Secrets of a chic shop island-style

Shopping in the South Pacific may not have the same glamour as Singapore or Milan, but there's plenty to tempt even the most serious consumer.

Hats, and much more, are on sale at the Apia flea market. Photo / Dean Purcell
Hats, and much more, are on sale at the Apia flea market. Photo / Dean Purcell

Travelling and sightseeing are often mixed in with shopping, bargain hunting and looking for mementos.

It's a chance to try on different clothes, find distinctive arts and crafts and buy international goods duty free.

Vicki Smith, South Pacific manager at Jasons Travel Media, is a regular visitor to the Pacific Islands and a keen shopper - so she's well-placed to offer advice for the best bargains and great shopping spots.

"Shopping in Suva is a delight. The service is excellent and prices are very reasonable," says Smith.

"Most recently I purchased two summer dresses, and one for evening wear. Everyone says, 'Where did you get that?' Now I'm giving away my secrets.

"The smart summer evening dress was only $30 and I also bought a summery white cotton dress which I've worn on numerous occasions through summer. Both have style and panache rather than being typical island-style holiday wear."

Many holiday-makers in Fiji are attracted to the eye-catching Pacific Green Coconut Palm furniture. This can be shipped back or put on your return flight.

Smith bought an inlaid coconut-palm-timber carved table which she shipped back to New Zealand.

"The company exports from Fiji and is used to providing this service."

New Caledonia is known for its European flair, says Smith.

"Everything there, especially the fashion garments, has a little touch of French chic."

Visitors to New Caledonia will also enjoy the French wine and Noumea has wonderful handmade chocolates and a special chocolate shop.

The Cook Islands, Tahiti and Samoa are renowned for their lustrous black pearls, cultivated and grown in the island lagoons.

Each distinctive pearl is crafted into a huge range of jewellery with a selection of designs to appeal across all styles and budgets.

Black pearls come in several different tones, from pink through to blues and greens.

"Many people enjoy spending time sorting out which tone they like and what matches their skin," says Smith. "I like the imperfect pearls and especially seek out those that are irregular rather than perfectly shaped; not the most sought after or expensive, but a little more individual."

Coffee is one of the delectable finds in the Pacific, she says.

"Many of the islands grow coffee, so you can purchase it freshly harvested and roasted. It is wonderful to enjoy while travelling through the islands. You definitely will not miss your caffeine hit. The local coffees are delicious."

In Vanuatu the Tanna coffee is smooth and flavoursome. In Papua New Guinea the Goroka brand is dark, brooding, rich in flavour and very smooth.

It is easy to bring ground coffee back into New Zealand.

Vanuatu is renowned throughout the Pacific for its fine arts and crafts, and each island has its own distinctive handmade crafts.

Some of the finest art and ritual objects can be found on Malekula, a culturally diverse island with more than 30 distinct languages.

Ambrym Island is known for its beautiful wood carvings and decorative masks, used in the famous spirit dance of the Rom dancers.

Vanuatu is also renowned for beef.

"The cattle on the islands of Vanuatu are a different breed than cattle raised in New Zealand," Smith says, "and the flavour and texture of the beef is different, lighter in colour and finer in texture. If you order a prime cut of beef you can pick it up vacuum-packed at the airport as you leave and this is excellent value."

Samoa has many beautifully made traditional crafts on the smaller islands.

One Samoan speciality are the fine mats (toga), woven from strips of decorated bark cloth (known as siapo or tapa), which is harvested from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree.

Handcarved bowls come in all sizes and shapes which, says Smith, "look superb as art pieces in modern homes".

A good place to look for crafts is the Apia Flea Market, which is well organised and located in the old central market building on Beach Road.

For tax-free bargains, beautiful Norfolk Island is a shoppers' paradise, Smith says.

"Look for bed linen, kitchen knives, watches and gold jewellery, sunglasses, Italian shoes and wonderful Scottish knitwear.

"Many international goods and famous brands are available at much lower prices than [in] New Zealand, and for larger purchases most shops will organise packing and transport home.

"There's also a huge range of cafes and restaurants to keep you well fuelled as you hunt for bargains."

Smith has recently been to Papua New Guinea which she describes as "an adventurers' haven".

She says the daily Koki Market on the shore at Port Moresby is colourful and a great place to browse for bargains.

"At the weekend, the crowded stalls offer fresh fruit, seafood and local vegetables.

"These outdoor markets are some of the best I've seen and all the produce is so fresh and most is organic.

"The big Sing Sing festivals are the time to see cultural dancing and singing with all the tribes dressed in their very colourful and elaborate attire.

"Around the fringes different tribes and villages display their arts and crafts for sale. Huge masks from Sepik are very special and inlaid with shells and beads.

"Artists of Papua New Guinea are becoming well known for their vibrant, modern and abstract artworks," says Smith.

"Most of this work is done on large canvases. I could not resist buying two vibrant pictures and the prices are so cheap."

* For information about shopping in the Pacific Islands and more details on currency, banking, heritage and culture, see Jasons Travel Channel.

- NZ Herald

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