Other customs to be aware of
in villages are those regarding the village chief: you must
stoop your shoulders when you pass if you are taller than
him and you must not wear head garments or hats in his
presence. Do not refuse the offer of
yaqona. After one bilo (coconut shell) full of
grog you are able to refuse any more but the more you drink
the more you will be respected. If you wish to just have a
little then use the phrase "low–tide”.
You must not on any occasion enter a village without first seeing the chief – if you are unsure wait at the edge of the village for a villager to come to you and guide you. A gift (sevusevu) for the chief is essential when you enter the village (normally a gift of yaqona is the best bet!) Touching the head of a Fijian or facing the soles of your feet towards the chief are forbidden at all times. The chief is highly respected; treat him as you would the queen! The beauty of Fiji is the culture, which is still very important to them. Please respect this and you will be immediately welcomed into the community.
Many thanks to Katie Penman for supplying this summary. Katie spent 5 months voluntary teaching in a secondary school in Fiji.
Do note that information here is from this author and not the site author. The views and facts expressed here are well–researched and good quality, but just bear in mind they should perhaps not be compared directly to other country summaries by other authors.
Accommodation: There are many hostels for backpackers, with hugely varying standards. Often the more simple the accommodation, the better! If possible try to stay in a bure – a traditional Fijian thatched building. For the most part, don't expect bargain prices.
Hot water: Can be a problem
Average cost: $50
Locals: Some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, very interested in your life, and easily pleased. However be aware of local customs – you will offend the locals if you do not adhere to some of the most important customs, as listed in Customs section above.
Other travellers: Normally Ozzie, American, English or Norwegian. Many travel here on their own or as a stop–over on a RTW trip.
Communications: Internet is available at resorts but is much cheaper in Internet cafes in the main towns.
Food: Mainly root crops, which are bland in taste and high in carbs, local curries (the Indo–Fijians make excellent rotis). The fruit here is much tastier than what is imported into our country so make the most of the mangoes, pawpaw (papaya) and the local soursap! Western food is readily available for those feeling less adventurous.
Vegetarians: May be limited to what they can eat locally – but in resorts and towns plenty of veggie options are available.
Hassle and annoyance factor: Fijians are very inquisitive so don't be offended by personal questions. In Suva and Nadi you may be hassled by sword sellers – just tell them that you are not interested and walk away.
Women alone: Okay in rural areas but stay in pairs after dark. Suva and Nadi are probably the only places in Fiji where it is not advisable to venture out after dark alone.
Local poisons for the body: All available. You may be offered dope regularly but it is strictly against the law here and should be avoided! Be wary of the local spirit – Bounty Rum which is very strong!!(54%) The local drink is a ceremonial drink named kava (also grog, yaqona) This is a narcotic and should only be drunk in small amounts. See Customs above.
Intro: You may feel like you are in a picture postcard or shipwreck movie, but the cost of living is higher here than almost anywhere else in the world so you really have to limit your time or catch a flight onto Easter Island (for which French Polynesia is a main launching point). Expect French through and through including the attitude, food, standards and prices. Escape Tahiti and head for the nearby island of Moorea, cook for yourself and it's doable price -wise. Head for some of the more evocative sounding islands or outer islands and you might wonder why you bothered, especially compared to other Pacific nations which offer so much more at half the price.
Highlights: What can you afford?
Lowlights: The costs and some locals
Visa strategy: Free on arrival, if you don't need a visa for France you don't need one for French Polynesia
Typical tourist trail: Moorea; you can go to a few further islands if you have time
Dangers: Buying anything or spending a night in Tahiti. Sunburn or cutting yourself on coral is a serious danger
Hot/cold, wet and dry: Very hot, expect downpours (the mountains of Tahiti are the wettest place on earth)
Getting around: La Truck to the dock, ferry (try and get a student discount if you have a card) and bicycles for hire
Guide book: You don't need one just to get from the airport to Moorea. Look at one before you go and make a few notes or photocopies. If you are travelling far and wide then the Lonely Planet is the best of a bad bunch. For a full list of guidebooks click here.
Communications: Expensive internet and phone calls
What to take: High factor waterproof sun-block. A tent if you are set on the cheapest accommodation
Money: ATMs, these can often be empty (including the one at the airport), take a little Euros (or USD). If using ATMs a Visa Plus card or Visa credit card is the way to go; don't rely on the Cirrus network 100%.
Costs: US$40 per day, less if you stay still and don't travel and eat out of supermarkets or fast food.
Locals: French characteristics prevail with some quite stroppy unfriendly locals.
Other travellers: Few backpackers, loads of honeymooners
Tourist factor: 8/10
Accommodation: There is one expensive-ish place (European prices) opposite the airport (see right) and a few in town, but its best to sleep at the airport the night you arrive (arrivals are normally in the middle of the night). Nearby there are two camping places in Moorea with some fixed huts if you don't have a tent or sleeping bag. These are fairly reasonably priced. See text on right for how to get there. You can find similar places on other islands, but check the guidebook and make a reservation before you head out since budget choices are very limited and if you can't find a bed you'll be forced into a resort at great expense. Beware camping sites can get booked up during public holidays.
Average cost: About US$10 a tent
Food: Cook your own, everything is expensive, bring basic foods to cook with you if coming from New Zealand
Local poisons for the body: You might treat yourself to a beer and that's it
Rating: 6/10 if only for a quick taste of paradise and a serious tan
This is the only information you need – As you walk out of the airport, cross a big car park to the main road. This takes you to the side of the road furthest from the airport. To your right and 150m along is a commercial laundry. Up the street to its side is as cheap as room you will find in Tahiti (around US$30 dorm bed). Or on the road you will see a bus stop, which is in fact for Le Truck. You want to be on the side of the road that takes you left (with your back to the airport).
Don't get off Le Truck until you see big boats. Pay when you get off – prices are posted and there is no danger of getting ripped-off. You will soon find a ferry to Moorea; the first one goes at about 0630 (about 5 a day).
At Moorea (short crossing) you will see an old clapped-out school bus as you step off. The driver will signal to you, and will know where you are going from your backpack. Its about 30mins to Moorea Camping (there is one other option 100m before this). This ride can be hitched, but took me four hours.
Intro: Vanuatu is a southwest Pacific island nation. It's close to Fiji and Australia (which are on the main round-the-world air routes) but has not been discovered by the backpacking crowd which for some is enough reason to go. Vanuatu's a relatively expensive place to travel but its unique and unspoilt. The outer islands are rather undeveloped, very Melanesian and very beautiful. Escape to a place without telephones, internet, electricity, TV, vehicles, pollution and noise.
Highlights:: The outer islands – under-visited and uncorrupted by tourism. No one island is 'best' – they're all enjoyable and all a little bit different. On the outer islands you can find the best beaches, coral reefs, waterfalls, lakes, mountains and forests. Some are great for bush walking and hiking. Unfortunately, there are no diving facilities away from Santo and Vila so you have to BYO gear or just snorkel. Culture is another big thing in Vanuatu. The locals enjoy custom ceremonies and performances and some are major annual events. There are still a few villages where people live traditionally.
Lowlights: Relaxing on a quiet island and having a cruise ship full of Aussies turn up. You would have to be unlucky but be aware of the cruise ship schedules.
Port Vila on Efate, the national capital and main port of entry, is not a bad town but it's too busy these days – leave it for the mass tourists. Luganville the second biggest town on Santo is a dull place and it's sad to see travellers hanging around here.
of town and do something!
Visa strategy: Most visitors can get a one month visa upon arrival and these can be extended. One month should be enough for travellers with limited money to spend.
Costs: You can travel the islands for about US$20 to US$30 a day. The budget destroyer is internal airfares which you'll have to add on top of your daily expenses. For example, it costs about US$230 for a return ticket from Port Vila to Tanna. It's best to travel for longer to reduce the overall cost per day. Loop fares allow you to island hop for little more than the cost of a return ticket to the furthest destination on your loop. Ships are generally unreliable, of poor standard and have little to recommend them.
Money: Cash, cash, cash. There are ATMs in Port Vila (Efate) and Luganville (Santo) only. Some islands have National Bank of Vanuatu branches or agents where you may be able to cash travellers cheques.
Tourist factor: Depends on where you are – about 8/10 in Port Vila and 0/10 on some of the more remote islands.
Getting around: In town, minibuses are the cheapest option. The buses have a red 'B' on the number-plate. Just flag one down, climb aboard and tell the driver where you want to go. You can find them at the airport in Port Vila (Efate) – they pass by the domestic terminal. Luganville (Santo) has more taxis than buses and a short ride in a taxi here is as cheap as a bus. On the outer islands people ride in the back of trucks ('transports'). Santo, Malekula and Tanna are the only islands with regular shared public transport. Charters are expensive if you are only one and it's cheaper to wait for a ride although you might only find transport in the mornings (into town) and afternoons (return). If the distance is not far then walking can be an enjoyable and independent mode of travel.
Guide book: Not much choice here. Most people go with Lonely Planet although it's rather main stream, infact it's pretty useless, aimed far more at honeymooners than independent travellers. The Moon handbook is probably a better option if you really feel you need something.
Accommodation: Very few backpacker places in the towns (Port Vila and Luganville). A room in a modern motel/guesthouse in town costs about US$15 for one and upwards of US$20 for a double.
On the outer islands there a couple of pricey resorts on Tanna and Santo. Generally you would head for the local bungalows and guesthouses. Many of the best bungalows are family businesses which offer a friendly and informal atmosphere in an idyllic setting. Local bungalows are often simple with thatch roofs and bamboo walls, capacity (number of beds) may be limited and facilities can be primitive (pit toilets and bucket showers).
Rural bungalows and guesthouses cost US$20 per person on average and usually this includes meals. There's a wide range in price, value for money and standards. Keep in mind that most rural Ni-Vanuatu people are not business-minded (which is most often a good thing) and are not too experienced in looking after tourists (so don't be shy to ask and suggest). Camping is not really an option in Vanuatu.
Hot/cold, wet and dry: Hottest Dec-Mar which is also the season for tropical cyclones. The cooler months are June to September. A warm top is handy in the south and at higher altitudes. Rain and getting wet is not usually a concern in the warm tropical climate.
What to take: There are practically no tourist facilities on the islands so bring your own. Sandals or thongs are the best footwear for everyday use. Walking shoes are needed in the bush and on the volcanoes. Sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen are essential.
Stephen Totterman who has spent several months travelling the islands for a travel website on the outer islands: http://www.positiveearth.org/bungalows/
Equally many thanks to Mark Rogers-Lee for his information on diving the USS President Coolidge.
Communications: Expensive. There are internet cafes in Port Vila (Efate) and one in Luganville (Santo). The TVL prepaid telephone cards are handy and most islands have telephones (that may not be working).
Language: Bislama, a form of pidgin English, is the lingua franca. When you visit the outer islands Bislama is the default language and speaking Bislama opens doors. The two other main languages are French and English.
Locals: The villagers are very friendly and genuine. It's a novelty and sometimes a great honour to have a white person visiting a remote village.
Other travellers: Very few.
Media: Virtually non-existent on the outer islands. Bring your own books to read and bring a SW radio if you must keep up-to-date with what's happening in the rest of the world.
Food: Fresh is best so go for local food (‘aelan kaekae'). White rice is almost a staple food, especially in the urban centres. Ask to try some local food or you may be served rice by default. Fruit and vegetables are cheap in the town markets. Port Vila (Efate) has good restaurants if you have the money. Guesthouses in town and more than a few island guesthouses have self-catering facilities.
Vegetarians: Not much choice away from town but there should be plenty of fresh fruit.
Hassle and annoyance factor: None.
Nearly all Ni-Vanuatu people are Christian and conservative by western standards – think 19th century. The Ni-Vanuatu also hold their 'kastom' and land very tightly – ask first to avoid offence. Go slow when first arriving in a village community until you learn who's who and what's OK or not OK. Vanuatu is not the place to rush although allowances are often made for tourists.
The USS President Coolidge is a world famous wreck. Located only 100 metres from the shore off Espirito Santo people often arrive to spend a week diving on it. A luxury liner requisitioned for US navy use in the second world war, it struck one the US's own mines and sank just short of the shore with the loss of only two lives. It has memorabilia from both its lives from mushroom lamps and chandeliers in the 1st class dining room to medical supplies, gas mask, jeeps and guns. It is a vast wreck, lying on a slope with the top of the bow at around 20 metres and the stern sitting in close to 70 metres. The diving is generally deep, albeit superb. A statue called "The Lady" of a lady and a unicorn is one of the classic dives and lies at 38 metres, a short swim into the wreck. The other relatively famous shallow dive (30 metres approx) is a night dive inside the holds without torches to look at the eerie flashlight fish blinking like a starry sky in the pitch black. The dives generally require mandatory decompression stops and a decompression station with safety tanks, spare weight and safety bar and a beautiful man-made coral garden has been constructed in the shallows. This might lull one into a fall sense of security but it is important to take care to dive within your limits (if not qualifications) and not be rushed into diving beyond your capabilities. Many of the dives require significant dangerous wreck penetration, most require long decompression stops for which you should have been trained and some of the dives are extremely deep. All the diving is done on air and for serious diving injuries help is a long way away. The local guides often take inexperienced divers with less than ten dives well beyond their capabilities and you should really know what you are doing if planning to dive past 30 metres here.
Women alone: Traditional Vanuatu society is male dominated and there's very little mixing of the sexes in rural Vanuatu. It's recommended that solo women associate with other women when on the islands. Hanging around with boys may broadcast the wrong message.
Health: Medical facilities are very basic on the outer islands. Don't get seriously injured or sick.
Local poisons for the body: Alcohol is available at only a few places on the islands and you may need to BYO. Cigarettes are widely available. Kava is the cheapest and most popular intoxicating drink. Traditionally kava drinking is a men's pastime and you will rarely see women drinking kava outside of the urban centres. Often it's customary for a visitor to a rural village to join the locals for a few shells of kava and some conversation in the evenings. Kava hangovers can be cured by sweating it out. There's no drug scene to speak of, although marijuana is becoming popular in the towns.
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"When you exit this vehicle, please be sure to lower your head and watch your step. If you fail to do so, please lower your voice and watch your language. Thank you."