South Pacific Splurges and Steals

Whether your budget is large or small, these tropical hotels, restaurants, souvenirs and activities offer big-time romance.
By: 
Mary E. Morrison

Splurges and StealsPerhaps more than anywhere else in the world, South Pacific destinations like French Polynesia, Fiji and the Cook Islands conjure images of the ideal getaway: a remote location, dramatic seascapes, friendly people with a strong cultural heritage, and thatch-roofed bungalows perched over crystal-clear blue lagoons. Such perfection in a vacation usually comes with a price, and in the South Pacific it can be steep. Still, with a little homework, savvy travelers can find what they're looking for in almost any price range. So that you can decide the best way to spend your honeymoon budget, we've scoped out some of the most worth-it splurges and top-value bargains in these romantic spots.

French Polynesia

Where to Stay

Splurge: If you're willing to splurge—and we mean splurge—on a luxurious resort experience, Le Taha'a Private Island Resort & Spa is the place to do it. Le Taha'a is located on its own motu (islet) in a tranquil lagoon in the Society Islands archipelago, about 140 miles west of Tahiti. The 60-room resort, open since 2002, is known for the understated Polynesian luxury of its overwater bungalows and beach villas, and for terrific service and a stunning view of the island of Bora Bora (800-735-2478; letahaa.com).

Steal: Closer to Tahiti, on the island of Moorea, budget-conscious travelers will find a happy alternative at Hotel Les Tipaniers. The bungalows here are simple, cozy and welcoming. They're also within short walking distance of a lovely beach. The hotel's thatch-roofed Italian restaurant is an area favorite (689-56-12-67; lestipaniers.com).

What to Do

Splurge: When you're ready to leave your lounge chair, head to the Moorea Dolphin Center at the InterContinental Moorea. The center's lagoon is home to four bottlenose dolphins. You won't be observing them from afar, however. Part of your hour-long visit will be spent in the lagoon, enjoying the dolphins' acrobatics and, if you're lucky, a big wet kiss (mooreadolphincenter.com; 689-55-19-48 ).

Steal: French Polynesia offers world-class diving, but a more affordable, yet still amazing, option is a snorkeling excursion. TopDive Tours, on Bora Bora, offers a full-day tour by outrigger canoe. You'll snorkel among coral and colorful lagoon fish, then have an island picnic of local fruit and drinks (689-60-50-50; topdive.com).

Where to Eat

Splurge: For a casual night out with good food and a great atmosphere, head to Bloody Mary's, on Bora Bora. Leave your shoes in a cubby near the door and enjoy the restaurant's sand floor barefoot. Choose from favorite entrées like the calamari steak and the signature barbecued teriyaki wahoo. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrities; past sightings have included Pierce Brosnan, Jimmy Buffett and Goldie Hawn (689-67-72-86; boraboraisland.com).

Steal: Grab dinner on the go at one of the mobile food trucks you'll see on the waterfront in Papeete, Tahiti's main city, and throughout the islands. Called "Les Roulottes," these outdoor eateries are known for tasty, inexpensive options, and are frequented by local residents as well as tourists. A favorite treat is crêpes, filled with fruit and sweets for dessert, or with meat or fish as an entrée.

What to Bring Home

Splurge: The ideal French Polynesian souvenir for most travelers would probably be jewelry made with lustrous Tahitian pearls, which are cultivated in underwater farms in the nearby Tuamotu Archipelago. Matira Pearls, a shop on Bora Bora, is a great place to find a beautiful memento of your trip (689-67-79-14; matirapearls.com).

Steal: You'll easily find an affordable keepsake at the Municipal Market in Papeete. This daily market offers an amazing selection of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and flowers for locals and tourists alike. For a souvenir, choose among the scented soaps, vanilla beans, woven hats and bags, colorful pareu (the popular local sarongs) or another of the arts and crafts for sale here (free admission; located in the heart of Papeete, one block in from the waterfront).

Fiji

Where to Stay

Splurge: There's getting away to a remote island, and then there's flying more than 10 hours (from Los Angeles), crossing the International Date Line and eventually arriving in Fiji, to stay at Wakaya Island's Wakaya Club. Once you're there, you'll see why people like Bill Gates and Celine Dion come here to get away from the world. Settle into your private 1,650-square-foot bure, or cottage, outfitted with a graceful four-poster bed and an open-air shower made from lava rock. Then, head for the spa and indulge in a massage performed by five therapists in tandem, or consult with your personal golf, tennis or fitness coach—all are part of your stay (bure from $1,900; 800-828-3454; wakaya.com).

Steal: Located on Taveuni, Fiji's "Garden Island," the Garden Island Resort offers comfortable, affordable accommodations; each room has a patio or balcony with an ocean view. This resort is ideal for scuba divers—in fact, because it's owned by diving operator Aqua-Trek, you can book your diving excursions to Rainbow Reef or Bega Lagoon when you book your room (doubles from about $145; 800-541-4334; aquatrek.com).

What to Do

Splurge: If you want to explore places that few visitors see, GreenTurtle Tours offers a variety of day and overnight trips to remote villages. Or, choose one of the company's expeditions geared toward specific interests, such as horseback riding, trekking or beach hopping (679-672-8889; greenturtletours.com).

Steal: Take a trip back in time in Levuka, Fiji's former capital, on the beautiful island of Ovalau. Without many large resorts, the island remains a bit off the beaten tourist path, giving those who explore it an inside look at Fiji's past. Walk the town's historic streets, and climb Mission Hill for a panoramic view. For more information, contact the Fiji Visitors Bureau; 800-932-3454; fijifvb.gov.fj.)

Where to Eat

Splurge: Chef's, a restaurant located in the town of Nadi on Viti Levu, offers what many consider to be one of the finest dining experiences in Fiji. The restaurant serves international cuisine—focusing particularly on delicious seafood specials—and is known for its attentive service (679-670-3131).

Steal: The town of Suva, on Viti Levu, has numerous inexpensive restaurants featuring authentic Chinese, Indian and Japanese cuisine. The popular New Peking Restaurant is a good choice for Chinese dishes, and the price is definitely right (679-331-2939).

What to Bring Home

Splurge: Regardless of your taste or budget, you'll likely find something perfect for you at Jack's Handicrafts, which has several locations in Fiji. The store has a wide selection of souvenirs; most notable is its collection of unique items, including traditional Fijian dishes and food bowls (jacksfiji.com).

Steal: It's inexpensive, easy to pack and smells great: the locally made soap that you'll find at markets and shops all over Fiji. Try Mokosoi's handmade natural coconut soaps, which come in fragrances including sandalwood, tea tree oil and gardenia (prices vary; Mokosoi products available at retail chains or online; 679-336-1871; mokosoi.com.fj).

Cook Islands

Where to Stay

Splurge: For luxury accommodations in the Cook Islands, check out the Pacific Resort Aitutaki, which sits on a small atoll in the beautiful Aitutaki Lagoon. Whether you opt for a spacious, thatch-roofed bungalow, a villa or a suite, you'll find light-filled rooms with rich hardwood floors, decorated in elegant dark-wood furnishings, and a gorgeous ocean view. Spend your days snorkeling, kayaking around the islets or sipping a cocktail beside the pool (682-31720; pacificresort.co.ck).

Steal: The Aro'a Beachside Inn, on the island of Rarotonga, is a low-key, inexpensive place to soak up the natural beauty of the Cook Islands. Units have kitchens and ocean views, and the inn's Shipwreck Hut restaurant serves up barbecues of local cuisine at sunset, accompanied by island music (682-22166; aroabeach.com).

What to Do

Splurge: What better way to see the Cook Islands than from the air? Air Rarotonga offers a 20-minute aerial tour of Rarotonga for a quick but exhilarating trip. But for those who want to see the far-flung places that most tourists never do, consider the airline's five-day Northern Atolls Adventure. The aerial views are spectacular, and you'll stop to visit local pearl farms and an American-built World War II airstrip (682-22888; airraro.com).

Steal: No trip to the South Pacific would be complete without attending a traditional dance performance. The Rarotongan Beach Resort offers its "Legends of Polynesia Island Night" each Wednesday and Saturday. You'll enjoy local favorites, such as fish in coconut sauce and octopus curry; afterward, a dance show features traditional island performers (800-481-9026; rarotongan.co.ck).

Where to Eat

Splurge: Located in a restored colonial house near the beach, Tamarind House, on Rarotonga, serves superior Pacific cuisine, including dishes such as tamarind chicken curry and seafood ragout. The restaurant also offers a wide selection of wines from New Zealand and Australia to complement your meal (682-26487; tamarind.co.ck).

Steal: Trader Jack's has suffered damage from several cyclones (most recently Meena, in February 2005), but in a show of the spirit of the islands, this much-loved institution has remodeled once again and continues to serve up fresh seafood at its casual waterfront location. To add to the laid-back mood, live music is presented nightly (traderjackscookislands.com; 682-26464).

What to Bring Home

Splurge: In the Cook Islands, a traditional tivaivai, or quilt, is a culturally significant gift that is given for weddings and other important events. Visitors can buy one of these beautiful bed covers from the Fibre Arts Studio on the island of Atiu. The studio carries some in stock, or you can have one custom-made, selecting the pattern and colors you prefer (682-33031; fibreartstudios.com).

Steal: If you're renting a car while in the Cook Islands—where the driving is on the left-hand side of the road—you'll be required to get what turns out to be a great souvenir of your trip: a Cook Islands driver's license. This fun formality can be taken care of by presenting your American license at the police station in Avarua.