Eight Islands on the Half Shell

Unadulterated escapes to turn you on to the South Pacific

Above It All

Lagoon Resort

SOUTHERN COMFORT: A garden path at the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort

Bora Bora Lagoon Resort and Spa, Society Islands

WITH AN OPALESCENT BLUE LAGOON, views of a velvety green ancient volcano that juts 2,385 feet into the sky, and a banyan-tree-house spa, the Bora Bora Lagoon Resort and Spa—set on its own 150-acre jungle islet—is the original South Pacific idyll.

THE GOOD LIFE: Fifty Polynesian-style thatch-roofed bungalows stand over the water on stilts. Employees leave a supply of bread near the door so you can feed the fish below. The roomy digs also have private swim platforms from which you can cannonball into the water before breakfast, which arrives via outrigger canoe.

SPORTS ON-SITE: The 160-square-foot infinity swimming pool is the largest in Bora-Bora, perfect for serious laps. Drinking mai tais at the poolside bar should qualify as exercise, too. For salt water, take a complimentary Hobie Cat or kayak for a spin in the lagoon.

BEYOND THE SAND: Check out the shark-feeding excursion. Mask-wearing guests submerge in waist-high water—safely behind a rope—while a wrangler baits the toothy predators.

THE FINE PRINT: Over-water bungalows from $830, garden bungalows from $485; 800-860-4095, www.boraboralagoon.com. Air Tahiti Nui flies direct from both LAX (from $923) and New York (from $1,223) to Tahiti (877 824-4846, www.airtahitinui-usa.com). From there it's a 45-minute flight to Bora-Bora on Air Tahiti (from $320; 800-346-2599, www.airtahiti.aero).

Royal Davui Island Resort

Fiji

Royal Davui
Ocean-view bathroom at Royal Davui (courtesy, Royal Davui Island Resort)

FOR CENTURIES, UGAGA ISLAND, an inconspicuous eight-acre chunk of rock, sand, and coral about 20 miles south of Viti Levu, was little more than a resting place for local fishermen. Today it serves as a refuge of a different sort: Since it opened in November 2004, the Royal Davui has become one of Fiji's most sought-after hideaways. The marble-and-onyx bar feels straight out of a slick L.A. club, giant two-foot clamshells line the walkway to the massage studio, and gnarled century-old tree roots run across the $8.5 million property.

THE GOOD LIFE: Each of the 16 multiroom villas is designed more like a house than a hotel room, with private plunge pools, a titanic Jacuzzi bathtub, and retractable bathroom skylights. Sit down for dinner under the branches of a 100-foot banyan tree and enjoy a four-course meal of mahi-mahi with freshwater mussels or papaya ravioli.

SPORTS ON-SITE: Reef sharks prowl the 25-foot wall drops along the private coral garden circling Ugaga Island. Myriad dive sites sit farther offshore, some of which have never seen a scuba diver.

BEYOND THE SAND: The resort offers tours of Beqa Island, where you can join the village chief of Naceva for a kava ceremony.

THE FINE PRINT: Doubles from $1,013, including all meals; 011-679-330-7090, www.royaldavui.com. Air New Zealand (800-262-1234, www.airnewzealand.com/usa) flies from LAX to Nadi, Fiji, starting at $806 round-trip. Forgo the nearly three-hour car-and-boat transfer to the island and take the helicopter shuttle; from $690 round-trip.

Pacific Resort Aitutaki

Cook Islands

Pacific Resort Aitutaki

SOUTHERN COMFORT: Deckside at Pacific Resort Aitutaki

DURING WORLD WAR II, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built two miles of runway on the island of Aitutaki for use as a South Pacific refueling and supply station. These days, the bustle is gone on this fishhook-shaped atoll, 183 miles north of Rarotonga. But on an island of white-sand beaches and azure water, who needs action?

THE GOOD LIFE: Pacific Resort Aitutaki's three beachfront villas, complete with Italian-marble bathrooms and woven-bamboo ceilings, sit atop black volcanic rock, crowning the three-year-old, 27-room resort. From garden-fresh mango-and-passion-fruit smoothies to the house specialty, ahi katsu—chile-spiced rare tuna wrapped in nori (paper-thin dried seaweed)—the resort's restaurant is all about blending island flavor with modern flair.

SPORTS ON-SITE: The shallow waters of Aitutaki's 20-square-mile lagoon make for some of the Cook Islands' best bonefishing. Or ditch the fly and think bigger—because the volcanic island rises up from a depth of more than 13,000 feet, big game like marlin and sailfish are waiting to be hooked just minutes from your beachside sundeck.

BEYOND THE SAND: Guide Ngaakitai Pureariki teaches guests local medical and cultural practices on three-hour island tours. Slice your foot on coral? The meat of an utu fruit will ease the pain. Upset stomach? The juice from a noni tree eases gastroenteritis.

THE FINE PRINT: Doubles from $543; 011-682-31720, www.pacificresort.com. Air New Zealand (800-262-1234, www.airnewzealand.com/usa) flies from LAX to Rarotonga starting at $806 round-trip. Air Rarotonga (011-682-22888, www.airraro.com) offers round trips from Rarotonga to Aitutaki starting at $263.

Traders' Ridge Resort

Yap

Traders' Ridge Resort
Dining Room at Traders' Ridge (courtesy, Traders' Ridge Resort)

OK, SO IT'S NOT EXACTLY in the South Pacific, but Yap is worth crossing the equator for. This collection of more than 130 low-lying atolls pockmarking the North Pacific between Guam and the Philippines has a mere 3,000 annual visitors. (By comparison, neighboring Palau sees 90,000 tourists a year.) The lack of outsiders, combined with sporadic access to Internet and TV, makes Yap's culture the most intact in Micronesia—no staged luaus with stuffed pigs here. And at Traders' Ridge Resort, the native staff loves to teach guests about their traditions, like the national addiction to chewing betel nuts. Bartender James Funwog makes it easy by shaking up betel-nut martinis.

THE GOOD LIFE: Atop a ridge overlooking Chamorro Bay, in the quiet capital town of Colonia, the 22-room Traders' Ridge was built to resemble the 19th-century clipper ships that came here to trade. Each airy room has rich wood floors, carved paneling, and private decks. Expect Yap-inspired spa treatments (turmeric is a favorite ingredient) and seafood often caught by the chef himself. And don't miss the spicy tuna sashimi.

SPORTS ON-SITE: Hike miles and miles through breadfruit, noni, and monkey pod trees lining millennia-old stone pathways.

BEYOND THE SAND: Hop in a skiff for the half-hour ride to Mill Channel, where you can dive with giant manta rays. Be sure not to miss the dancing in the resort's Ethnic Art Amphitheater. The dozen basic steps are arranged into an infinite variety of hopping combinations.

THE FINE PRINT: Doubles, $215, including airport transfers; 877-350-1300, www.tradersridge.com. Continental Micronesia (800-525-0280, www.continental.com) offers flights from LAX, via Guam, starting at $1,925.

Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa

Samoa

Sinalei Reef Resort
Beachside Fale at Sinalei Reef Resort (courtesy, Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa)

WHEN WORLD LEADERS LIKE Australian prime minister John Howard visited Samoa for the 2004 Pacific Islands Forum, they stayed at the Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa. The locally owned resort, set on 33 manicured acres on the southern coast of Upolu, has open-air rooms with native teak furniture, giving the place an off-the-beaten-track Samoan spin.

THE GOOD LIFE: Each fale has three folding cedar walls that can be closed for privacy or opened for a 180-degree garden or beachfront view. Sinalei completed the most luxurious of the resort's 27 rooms—including the Honeymoon Villa, which has a private spa pool framed between a large deck and the beach—in August 2004.

SPORTS ON-SITE: Sinalei offers something most luxury resorts can't: world-class surf. More than a half-dozen surf breaks, including hollow lefts like Siumu and Nuusafee, break within a 30-minute boat ride. Maninoa Surf Camp (011-61-2-9971-8624, www.lineup.com.au), right next door, will take you wherever the surf is best.

BEYOND THE SAND: Begin the day scanning the horizon for whales at the South Pacific's first national park, O Le Pupu-Pue (translation: "From the Coast to the Mountaintop"). Then hike past an enormous swallow-filled lava tube and take a shower under the powerful cascade of Cedric Falls. Or head to Samoa Breweries, just outside Apia, for a taste of the island's award-winning national suds.

THE FINE PRINT: Doubles from $239, including breakfast, airport transfers, and various activities; 011-685-25191, www.sinalei.com. Air New Zealand (800-262-1234, www.airnewzealand.com) flies from L.A. to Apia, Samoa, starting at $848 round-trip.

Reflections on Rarotonga

Cook Islands

Reflections on Rarotonga

SAVAGE MEETS SUBLIME: Mirror image at Reflections on Rarotonga

UNTIL RECENTLY, RAROTONGA, a 26-square-mile volcanic cone in the South Pacific, was known as a prime offshore tax haven and money-laundering center. It's also a good place to cleanse the soul, and Reflections on Rarotonga, the Cook Islands' charter member of Small Elegant Hotels of the World, wants to heal you one massage at a time. Reflections' sister hotel, Rumours of Romance, opened in Muri Beach last September, offering all the cush of Reflections plus indoor and outdoor waterfalls.

THE GOOD LIFE: Whole days can slip away in your 1,500-square-foot-plus "room"—complete with super-king four-poster bed—but the champagne brunch might coax you out. For a private alternative to the ocean, head for your six-foot-deep backyard plunge pool.

SPORTS ON-SITE: Grab a sea kayak and paddle for the outer reef, less than a half-mile offshore. Drop anchor, slip on your snorkeling gear, and find Nemo or his parrotfish brethren.

BEYOND THE SAND: After your subaquatic survey of the reef, get a gull's-eye view with a 30-minute Adventure Flights Rarotonga ultralight or paragliding flight that—in the right wind—can take you around the entire island. Soaring across clear skies and over a vivid multicolor ocean begs the question "How many shades of blue are there?"

THE FINE PRINT: Doubles at Reflections on Rarotonga start at $350, including airport transfers; 011-682-23703, www.reflections-rarotonga.com. Doubles at Rumours of Romance start at $595, including airport transfers; 011-682-23703, www.rumours-rarotonga.com. Air New Zealand (800-262-1234, www.airnewzealand.com/usa) flies from LAX to Rarotonga starting at $806 round-trip.

Kia Ora Sauvage

Tuamotu Archipelago

Kia Ora Sauvage
Beachside Bungalow at Kia Ora Sauvage (courtesy, Hotel Kia Ora)

SAUVAGE MEANS "WILD," which is what you get at Kia Ora Sauvage, set on an 11-acre islet accessible only by boat, one hour away from the island of Rangiroa. The resort has no electricity and no phone—nothing other than a white, sandy, palm-tree-dotted beach, five rustic thatch-roofed bungalows, and an open-air dining room. If you want to eat fresh, speargun-armed staff members will buzz out in a fishing boat and return with dinner; think grouper or snapper. Later, the only distraction is a sky full of constellations.

THE GOOD LIFE: The five bungalows all face the coral-studded lagoon and are separated by sand and palms. Each is equipped with the basics: a large bed draped in mosquito netting, a bathroom with a hot shower and seashell-stringed curtain, and a sink shaped like a giant clam.

SPORTS ON-SITE: Before boarding the boat at Rangiroa, guests are given snorkeling gear so they can swim among the harmless blacktip reef sharks. Or try spearing a parrotfish.

BEYOND THE SAND: Most guests combine a visit to Kia Ora Sauvage with one at its sister hotel, Kia Ora, on Rangiroa, a world-class scuba operation.

THE FINE PRINT: Doubles from $400 (two-day minimum). The round-trip boat ride to Kia Ora Sauvage is $200 for two people (011-689-931-117, www.hotelkiaora.com). Air Tahiti Nui flies direct to Tahiti from both LAX (from $923) and New York (from $1,223; 877-824-4846, www.airtahitinui-usa.com). From there it's a one-hour flight to Rangiroa on Air Tahiti (from $326; 800-346-2599, www.airtahiti.aero).

Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort

Fiji

Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort
SOUTHERN COMFORT: A bungalow at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort (Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort)

LANGUID DAYS UNDER LEMON TREES at Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort drip by with such tropical serenity that the universe could be on the verge of collapse and few surf-soaked guests would bother to stir. Can you blame them? They're on Vanua Levu, Fiji's second-largest island, snoozing on orange futons by the pool under the swish of paddle fans.

THE GOOD LIFE: Twenty-five bures with vesi-wood floors pepper the grounds under mango and palm trees. Inside each, a king bed, private bath, and writing table sit under vaulted, thatched ceilings. Leave the wood blinds open to feel the night breeze pour through the screens.

SPORTS ON-SITE: Some of the best snorkeling on the planet is right off Cousteau's pier, where myriad soft corals wave in the currents and big guys like docile eagle rays cruise off the shelf. Or work your core with a morning yoga class taught just off the beach.

BEYOND THE SAND: Head for the secret sandy beach around the point from bure number 25 with a stubby of Fiji Bitter and melt in the waves while the sun sinks. L'Aventure, the resort's 37-foot dive boat, takes guests to Namena Island, a marine reserve an hour by boat from Cousteau, where you'll find wall dives with a rush-hour volume of barracudas, sharks, and corals. Or paddle a kayak half a mile out to Naviavia, Cousteau's private island.

THE FINE PRINT: Doubles, $535–$1,950 (minimum one-week stay may be required), including all meals, most activities, and airport transfers; five-day packages of daily two-tank dives cost $512; 800-246-3454, www.fijiresort.com. Air Pacific flies nonstop from LAX to Nadi starting at $900 (800-227-4446, www.airpacificusa.com). From Nadi, Sun Air offers daily one-hour flights to Savusavu, on Vanua Levu, for $123 each way (800-294-4864, www.fiji.to).

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