We're rounding up our favourite memories from a year in Travel. First, Pacific Islands.
The unmistakable yellow-and-green Taufua Beach fales occupy a stretch of golden sand on the southeast corner of Upolu, Samoa's most populated island. It is one of the most basic of the resorts which line the southern coast, and a decade ago it was wiped out in a tsunami which left indelible and tragic scars.
• Pacific Islands: Grand adventures and an adrenaline rush in Fiji's Pacific Harbour
• Five of the best: Pacific Island escapes
• Papua New Guinea: A unique proposition
• Pacific Islands: Choose your own adventure
The September 29, 2009 disaster claimed 149 lives in Samoa. The family that runs
Taufua lost a heartbreaking 14 members. Seven of them were children, aged 11 months to 9. Their names are inscribed on a memorial stone in front of a beautiful wooden church on a hill above the beach.
The giant waves smashed the fales but not the spirit or resolve of the villagers.
Within 12 months the small, simple structures were rebuilt. A set of concrete block units were constructed on higher ground above the beachfront huts but it's the little wooden fales — with their arresting paint job — that make the resort so striking.
They are not the most comfortable — a mattress on a wooden floor, shutters set in warped frames, a mosquito net and standing fan. But what more do you need — the Pacific rolls in just 10m away at high tide, the sea is safe and warm, the days cloudless and blue. Meals are served at set times. The choice is limited but satisfying. Twice a week you can dance like a local at fia fia nights. Taufau is a Pacific gem, a place with a sad history but a vibrant rhythm.
— Andrew Stone
UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN
If you've never experienced a Fijian farewell, you need to remedy it as soon as possible — it's hands-down one of the most memorable parts of visiting this beautiful part of the South Pacific. When the staff at Savasi Island Resort in Savusavu, a tiny community on the south coast of Vanua Levu in Fiji's north, gathered to sing me "Isa Lei", the traditional Fijian farewell song, I found it so deeply moving that I began blubbering like a baby. After a few days at the resort, I'd gotten to know almost all of the staff and leaving them proved a bit of a wrench. A rendition of Islands in the Stream earlier in the week wasn't bad either . . . sota tale, 'til we meet again. savasiisland.com
— Shandelle Battersby
FEAST FOR THE SENSES
There's a lot of driving on the periphery in Rarotonga, and one of the most memorable moments of my trip there in January was hopping on a bike as part of the Storytellers Eco Cycle Tour, which led my small group inland snacking on fresh mangoes, passionfruit and bananas plucked straight from surrounding trees. It's the kind of tour that appeals to various types of travellers: solo, families, foodies, history buffs (the tour guide offers great commentary around the island's missionary history) and couples. My favourite moment was the refreshing dip in a cave pool mid-way through the tour, surrounded by a cascading waterfall and lush tropical bush. It's a great way to cool off and be at one with Rarotonga's natural environment, followed by the final treat — feasting on fresh barbecue fish with papaya salad overlooking the turquoise expanse of water at Aroa beach. Heavenly.
— Dan Ahwa
FITTER, STRONGER, FASTER
I tell everyone that Fiji has a $7 note. It's like my go-to fun fact about our tropical neighbours to the north and there would be no $7 dollar note if not for the Sigatoka Sand Dunes.
When you think of sand and Fiji, you're generally thinking of bright beaches, gently lapping waves, snorkelling in the morning, sunbathing in the afternoon and a cocktail or two as the sun goes down.
What I loved so much about the Sigatoka Sand Dunes was that they throw that whole idea out the window. This is a national park where wild waves crash to the shore against walls of steep sand, bracketed from civilisation by a small band of forest. So steep are the dunes that the world champion Fijian 7s rugby team did their gruelling training by running up and down them and in the process becoming fitter, stronger and faster than all their rivals.
Sevens rugby has put the Sigatoka Sand Dunes on the map (and on the national currency) and they're worth it for the remarkable views of the waves and the surrounding dunes on one side, and the endless jumble of coconut palms on the other. The run back down is exhilarating, even if — unlike the rugby lads — you only make it to the top once.
— Tim Roxborogh
MOMENTS OF JOYOUS ABANDON
It was the beating of the drums that stayed in my chest for hours afterwards that did it for me. Celebrating the diversity of their culture in a way that a few years earlier would never have been considered because of tribal conflict and animosity, witnessing hundreds of dancers from tribes around Papua New Guinea's Western Highlands and nearby Jiwaka Province coming together for the Mt Hagen Show was something I will never forget.
One by one the tribes presented themselves in the middle of the field. Moving forward with the beating of their drums, each tribe performed a traditional singsing or ancient war cry before continuing to sing and dance for hours to come.
Allowed on to the grounds, I walked out into the middle of the field completely surrounded by performers and found myself taken away with the joyous dancing of the Kimel tribe.
Beckoned into their dance circle my black attire was a stark contrast to the tribe's traditional dress of feathers, face paint and shells but all was forgotten as I let go and pulled out some dance moves that will probably never be seen again outside of Papua New Guinea. It was a moment of joyous abandon I wish everyone could experience.
— Rosalie Willis
GOOD NEIGHBOURS BECOME GOOD FRIENDS
Our closest neighbour - and yet it took me 50 years to introduce myself. New Caledonia is less than three hours away, a delicious slice of the French Riviera on our doorstep with beautiful beaches, wonderful wines and perhaps best of all, fabulous fromage. But even cheese has to take a back seat to my most memorable meal at Les Bancouliers, which lies some 100km north-west of Noumea in the smallest municipality of Farino. Kiwis can book a room here, or perhaps a camping spot by its river, and enjoy the warm hospitality of Palo and Arno, who have run this bed and breakfast operation for 13 years and clearly take pride in their home and gardens (where I spotted stunning blue Ulysses butterflies among the lush trees and exotic flowers). And if my hosts' three cats and two dogs hadn't won me over, then the simple lunch of fish terrine, venison fillet and baked banana served in the large dining room would have done it. Gathering around the long trestle table with a dozen or so French-speaking strangers could have been intimidating and isolating. But as I started to converse with the local next to me (who thankfully spoke English quite well), I realised the he was wearing a silver fern on his shirt. Suddenly we were not just neighbours, but also friends. Vive le rugby!
— Lorna Subritzky