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Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu & the Solomon Islands

South Pacific Cruise

Summary : Embark on an epic voyage exploring the cultures and wild areas on the coast of Papua New Guinea, along the Great Barrier Reef, and among the seldom-visited wild islands of Micronesia. This region is home to hundreds of diverse tribes, each with their own customs and languages—you’ll find warm welcomes and interesting traditions, as well as art and music at each island. Hike volcanic landscapes, see a live volcano that roils red at twilight, and discover postcard-picture beaches unmarred by the rise of development. Snorkel the legendary Great Barrier Reef and search for strange and beautiful tropical wildlife. Plus, explore many sites where the remnants of World War II remain. This sweeping expedition among seldom-seen islands offers intriguing history, cultures, and wildness.

Activities : Birding, Child-Friendly, Culture, Diving, Hiking, Kayaking, Photography, Snorkeling


Free Chronicle: Receive a free video chronicle of your trip, compliments of ExpeditionTrips!
Free Subscription: Complimentary 1-year subscription to National Geographic Magazine (one per booking).

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Day 1 – 2
U.S. / Fly to Auckland, New Zealand

Depart U.S. crossing the International Dateline (lose a day).

Day 3
Auckland / Embark Ship

Arrive in Auckland, on New Zealand’s North Island. Relax in your hotel day room or have an introduction to the city before embarking your ship in the afternoon from the waterfront made famous by the America’s Cup races.

Day 4
Bay of Islands

According to Maori belief, the pristine Bay Islands were discovered by their legendary navigator, Kupe. Zodiacs take you in to the Old World town of Russell, home of the Treaty of Waitangi, the first official agreement between Maori and the British. Visit the beautiful Waitangi estate and grounds, with its fully carved Maori Meeting House, and one of the world’s largest Maori ceremonial war canoes, and see a cultural performance.

Day 5 – 6
At Sea / Norfolk Island, Australia

A day at sea takes you to Norfolk Island, rich in history and culture. A World Heritage Site, Kingston is one of 11 Australian Convict Sites established by the British Empire on Australian soil in the 18th and 19th centuries. Explore the ruins, and weather permitting, take a dip at the beautiful beaches, or hike in the national park.

Day 7
At Sea / Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn

En route to Vanuatu, crack open a copy of James Michener’s book, Tales of the South Pacific, inspired by his experiences here during WWII. Vanuatu is an archipelago of more than 80 islands, once home to fierce warriors, among them cannibals, and your expedition team will tell you about its fascinating history.

Day 8
Tanna Island, Vanuatu

The glow from erupting volcano Mt. Yasur guided Captain Cook to Tanna Island in 1774. Follow in his wake, landing by Zodiac in Port Resolution named for his ship. Ashore on Tanna Island, receive a warm welcome to Vanuatu with a dance from the islanders. Hike to the rim of Mt. Yasur, an active volcano with an eerie red glow at its cone. In 1774, Captain James Cook was lured ashore by that same glow.

Day 9
Port Vila And Lelepa

Wander the busy capital of Vanuatu, Port Vila, taking in the marketplace and historic WWII sites before an afternoon Zodiac landing to the Natapao village on Lelepa. Here you explore the massive Fels Cave, with its thousand-year-old petroglyphs.

Day 10

Once known as Cannibal Island due to the fierce reputation of the tribal groups, today the island is the most diverse, culturally and linguistically, with over 30 distinct languages. Land at an ancient ceremonial ground, abandoned in the mid 19th century, where dancers in large elaborate spirit masks reflect their animal ancestors. After the ceremony, visit the ancient abandoned village, where burial remains, medicine trees, and magic places are all seen and described. Enjoy an afternoon of swimming and snorkeling, or take a Zodiac cruise to search for abundant birdlife.

Day 11
Paradise Lagoon, Espiritu Santo

A day of swimming, snorkelling and kayaking at Paradise Lagoon on Espiritu Santo precedes a foray to the Blue Hole Grotto, where crystal clear fresh water comes to the surface through layers of limestone and coral producing water of a jewel blue. At Luganville, see how the U.S. presence during WWII changed this island forever. Snorkel Million Dollar Point, where hundreds of tons of U.S. military equipment were dumped after the war, and divers may descend on the troop carrier Calvin Coolidge—one of the world’s best wreck dives.

Day 12
Expedition Day in the Torres Islands

Spend today exploring this northernmost group of islands in Vanuatu, remote and seldom visited. You may take Zodiacs ashore to be met by “warriors” in traditional dress, as you are welcomed to a village with cultural dances and performances, or explore the clear waters of the offshore reefs. The South Pacific is an ever-flowing feast for the senses!

Day 13
At Sea / Santa Ana, Solomon Islands

Settled as early as 25,000 BCE by skull-worshipping tribes, today the friendly Solomons remain some of the least-visited, most friendly South Pacific islands. After a morning at sea, arrive at Santa Ana. The islanders are well known for preserving ancient traditions—villagers with spears and mud-covered face masks perform a stunning dance. The craftwork from Santa Ana includes magnificently carved fishing floats and ceremonial black bowls inlaid with shells and intricate animal designs.

Day 14
Honiara, Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands

Battlefields, birds, beautiful beaches and reef fishes are some of the words that sum up today’s plans. This region was a strategic WWII battleground, and you arrive in Honiara, a former U.S. supply depot. Visit Bloody Ridge, site of one of the most important battles of the Pacific. Then sail across Iron Bottom Sound, named for the huge number of ships sunk here, to the island of Tulagi, the original capital of the country. Here an expedition landing brings opportunities for birding, swimming and snorkeling.

Day 15
Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands

In the heart of the New Georgia Islands is Marovo Lagoon. One of the world's largest double barrier-enclosed lagoons, this isolated spot has been proposed for World Heritage listing and is an exceptional site for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and diving. Visiting a village, meet the wood carvers of Marovo, reported to be the best in the Pacific.

Day 16
Kennedy Island, Solomon Islands

National Geographic Orion cruises past Kolombangara Island with its dramatic volcanic peak, anchoring off nearby Kennedy Island. It’s named after President John F. Kennedy who swam ashore here with ten shipmates after the Japanese sank his PT-109 patrol boat, leading to a dramatic rescue of him and his crew. It is also a superb place to explore, watch for colorful birdlife, and marvel at the undersea corals of the South Pacific, the diversity of which is so high that many do not have common names.

Day 17
Expedition Day in Papua New Guinea

Arrive in Papua New Guinea today, cruising through Buka Passage between the main islands of Bougainville Region. After a quick call in Buka town for clearance formalities, the rest of your day is left open for exploration, perhaps making a stop at one of the many small islands in the area, visiting a remote village, or finding a protected bay to snorkel and dive.

Day 18
Kitava, Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is a patchwork of mountains and jungle, home to some 700 Papuan and Melanesia tribes, each with its own language. On Kitava, experience an incredible and festive cultural exchange: hundreds of villagers gather to watch the great festivities, dancing, singing and chanting—with performers decorated in colorful flowers, feathers, woven palm fibers and even Christmas tree tinsel.

Photographers will spend time photographing the many beautiful faces, and shoppers may browse some of the finest quality artisan crafts in the Pacific set against idyllic tropical island scenery. After the festivities, relax on a picturesque beach or snorkel the pristine reef.

Day 19
Samarai Island, Papua New Guinea

The island of Samarai used to be the capital of Milne Bay Province and the second largest settlement in Papua New Guinea; an important trading post and stop-over between Australia and East Asia. Today trading has moved elsewhere and the sleepy island is designated as a national heritage site. Land by Zodiac to discover the island’s fascinating history of colonialism, missionaries and headhunters, or land on nearby islands for beachcombing, swimming and snorkeling.

Day 20
At Sea / The Coral Sea

Your lecture series continues during a relaxing day at sea, learning about the Great Barrier Reef.

Day 21
Thursday Island, Torres Strait, Australia

There are at least 274 islands in the Torres Strait, of which 17 have settlements. At Thursday Island, learn about the island’s unique history and culture at the Green Hill Front Museum. Wander through the pearlers cemetery, where stories of this once dangerous occupation are revealed. Or take in the panoramic vistas. Perhaps later you'll explore Cape York, at the tip of the state of Queensland, Australia.

Day 22
Exploring the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest reef system. It is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in north-east Australia. The reef is composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 4,200 miles. This huge area can be seen from outer space and is the world's biggest single structure made by living organisms. Set in the far northern section and on the true outer reef is one of the most diverse and interesting swimming, snorkeling and diving areas on the Great Barrier Reef. It is home to a profusion of marine life in the turquoise waters ranging from starfish and anemones to multicolored tropical fish, reef sharks and turtles.

Day 23
Lizard Island, The Great Barrier Reef

Unspoilt Lizard Island rises from the blue waters north of Cooktown. The island has great cultural importance for the traditional owners—the Dingaal Aboriginal people, who regarded it as a sacred place. Its pristine beaches with perfect white sand slope gently away from the shore. Snorkelers and divers are rewarded with coral gardens, brightly colored tropical fish and giant clams, reaching up to one meter in length with spectacular colors. For the adventurous, Cook’s Look is there to be conquered. The rewards are the 360 degree views, but historically you’ll retrace the steps of Captain James Cook.

Day 24 – 25
Cairns / Disembark / Overnight Hotel / U.S.

Disembark in Cairns located in far northwestern Queensland. Explore its vibrant tropical setting and spend the night at a lovely seaside hotel before flights home.


This itinerary is subject to change. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.

Photo Expeditions:

The photo team, a National Geographic Photographer and a Photo Specialist, will enhance your voyage by working with you on photo composition and exposure; helping you develop your own unique vision; showing you how professionals edit and store images while on the go; and sharing the stories behind some of their greatest images. Whether expert or interested beginner, you'll find added benefits such as walks ashore and Zodiac cruises dedicated to photography, presentations on the creative and technical aspects of photography, and one-on-one mentoring and coaching in the field.

Accommodations as indicated; all meals and non-alcoholic beverages aboard the ship; all shore excursions and sightseeing; transfers to and from group flights; tips (except to ship's crew), taxes and service charges; services of a ship physician and expedition staff; use of kayaks.

Not Included:
International air transportation; passport and visa expenses; baggage/accident/cancellation insurance; items of a personal nature such as alcoholic beverages, email and laundry; gratuities to ship's crew at your discretion; scuba diving surcharge; fuel surcharge may apply.

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