When it comes to bliss- inducing stress relief, floating over eye-boggling reefs is an exhilarating detachment from reality.
These destinations combine underwater psychedelics with culture, cuisine, knock-out scenery and atmospheric lodgings.
With towering, rainforest cloaked volcanic peaks, an abundance of waterfalls that cascade into ultramarine pools and a lasso of lagoons and fringing corals, Samoa's striking landscape serves up a relaxingly accessible Eden. Add sparkling white beaches and picturesque villages where you can buy tropical fruit from stalls along the scenic roads that encircle Samoa's largest islands - Upolu and Savaii - and you have a Pacific haven just made for free form exploring. Factor in frequent pauses for oggling the reef and plunging into a seemingly endless array of natural swimming holes.
Just a five minute walk from central Apia is Palolo Deep Marine Reserve, a blue hole edged with coral and popular with reef sharks and eagle rays. Southern Upolu is especially endowed with compelling snorkelling at lovely coves around Matereva, Saoluafata and Lalomanu. At nearby Namu'a and Fanuatapu islands, sublime encounters with turtles await. Sparcely populated, remarkably untrammelled Savaii has less corals due to lava flow, however you'll be richly rewarded if you snorkel at Lano Lagoon and the beaches between Safotu and Manase.
Lau Islands, Fiji
A fantasy landscape of mushroom shaped islands presents itself at the Lau group, a little-known necklace of volcanic outbursts scattered between Fiji and Tonga. There’s no resorts or restaurants, and in the few villages, no buildings taller than mango trees.
To snorkel around the limestone outcrops is to inhabit an entrancing purple haze. Vast splays of amethyst and mauve plate corals are stacked as high as a double-storey building, segueing to ledges of violet staghorns.
On some reefs, it appears as if someone has poured vast quantities of spongy purple plastic; a few strokes on, meadows of lilac
soft corals wave languidly.
At the Bay of Islands marine sanctuary, slither- beaches are tucked between sheer limestone walls and the fringing reef explodes with incandescent fish.
The only way to reach these untrammelled islands is by sea, in homely style aboard the spacious Reef Endeavour, a Captain Cook
Cruises small ship that ventures to this untrammelled part of the Pacific several times a year.
Soneva Fushi, Maldives
Not exactly in the South Pacific, but worth a mention seeing as three-quarters of the world’s reef fish species can be found in the Maldives and many of these appear to inhabit the drop-offs near Soneva Fushi.
An almost primal sensuality pervades this jungle-clad haven, situated on one of The Maldives’ largest islands. Fronting a private section of beach, the spacious, rustic-luxe bungalows open onto a yard dotted with wild hibiscus and visiting birds.
Seeking out some of Soneva Fushi’s many pleasures - think complimentary yoga classes, moonlit cinema or jetties that stretch to reef’s edge- involves strolling or cycling along banyan-shaded paths
After working up an appetite, hit the heavenly buffet: featuring delectable organic fare and exciting ‘live stations’. Be sure to leave room for the sublime chocolate buffet.
Laced tightly along volcanic Tanna’s west coast are layer upon layer of visibly evolving reefs that have fused to form a labyrinth of coral-encrusted channels, caves and overhangs.
Onshore, uplifted ancient seabeds have mingled with lush foliage, creating a surreal landscape that melds with the exquisite tropical gardens at White Grass Ocean Resort. A stroll through erstwhile reefs leads to Blue Hole One – special for its velvety soft corals. A short ride on the provided bikes gets you to Blue Hole Number Two – a larger pool edged with coral-festooned nooks.
Back at Vanuatu’s gateway island Efate, the luxurious Eratap Beach Resort has the feel of a far-flung Pacific island and fronts a startlingly aquamarine lagoon and a pandanus- framed white beach. Metres from the beachfront cabanas, butterfly fish dart among coral gardens aglow in sherbet hues of lemon, violet and powder blue. A boat and driver is on call, should you fancy visiting some of the nearby private islands.
Noumea, New Caledonia
Unlike most Pacific gateways, New Caledonia’s capital, Noumea, offers exceptional aquatic adventures, all within day-trip distance from the city where you'll find spacious beachfront apartments that are the perfect base for lapping up golden syrup sunsets and Noumeas French flair.
A short speedboat ride from Anse Vata beach, Lile aux Canards is a marine reserve remarkable for its diversity and profusion of large fish. The corals are in top condition: vast carpets of staghorn corals, huge brain corals, corals of implausible luminescence. Between dips, theres daybeds, an eatery and palm shaded nooks for a picnic.
A confounding array of corals unfurls around Amedee Island, reached after an atmospheric 45 minute boat trip from Noumea. Here, green turtles glide about in the seagrasses and at times you can’t see past swirling curtains of fish. The trip includes a delicious buffet and dancing of the sort that riled missionaries.
For an indulgent and personalised escape, water taxis from Noumea can drop you at alluringly empty islands, such as coral-ringed Tenia Island.
Ever yearn for the sort of calm, rocky coves found in the Mediterranean? This one is a bonus, right here in Australia.
Just south of Batemans Bay stretches a series of silk- water, sculptured bays: perfect for snorkelling, carefree swims or paddle-boarding. Tranquil coves and flamboyant rock-art characterise the beaches between Sunshine Bay and Broulee Island and with the establishment of Batemans Marine Park, the snorkelling keeps getting better. Simply pick a beach, dip your head underwater and get set to oggle blue gropers.
Pretty Point Bay and Mossy Point Inlet feel delightfully tucked away and many headlands in the area feature walks with soothing views. Shaped like a gigantic swimming pool, bush- wrapped Guerilla Bay has a rock ledge seemingly made for sliding straight into the golden kelp and fish festooned aquarium.
Broulee is an old-style coastal community with riveting underwater scenes to the south of Broulee Island. Colours here are sumptuous- rich velvety pinks and russets, olive and gold kelp forests and sponge gardens- and the calm bay is home to everything from the cutest tiny fish to wobbegongs.
Nearby, Montague Island offers a giggle - inducing natural high: snorkelling with dozens of frolicking fur seals as they somersault, flip, spear through the glacial blue, then suddenly stop- and blow bubbles in your face.