Most Westerners who travel to Fiji go there for a great vacation. That’s not a bad thing to do–Melanesian islanders need your tourist dollars, you need a tan. Still, the Melanesian islands have a lot more to offer than just a snorkel and a smile.
Many of the Fijian islands, especially those of Mamanuca and Yasawa, are quite extraordinary–coral reefs, sandy beaches, water blue and clear as water ought to be–and aren’t you flying all the way to Fiji for something extraordinary? On the other hand, if you want to get a taste of the real Fiji, spend at least a moment between your beach-friendly adventures in Suva, the capital of Fiji, the largest city in the South Pacific and also one of its most multicultural; David Stanley’s “Fiji Travel Guide,” which describes Fiji as “a rich mixture of vibrant, exuberant Melanesians, North Beach, Mana Island, Fiji East Indians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Chinese, and Europeans, each with a cuisine and culture of their own.” Especially note the unique interplay between Melanesian Fijians and Indo-Fijians. (Don’t worry about getting too cultural in Fiji and forgetting why you came; as Lonely Planet’s Fiji page reminds us, “Those that arrive with notions of cocktails on alabaster beaches are seldom disappointed.”)
In the Solomon Islands you’ll find incredible lagoons, snorkeling, fishing, sunken World War II era ships that make for great scuba diving, and so many other ways to enjoy the ocean or sun. The Solomon Islands experienced some difficult times during the Civil War and tourists were definitely less safe, but as tensions eased travelers have again become welcome. If you take a chance and step out of your resort you’ll find the people in the Solomon Islands–most of whom are subsistence farmers who live as they have for eons–to be welcoming, relaxed and, says Lonely Planet’s Solomon Islands page, no longer cannibals! (David Stanley’s “Solomon Islands Travel Guide” says, “It’s all there: shark-callers, war wreckage, gold, and malaria.” Sounds like fun…?)