Beyond Hawaii: 5 Pacific Islands for Perfect Family Vacations
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Hawaii is very much on the radar of family travelers from the US, while most other Pacific islands are less known and less visited. But, there are dozens of island nations scattered across the enormous Pacific Ocean worth considering that offer a huge variety of cultures, landscapes and family travel fun.
While all would make a worthwhile destination in their own right, some Pacific islands make handy stopover locations when traveling between North America and New Zealand, Australia and Asia. It’s less common to hop between Pacific islands, as it can be logistically tricky (although the following TPG article shows how it can be done using points and miles: My Two-Month Itinerary Across the South Pacific Using Award-Chart Sweet Spots).
We’ve identified some of the most attractive Pacific island nations for family travelers, spanning Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. Whether you’re looking for a lazy week on an idyllic beach or adventurous outdoor activities, you’ll find it at some or all of these places.
First, here are a few more articles from The Points Guy that will help with planning a trip to the Pacific islands with points and miles:
- How This TPG Reader Pulled off His First Backpacking Trip Across the South Pacific with Points
- Island Hopping with United Miles — Reader Success Story
- TPG Readers Share Their Best Tips for Flying to the South Pacific on Points and Miles
- The Best Bucket List Points Trips to Beach Destinations
French Polynesia (Tahiti and Moorea)
French Polynesia is a collection of more than 100 islands covering more than 1,200 miles that — as the name suggests — is still governed by France. In the interest of keeping costs down and limiting additional air travel with kids, we recommend Moorea for family travelers. Tahiti, where most travelers arrive, is connected to neighboring Moorea by ferry; it isan easy trip that only takes around an hour and costs between $10 and $15 for a one-way ticket. Other notable islands (Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea, Taha’a and Tetiaroa) require an extra flight, which can be expensive.
Moorea’s jagged volcanic peaks and white-sand beaches are the stuff lazy Polynesian vacation dreams are made of. Little kids can paddle in the calm waters, older kids can enjoy kayaking and other water sports, and parents can savor French-Polynesian fusion food. It’s easy to connect to French Polynesia from Sydney, Auckland, Rarotonga, Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Some family-friendly points hotels on Tahiti and Moorea include:
- Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort and Spa, which has a babysitting service. From 80,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
- InterContinental Resort and Spa Moorea has the the Turtle Care Center, interesting for animal-loving kids. From 50,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night.
- Manava Suite Resort Tahiti offers kid-friendly adventure activities such as “baby Jet Skis” and snorkeling equipment.
- InterContinental Tahiti Resort and Spa offers cultural and craft activities plus the Lagoonarium, a natural aquarium area. From 50,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night.
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Read more about traveling to French Polynesia:
- Transfer to Paradise: How to Take a Cheap Ferry from Tahiti to Moorea
- Moorea or Bora Bora–Which Island Paradise is Right for You?
- Eating Your Way Through Tahiti’s Famed Food Trucks
- Best French Polynesia Hotels to Book with Points or Citi Prestige 4th Night Free
- La Orana Tahiti: Polaris to PPT on United’s 787-8 Dreamliner
- Last Leg to Paradise: Air Tahiti (ATR 72) in Economy from Tahiti to Bora Bora
Cook Islands (Rarotonga)
The 15 islands of the Cook Islands are politically connected to New Zealand, with the New Zealand dollar the currency and Cook Islanders citizens of New Zealand. Indeed, most of the tourists you’ll encounter there are Kiwis, and many locals will tell you about their time living in Auckland or Wellington.
Rarotonga is the largest island, but at just 26 square miles, it’s not very large — it takes about an hour to drive the whole way around. It’s also best for family travelers, with easy connections from New Zealand, Australia and Los Angeles on Air New Zealand. Aitutaki is the second-most visited island in the Cooks, but a bit smaller than Rarotonga, and more expensive to get to.
Rarotonga is well-loved — especially among New Zealanders — as a family-friendly destination, for good reason. It’s very laid back — the speed limit around the whole island is just 50 kilometers per hour — and off the east coast is a tranquil lagoon, ideal for kids to play in because there are no crashing waves. The locals are also very welcoming of kids.
Muri Beach is the most “touristy” part of the island, but that does’t mean it’s very built up or developed by international standards. At Muri Beach you can enjoy a lagoon cruise with snorkeling, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and a fantastic night market four nights a week, with lots of kid-friendly food like fresh juices and waffles as well as local ika mata (marinated raw fish).
Accommodations on Rarotonga are pretty low-key, with many family-run cottages and boutique resorts. It’s easy to find a good deal on Airbnb, but expect prices for everything from lodging to food to be on par with New Zealand. (There is a Sheraton Hotel, but it was never completed, and is now abandoned. Locals say it’s cursed…)
Vanuatu, formerly a French colony, is east of northern Australia and popular with Australian travelers, as it’s a short three-hour flight from Brisbane or Sydney. It’s also accessible from Los Angeles.
Vanuatu frequently makes the cut on “best volcanoes in the world” lists (such as 5 Volcanoes Perfect for Lava Chasers, and 10 Active Volcanoes to See in Your Lifetime). Mount Yasur is exceptionally active — it’s been erupting since at least 1774, when Captain James Cook recorded seeing it, and has been even more active since 2013. It’s one of Vanuatu’s most popular tourist attractions, although not one that families with younger kids should get too close to.
Families traveling to Vanuatu tend to like Port Vila, the capital. There are many activities for younger kids there, and even resorts where, for a few dollars, you can use facilities like swimming pools, playgrounds and private beaches. Older kids and teenagers would also enjoy staying on Espiritu Santo, the largest island of Vanuatu, where you can dive to a shipwreck and enjoy great beaches.
Along with French Polynesia, Fiji is one of the more popular Pacific island nations. There are many islands to choose from (330 in total, although only about one-third of those are inhabited), a wide range of accommodations, beautiful beaches and culture that’s a mix of indigenous Fijian and Indian. Fiji can be reached from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.
Fiji’s capital is Suva, but the international airport is at Nadi, on the opposite side of Viti Levu island. While outlying islands like Vanua Levu and Taveuni are popular, if you are traveling with kids it makes sense to stick closer to Nadi and Suva. Port Denarau, Sonaisali Island (actually a peninsula) and Momi Bay are close to Nadi, and convenient places to stay if you want to limit domestic transfers in Fiji as well as stay close to facilities like medical care.
Fiji is famously kid-friendly: travelers with kids have found that they were always ushered to the front of lines and had waitstaff helping out so parents could eat in (relative) peace. Restaurants are well-equipped to cater to kids. Many resorts have kids’ clubs, too.
Some family-friendly points hotels in Fiji include:
- Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay has a kids’ club and a pool just for little ones. Category 5 from 35,000 Marriott points per night.
- DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Fiji – Sonaisali Island has a babysitting service and a daily kids’ club. From 34,000 to 40,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
- Sheraton Fiji Denarau promotes itself as a particularly family-friendly resort, with activities for kids and savings on meals for under-12s. Category 5 from 35,000 Marriott points per night.
- Westin Denarau Island Resort and Spa has a complimentary kids club and five different pools. Category 5 from 35,000 Marriott points per night.
Note that you can use a Marriott 35k free night certificate at several resorts in Fiji.
Read more about traveling to Fiji:
- 6 Reasons Your Family Needs to Visit Fiji
- Fiji Airways Joins Oneworld Connect, but What Does it Mean Exactly?
Federated States of Micronesia
The Federated States of Micronesia are definitely the “wild card” of this list, but travelers with older kids who are looking for an adventure should keep this island nation of 600+ islands and four states on their radar.
Yap, Chuuk, Kosrae and Pohnpei are especially renowned for their incredible coral reefs and diving sites dotted with World War II-era wrecks, as well as stunningly beautiful beaches. There are also ancient archaeological ruins scattered around the islands, including the Nan Madol UNESCO World Heritage Site on Pohnpei. Each of these four states is comprised of many islands, and has its own culture and language. Pohnpei and Kosrae offer the widest range of activities and attractions, both on the water and inland. Don’t expect luxury resorts here, but there are some midrange eco-lodges.
The Federated States of Micronesia are a bit more of an effort to get to than, say, Tahiti, but with some planning they’re not so difficult. They feature on United’s Island Hopper service, which begins in Honolulu and continues to Majuro (Marshall Islands), Kwajalein Atoll (Marshall Islands — approved military personnel only), Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk and ends in Guam (USA). This incredible route allows passengers one stopover, although they can disembark at all stops except Kwajalein.
It can be challenging to get flights on the Island Hopper on points, but not impossible. The service has been covered on The Points Guy many times, so check out some of the following articles for tips on how to get to Micronesia on the cheap:
- Review: United’s Island Hopper from Honolulu (HNL) to Guam (GUM)
- Maximizing United’s Island Hopper Flight
- Maximizing the United Island Hopper Using United’s Excursionist Perk
- Flying United’s Island Hopper and Visiting the Marshall Islands
- 12 Things to Know Before Flying the United Island Hopper
- Your Guide to the Best Seats on United’s Honolulu to Guam Island Hopper
We love Hawaii but if your family is up for a bit more of an adventure, it’s time to sample some other Pacific island destinations. Yes, it will take you a fair number of miles and points (or plenty of cash) but the experience is well worth it. If you’re based on the West Coast, getting to the Pacific from the USA isn’t hard or even as long a trip as you might think. Go for it!
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Featured image Pby levente bodo / Getty Images
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